Welp, I can’t sleep so what better time to write this post than now?
I’m fairly hesitant about writing on mental health since as I get older, the more wary I am about what I post online. I don’t want potential employers, peers, love interests (oh la laaaaa), etc to develop pre-conceived notions of me. I guess I’m writing this on the chance that it helps someone with similar struggles. These are things I wish I could’ve told myself earlier. Obligatory disclaimer, this is just my mental health journey and by no means a definitive guide cos lol I did not go to med school plz don’t sue me.
Don’t judge yourself for seeking help
I brushed off seeking help for years. As a very analytical, solution focused person, I figured that since I knew the causes of my discontent, I was capable of solving them myself and didn’t need help. I would also compare myself to others and think, “It’s not that bad. You just have to change this or accomplish this and then you’ll be happy.” There are a couple of issues with this approach. Of course it can always get worse. Of course compared to some other people, your life isn’t that bad but if you’re feeling a particular way, it’s valid. Judging yourself for feeling a certain way doesn’t solve anything. Secondly, seeking professional help should not be the last resort. Why wait until things are “bad enough” to seek help? Why make things harder than they need to be? Why wait until the house is burning down to start putting out the fire? It makes no sense. You don’t need to do it alone. You don’t need to feel guilty, self-indulgent, or weak for seeking help. You also don’t need to have a disorder to warrant seeking help—everyone can benefit with some perspective and skills for dealing with difficult situations. Self diagnosis or thinking you can solve your problems alone is often inaccurate. I discover things during therapy that would seem like common sense to most people but I never realized on my own.
Acknowledge the physical validity of mental health
Without getting into details, I’ve struggled with mental health most of my life. As a first generation immigrant, I’ve been in fight mode from an early age to overcome hurdles and succeed. Throughout adulthood, I’ve had to push through tribulations in succession. As a result, it’s very difficult for me to not fixate on the worst case scenarios (hello, catastrophizing) and turn off survival mode. Because I was able to pinpoint specific causes of my frazzled mental state, I denied that there were chemical causes to my mental health. It was only when I had “accomplished” and “fixed” my problems but was still crying everyday that I started to accept there may be chemical imbalances that contributed to my continued depression.
What I’m getting at is that mental health is physical as well. It’s complex and there are many contributors (trauma, genetics, environmental factors) but if you have a chemical imbalance, that is an actual physical thing. I resisted taking medication for the longest time because I thought my problems were cognitive or situational but you have to accept that sometimes there really is a physical issue. If you had other illnesses that were treatable with medication, why would you resist so much? Would you tell a diabetic to refrain from insulin shots? If you had a physical issue like not being able to see far away, would you go through life stumbling into things or would you get a freakin’ pair of glasses or contact lenses? If you’re sinking into an abyss for no reason and your neurotransmitters are strugglin’, help ’em out, ok? The way my psychiatrist explained it, medication and therapy go hand in hand. Imagine a water faucet with two handles—one representing medication and the other representing therapy. As you gradually re-wire your brain/behavior through therapy, you can start to turn down the other handle and vice versa. It’s a balance.
I’m not saying that medication is a cure all, but in my particular case, being medicated allowed me to feel “normal” for the first time in my life. Nothing else in my life had changed other than taking medication but my life was completely different because of it. With that said, don’t get discouraged if one medication doesn’t work out. If one pair of shoes don’t fit, it doesn’t make sense to swear off all shoes forever and let rocks cut up your feet. Sure, there were some drawbacks (dosage initially too high so I was falling asleep during the day) but it has improved my quality of life significantly.
I really wish I had sought professional help earlier and accepted the physical validity of mental health which brings me to the next item…
Prioritize your sanity
Don’t put off seeking help until you’re in full meltdown mode. Don’t tell yourself “It’s not that bad yet” or “I can’t afford therapy.” It’ll be harder to dig yourself out at that point and therapy can be more affordable than you think—many doctors take insurance and there are affordable options a Google search away.
It’s not fun to go through your insurance list, research, and call up a bunch of doctors especially when you’re already feeling overwhelmed but I promise you, you really just have to do it once and then you’ve gotten it over with.
Set aside one night after work to make the list and spend half an hour the next day during your lunch calling up places. You can even use apps like ZocDoc sometimes for scheduling appointments with zero to little fuss. If you really can’t handle it, tell a friend or family member and get them to help. I got to a point in high school when I was worried that I’d try to kill myself again. As much as I hated asking my parents for help and despite their cultural lack of exposure—and really, stigma against mental health (Asian cultures aren’t really the “let’s talk about our feelings” type), they recognized my plea and got me the medical attention I needed. If you can’t seek help yourself, it’s important to let your loved ones know.
Mental health is important and someone loves you even when you may not love yourself.