When I was a child, I was filled with the terror that I was always about to die, and even the smallest things filled me with panic. When I was in middle school, I couldn’t go to bed without checking my lock, lights, and closet dozens of times. When I was in high school, I started having suicidal thoughts. When I was in college, I started having panic attacks and couldn’t keep everything under control anymore. I’ve struggled with mental illness since I was a child, and I hid it from everyone. I didn’t know it was a mental illness then, but I knew it was ‘shameful’ and something that I had to hide. I didn’t want people thinking something was wrong with me or that I was weak. I was able to hide it from everyone until I got to college, and that’s when things really started falling apart.
I started seeing a therapist who was a family friend, but it was such an unhealthy therapist-client relationship, and so many boundaries were crossed. Instead of helping me, it sent me into an even darker spiral. He sent me to a psychiatrist who overmedicated me, and I could barely stay awake or function at all. I was seeing a therapist AND a psychiatrist, and neither of them was able to help me. I felt like such a burden and like something must be deeply wrong with me for these two professionals to not be able to help me. I felt so much shame for not being able to hide my mental illnesses anymore. I was in the darkest place I’ve ever been when my therapist decided he wasn’t helping me and that we should stop meeting. I was shocked and devastated, and he didn’t even help me find another therapist. It was a blessing in disguise, though, because if we had kept meeting, things would have continued to stay dark and awful. The most surprising thing happened after I stopped meeting with him.
My chiropractor knew I was struggling and referred me to a well-trained therapist that he knew. I started meeting with her, and it was life-changing. She was a therapist who actually knew how to help me. She was very well-trained, and things started getting better once I started meeting with her. She sent me to treatment for my eating disorder a couple of months after meeting with her, and I felt relieved that I was finally getting the help I needed. People did know how to help me. I just needed to find the right ones.
While I was in treatment, they took me off all the meds I was on and put me on only a couple, so that I didn’t feel overmedicated anymore. As my therapist and I have been meeting over the years, we’ve begun to talk about the root issues under my mental illnesses, the things that caused the suicidal thoughts, self-harm, eating disorder, and PTSD. It no longer feels like symptom management or just trying to stay alive. It feels like I am actually starting to heal, and I have a person who understands me and what I need and knows how to help me. Looking back, I can see how mental illness has affected my life for as long as I can remember. I think it’s very telling of our society that even as a child, I felt like I couldn’t talk about it or tell anyone about it. I was suffering alone because I had picked up messages that it wasn’t okay to talk about.
The years in college when I couldn’t keep it in anymore and the years following that with my first therapist were some of the worst of my life, but I’m here to tell you that having a good therapist HELPS. If you’ve gone to therapy and it hasn’t helped you or has made things feel worse, don’t give up on therapy. Try a different therapist if you can. For most of my life, I felt like there was something wrong with me and no one could help me or understand, but I’ve found my tribe now. Other people with mental illness who know exactly what it’s like. We’re not alone out here. There are other people who understand what it’s like to struggle with mental illness even if you haven’t met them yet. If you’re looking for support, I definitely recommend downloading the WhiteFlag app. There are people there who will understand what you’re going through. You’re not in this alone. You deserve the help and support you need. Don’t give up. Recovery and healing are possible. __________
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