self-help is mental health: a reassuring advocacy for what you feel & who you are
let’s be real af right now. hannah montana’s been reiterating this since middle school, but tbh nobody’s perfect. we’ve all got flaws. we’ve all got issues (you got ’em too, just like julia michaels). and we’ve all, at some point, repressed our underlying issues so much we disassociate them. however, addressing mental wellbeing is one of the most discredited aspects of our contemporary society.
we don’t realize there are so many reasons for why we are the way that we are. but alas, those reasons (whether positive or detrimental) are quite often far from the surface. they can even be so far deep that it’s basically journey to the center of the earth (but without the perks of brendan fraser’s fluffy hair).
yet it’s crucial to explicitly comprehend how contrastingly different and incomparable each person’s problems are. there is no interpersonal standard or scale for how severe your problems are. it’s not about relativity. like “yo my great aunt mildred is a schizophrenic sociopath with dissociative personality disorder and can’t hold a job. my biggest problem is social anxiety. i don’t need to get help because i don’t have it as bad as mildred does.” but you still cried the first time you heard 1-800-273-8255 by logic bc you realize that depression makes you feel like your life ain’t yours, too. but you still played anziety by logic (can you tell i like logic) eight consecutive times bc you finally heard someone describe anxiety how you feel it. so ok, other people might have it ‘worse’, but you still have it bad.
lesson 1. adapting our epistemologies: elise’s 101 course in de-stigmatizing mental health
welcome class. today’s lesson starts by addressing how the common presumption we face is that seeking counseling/professional help is directly correlated with the present state of your mental health (but like deteriorating mental health like ya aunt mildred). do you have anxiety, depression, ptsd, an eating disorder, adhd, schizophrenia, etc.? have you or a loved one been diagnosed with mesothelioma? are you entitled to financial compensation?
we’re essentially taught to think going to therapy and seeking help is being weak, or that we should simply get over it because we don’t ‘deserve’ to feel this way. society shames the hell out of us for having issues. so we leave our issues unresolved (much akin to the series finale of ‘the sopranos’). i say to hell with that.
since i’m a predictable creature of habit this should not come as a surprise to anyone that my thesis is an alternative perspective radically perverting societal norms. riddle me this batman. unless you’ve been before, do you actually know what therapy is like? have you ever felt yourself slowly but steadily (like the tortoise) change for the better? have you ever learned and implemented different coping mechanisms & self-help strategies that improve your quality of life? say no more. i’m here to subvert whatever tf you thought you knew about mental health from watching ‘silver linings playbook’ or reading ‘9 easy self care tips’ from teen vogue, and show you the world: shining, shimmering, and splendid.
you chose ‘misconceptions’ for 400. this features the question, “do you actually know what therapy is like?” so without further ado, please grab your popcorn & take a seat.
*curtains open. act 1 scene 1*
you’re lying on a brown leather sofa. you stare at the ceiling and spin your fidget spinner absentmindedly. it smells like dusty old books and your grandma’s fav clinique perfume.
a woman sits across from you scribbles some shit you say in her notebook before peering over her bifocals to scrutinize you. she prompts you with the predictable, “yes, but how does that make you feel?”
well. obviously not great, karen. otherwise i wouldn’t be here.
before you know it the floodgates of unresolved emotional baggage burst open and you’re halfway through a box of tissues while recounting your repressed childhood trauma and reliving all the times your family avoided talking about feelings, rejected emotions, left so many things unsaid, and taught a child to become an adult who doesn’t know how to love like everyone else.
uhm. well. i was not prepared for that.
*act 1 scene 2*
you pass some hot mess as they’re leaving karen’s office cradling a half used kleenex box. you plop down on the couch and kick yo feet up on the coffee table.
after talking about how peachy life’s been lately and resembling a brady bunch picturesque life, karen pulls a fast one on you and all of a sudden you realize, no, you don’t know how many days a week you go to the bar by yourself. and yes, you have been spending a lot of time alone since bae left you 6 months ago.
she casually asks how often and how much you drink. you freeze. are you doing it to try and escape? suddenly you can’t breathe. do you depend on it because it fills the void of loneliness? ah. there it is. maybe it’s not 1987, but suddenly ronald reagan is in the room with you demanding you tear down this emotional wall you’ve built. as much as karen might come across as a bitch, she knows her shit.
well played, karen. well bloody played.
