People often define mental health as “the elephant in the room” because of its high public visibility and large impact on individuals and society. That may be true in most cases; however, I would define my mental health journey as a pebble (or rock depending on the day) in my shoe. My mental health is constant presence that is hard to manage or eliminate some days. In fact, I am writing during a moment of self-awareness that for the past month I have been dealing with a mental health episode where I have been embarrassed to go and reclusive over my self-worth and current unemployment. The acuity of the anxiety & depression varies from day-to-day. This is why I want to briefly tell you my journey of mental health, specifically with anxiety & depression.
My mental health journey is divided into four (4) significant experiences. My very first mental health exposure was as an elementary school student going to see a private child psychologist for anger and “melancholy,” which only lasted approximately 3 sessions. This segues into the first significant experience when I was in middle school during an English class play recital, I was being teased for being nerdy and overweight and I screamed out loud that “I wish I could have killed myself.” That was the very first time the feelings that I felt — anger, sadness, isolation, anxiety, self-hatred, desperation, etc. — became real and spilled out from my head and into the world out loud. I did not pay it much attention afterwards but the pebble was there in my mental health shoe and growing.
The next significant experience happened midway through my freshman year of college when my grandmother died. My grandmother raised me my entire life up to that point while my parents worked long hours at their jobs. So, this was my world being fundamentally altered, but I had no real outlet to talk to or people that I trusted to share the grief with, so I kept it all inside for a very long time. I emotionally abused my one close friend as a result of the hurt and anger (I apologized for that unacceptable behavior). Throughout college and graduate school, my mental health rapidly declined with unstable mood swings, hyperaggression, depression and suicidal thoughts, and acute anxiety. This was masked because I was a high-functioning adult and student, and I repressed it (later taking it out on others) or rationalized it.
The third significant experience occurred during medical school networking mixer, where I was the guest of a friend who was running late to the event. While at the event, not knowing anyone and waiting for my friend, I became very anxious and fidgety even self-conscious believing that the room was judging me for being there as an outsider. I remember leaving the event and not answering my friend’s text messages asking my whereabouts. While walking to the bus stop, I realized that I had sweated through my entire suit — jacket, shirt, socks, etc. The only problem was that it was the middle of winter and snowing outside. This was when I knew that something needed to change — I needed to change.
Thus, the fourth experience is when I finally went to therapy about 3 months aft ether third event. It took awhile to act on what I knew was right and gain the courage to go to therapy. However, when I went to therapy it was refreshing and I realized that it is a process where breakthroughs take time, but are worth it in the end. During that year and a half in therapy, I learned skills and techniques to address my anxiety & depression. I sought ways to be honest with myself and objectively assess issues and seek solutions within my realm of control (“controlling the controllables” as I call it). It was a step towards self-betterment and self-love. Admittedly, due to work, travel, and trying to find a new therapist, I have not been since that time. In light of this recent month-long episode, it is time to go back and to commit long-term to therapy. I want to be better for a long time. I need to go to therapy to help get the pebble out of my shoe for good.