Gentle Reader, I’ve made no secret of my struggle with mental health. Today, for the first time, I took the plunge and confided my fears in a mental health professional.
But let’s back up: some personal history, first.
I first suspected something might be wrong with me right around the time I turned twenty. I’d suffered thoughts of suicide long before that, but just chalked it up to youthful hijinks. I had a breakdown on my way to a family party, and had to pull into the parking lot of a library to shake and cry for a while. After an hour of this, I was able to pull it together enough to make it to the birthday or whatever function it was. Shortly afterward, I met with a therapist – who just chatted about the weather. There were no inquiries as to why I’d come, really – no diagnostic questions to see how to proceed. She was pretty fascinated with my sexuality, though, as I recall. I spent a frustrating hour making small-talk about small-town gay life, and never went back.
Fast-forward to about a year after my father had passed. I was in my mid-twenties; I had continued having my bouts, as I called them, off and on the entire time. Things were getting pretty grim, by then – bursts of extreme activity – followed by lethargy, despair. I was also a little more familiar with my family history by this point. While I won’t anger the dead by revealing their symptoms yet again, there were obvious recurring patterns in the bloodline. Maman made an appointment for me in Puyallup to see someone about all of this, as I was pretty worried – it was the day she was flying out on one of her trips. I dropped her off to catch her plane, and made it most of the way to Puyallup before I had one of the strongest panic attacks of my young life. I pulled off the highway to scream and cry for a while.
Obviously, I missed my appointment. There was no follow-up.
That brings us back to the present. I’ve never trusted doctors, and – well, a number of things have kept me from seeking treatment seriously. The stigma of mental illness in this country is staggering – if I get a proper diagnosis, it could affect my employment prospects for life. Not to mention the social censure! People tend to be dismissive of my thoughts, feelings, and opinions due to my instability of character already. If I sought an actual answer, and my issues became written down, official – well, it feels as though it would prove their dismissal right. Further, seeking help feels like a personal moral failing. Seeking help was for other people, and I held myself to a higher standard – surely, having toughed it out this long on my own, I could continue just fine. I’ve learned to manage things, more or less, right?
So I made an appointment with mental health services at my school. And, although I was terrified, I actually made it there on time and made it in the door and filled out paperwork and waited in the lobby without leaving and/or screaming and when I saw the counselor, I was open and honest with her and actually discussed all the things I keep locked away. It felt really good. That’s the positive part. She listened and was kind and is willing to help.
She can’t diagnose, prescribe, or refer. So there’s that.
However, I took a first step, and I took it by myself – and I actually followed through. Be proud of me, Gentle Reader – I certainly am.