The 8 Steps I Took to Get to Today
One teen's experience with mental health.
For me, it was awareness first and a pursuit of knowledge second. Accidentally seeking help came third; fourth was being confused and scared by the process. Understanding came fifth with a dash of anger; acceptance came sixth. Self-love happened months later; then, a search to understand stigma and double standards of the human psyche was set under way.
Something did not feel right. I knew about how your concrete happiness changes by age. But I felt different. I wasn’t experiencing days anymore. The formerly spontaneous, extroverted, and inventive girl had dropped to an agitated, self-loathing, confused mess.
I signed up for an abnormal psychology 101 class, hoping to gain knowledge about what had been going on with me. I diligently made my notes on rumination, prevalence, co-morbidity. I remember questioning what it meant to be “normal” in a subjective field of study like this.
Then we studied depression. While taking notes on the topic, I realized that depression didn't exclusively mean you were sad and you couldn’t be happy. There were physical symptoms involved with faults of the mind. I knew them all too well.
I found the courage to speak to those I trusted, and they voiced support. They said everyone has bad days. They knew exactly what I was feeling because they had felt sad before. They promised it would pass. A part of me was hoping someone would have the answer to a question I didn’t know how to ask.
Some time later, my parents found out by accident when I saw the school nurse because I was light-headed, hosting cotton mouth and freaking out about returning to class. They repeated things like “What did we do wrong?” and “But you always seem so happy!” over and over. To the doctors they would say, “She hid it so well.” That was news to me.
If you're seeking help from professionals, be prepared for protocol questions. One of the first asked was if I was on my period. The doctors had to ask me this to check if my hormones were doing anything funky and I misunderstood it as them assuming PMS was the root of everything I had researched and endured over the past year. It would have been such a right-there explanation for the most complicated experience. I was angry and crying and feeling belittled, which is not a good combination in any situation.
Searching for knowledge is what helped me accept my mental disorder. This past year, I gave a presentation for my English class called "The Cons of Mental Health Diagnoses." My opening was my diagnostic label, which worried me. I had felt comfortable with myself, though I feared others would think of me as my disorder from that point on. But I presented and was proud of my research and didn’t care if they did think of me differently, because I was figuring things out for myself.
Therapy isn't something that worked for me, but I did end up discovering new things about myself and developed a plan. My approach was to write down any connections I would make, any new or old symptoms I noticed, any questions I had. Forgetting what I wanted to cover was a terrible habit of mine. I’d jump immediately from “What are ways I can keep myself from going off the deep-end?” to telling my therapist how adorable my puppy was. Writing down notes before a counseling session did help me a lot, though, and I think it’s important to develop some sort of system so that you can organize your thoughts and make sure you are getting the most out of things.
Five years after I felt less, two years after I felt "not right," I'm still working with my mind. I'm learning new things about myself, and struggling some days. Occasionally I have to remember to slow down. Without your well-being, you cannot effectively continue daily activities. The one rule everyone should follow is to take care of yourself. If that means taking a day off, not feeling up to a hang out, or a social media blackout, so be it. Health comes first; listen to you.
By Sydney Tate, 15