Day 10: In Chapter Seven, I talk about my experience with spiraling into clinical depression. Talk about your own experiences with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health struggle. If you haven’t been affected personally, share your insights into how you stay mentally healthy.
It’s no secret that I’ve been through my fair share of emotional abuse throughout my life. It’s something that started pretty early on for me. I’m not an outwardly emotional person at all. I internalize things a lot. Although it may not seem like it on the surface, I do feel things rather deeply. It’s a big reason why I’ve always struggled with letting things go in the past. I’d hold grudges against people who’d hurt me, and it kept me in an angry state of mind. With that being said, it also made me constantly question if something was wrong with me. That anger that I felt towards other people and situations would eventually manifest into feelings of guilt and sadness, and then, I’d spiral into this completely negative headspace where I’d just constantly knock myself down. All the time. It wasn’t healthy.
The first time I really took notice of this in myself was when I was about fifteen. Of course, I had the typical teenage angst, but there was more to it than that. I had pushed my dad pretty far out of my life out of anger and fear of getting disappointed again. At the same time, it really upset me because all I longed for was to be close to him again. I fought with my mom and sister all the time. I just often felt very misunderstood. I went through a phase where I would only eat one meal a day, if that. I quit dancing at the studio I had been going to since I was five years old because my dance teacher moved away after Hurricane Katrina. She played such an important role in my life after my parents’ divorce, and dancing just wasn’t the same for me without her. I turned to writing a lot back then because I really didn’t talk to anyone about how I was feeling. Looking back, I probably should have. It would have been nice to know someone cared enough to listen. There were definitely moments during that part of my life where I truly wondered if anyone would care if I were gone. To be completely honest, I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that to anyone out loud before. It’s only ever seen the pages of my journal and now, this blog.
I went to a counselor for the first time as a child. I was five when my parents separated and six when they divorced. To say that I took it hard and it affected me deeply would be an understatement. My parents were concerned enough to get a counselor for me. I remember seeing two different ones. The first one was terrible. All I remember is sitting in her office one day and she told me something along the lines of me being to blame for my parents’ divorce. At least that’s how I perceived it at six or seven years old. Needless to say, I’m pretty sure I left crying, told my mom about it, and never went back to see her. Eventually, I saw another counselor. Her name was Ms. Heidi, and she was very kind and patient with me. I was going through this phase where I was refusing to really talk much to my parents or go to my dad’s house on his scheduled days and weekends. I literally told my first grade teacher that I felt sick every single day, just so I could go home. I was at a brand new school, adjusting to a whole new life, and it was all just a lot for me to handle. I constantly had heart palpitations, too. I would start hyperventilating, and the only thing I could do was put a cold rag on my head or neck, take deep breaths, and sip on water to calm myself down and prevent the nausea that often came along with it. Looking back on it, I think they might have been mild anxiety attacks because no doctor could ever figure out what was wrong. They just said I’d grow out of it when I turned fourteen. Such great advice.
When divorce happens with young children involved, no one can ever really predict how they’re going to react to the situation. In my case, my dad expected it to be difficult on me, but I don’t think my mom did. So, all of that was really the onset of my emotional struggles in life. I don’t really remember how long I went to counseling as a child, but I do know that it helped a little bit. To be honest, I don’t really talk about it with my parents, but I’m sure their memory would serve better than mine. Eventually, things got much better as I got older. Until disappointments and heartbreak struck again in my early twenties. I sought help from a counselor again from ages 24 – 26. This time, I had definitely sunk into a depression. It was like everything that I had been keeping in over the previous 20 years just came exploding up all at once. My very first session, I literally just cried for an entire hour straight. She literally asked me “so what brings you here today?” and you wouldn’t think that question would set off the infinite waterworks, but it certainly did. I won’t go into all the details of my second experience with counseling, but I will say that it was one of the best decisions I ever could have made for myself.
I am whole-heartedly an advocate for therapy. I know there’s a stigma against it, and I think that’s a whole load of BS, to be blunt. I was in therapy as an adult, and my own mother told me that “only people with certain kinds of problems” go to a counselor. I never spoke with her in detail about my sessions for that reason. Therapy taught me how to dismiss that kind of negativity, and it helped me realize that often people’s words say a lot more about them than they ever do about you. I also know that people who look down on those who go to therapy are more than likely just afraid to admit that they could likely benefit from it themselves. People are afraid of things that they don’t understand, and if they’ve never experienced the benefits of therapy, then how could they possibly understand the good that can come out of it?
I could get on a soapbox here about my stance on mental health in this country, but I won’t. All I will say is that I know what it’s like to deal with depression and anxiety. I’ve hit rock bottom before. So hard, and I truly didn’t think I could get myself out of it. However, I did. In time, I became strong enough to recognize the fact that I needed a little bit of help to do so. I also realized that there’s no shame in doing something to better yourself, even if those closest to you can’t understand. At the end of the day, it’s your life, and you have to do whatever you feel is best for you, even if it involves sharing your heart and deepest darkest emotions with a professional stranger who is bound to become one of the greatest advocates for your success and well-being.