*act 2 scene elise*
here i am. sitting across from karen. surprised? well hate to break it to you folks but ya girl elise has probz too (if you’ve read literally any of my other blogs you’d know why i’m here).
the thing is tho, karen is actually a lot different than first described in other scenes. she doesn’t write crap about you in her notebook; in fact, she doesn’t even have a notebook. she just glances down at her iphone every time she gets an email while she plays with her fidget cube. she doesn’t wear bifocals bc she’s only 10 years older than me and she just. talks. and laughs at my self-deprecating jokes. and says my passive aggressive dentist can go eat a bag of dicks. and assures me how adulting is really just binge watching netflix & deferring your student loans. she is without a doubt the og.
today i find myself chattin’ it up, voicing my 99 problemz (anxiety is basically 48 of them). i graduated college, have a solid resume, references, and skillz (particularly nunchuck skillz). why can’t i just apply for a damn job?? or transition into adulthood??
karen shrugs at me like it’s the simplest answer in the world and i’m like ??? but she comes at me with, “you’re a perfectionist. no matter what you do, you set these unspoken expectations for yourself. once you exceed those then everyone else has expectations of you, too. and the anxiety of that alone is why you’re so afraid of adulthood.”
that day she sent me an assessment that’s basically like those ‘what’s your grown-up job’ tests you took in middle school that gave you answers like ‘fireman’ and ‘hair stylist’. but this one is y’know. legit. during our next session, she gives me 10 pages detailing jobs i would thrive in based on [insert whatever categories bc i already forgot]. suddenly life’s scary level dropped from like jack nicholson’s ‘the shining’ to jeff goldblum’s ‘the fly’. less terrified but still perturbingly unsettled.
that was 4 months ago.
lesson 2. it’ll all get better in time: mental illnesses never really go away, we just learn how to live with them
having established the pure normalcy of professional help (& tbh realizing karen can be easier to talk to than your mom or bff), let’s answer our second rhetorical inquiry: “have you ever felt yourself slowly change for the better?” sure it’s all been fine & dandy so far, but what’s it like to resolve my hypothetical issues?
around august i started meeting with karen once a week-ish. to which you might think, “every week for 5 months seems a wee bit excessive.” well, perpending your personal measurements of success, yes and no. here’s the catch (and presumptively the most invaluable proposed theorem): should you pursue counseling to help with depression, anxiety, etc., fathom that therapy takes time. this isn’t one of those one and done kinda deals. therapy requires continuity and your willingness to commit. don’t believe me? you better call journey because we’re obnoxiously singing ‘don’t stop believing’.
to validate this doctrine, i volunteer as tribute to show you how learning coping mechanisms over 5 months can qualitatively change a person. yet how do we qualitatively measure that? well we’re now booling into 2018 (also y did january feel like it was 6 years long) but i’m sitting here cross-legged on my floor paging through journal entries from 2017. as i sit here, some things stand out.
- august 18th: there’s nothing left to live for. when i feel myself waking up i adamantly refuse to open my eyes so i can pretend i’m still asleep. when i’m asleep i don’t have to remind myself why i’m alive.
- september 29th: what tf am i doing with my life. i cry uncontrollably because i can’t control anything. sometimes i cry harder because i think my body just feels relieved to misplace the pain to a more physically viable outlet.
- october 10th: i roll onto my left side again. then back to my right. then (surprise) back again. i stare at the ceiling. willing myself to fall asleep because it’s 3:42am and insomnia is a remorseless, unforgiving diablo. i replay every awkward interaction from the last week. i relive that lovely secondhand embarrassment just four more times (play it again, sam).
- november 24th: i thought i was better. now i want to cry for the rest of my life. 367 days ago (no i don’t know why i counted) i went to the hospital. if someone ever tells you the anniversary effect isn’t real please kindly excommunicate them from society.
- december 25th: call me an elevator bc i’m up and down. hot and cold. yes then no. possibly katy perry. mostly, i forget about the anxiety, and i get out of bed every day. but the the thing i still can’t control is my subconscious. i wake up to panic attacks a lot during the night now, as the voiceless screams of my dreams become the waking screams of reality.
- december 31st: i’ve listened to dad play ‘blackbird’ on guitar since idk when, & it’ll probably always be my fav song. but i’ve been thinking about who 2017 made me into (it is NYE after all). and i wish it had made me as unremittingly enduring as a blackbird. maybe it’ll be my anthem for a new year of me. to tell myself. “take these broken wings and learn to fly.”
although you’re likely dying for more depressing excerpts from my diary (it’s to keep secrets from my computer), it is crucial to note the profound juxtaposition of emotional states throughout the period of time that each of these entries take place. at this point, if quantitative results are still necessary to validate the effects of long term therapy, then consider mental health on a scale of 1 to 10. five months ago i was a 3. today, my overall mental health is an 8 (maybe a 9 if it’s not shark week). it may only be one attestation, but does this offer enough permissibility of how counseling can help an individual?
you might be wondering how is this supposed to help me? why did she talk about her therapist? why so much oversharing? and the journal entries? yikes. let me ask you a question instead. do you feel like the idea of counseling & coping strategies is normal now? or even, would you consider it for yourself?
lesson 3. it’s just a theory: because like christina perri, i’m only human
our final lesson focuses on the question, “have you ever learned and implemented self-help strategies that improve your quality of life?” it’s one thing to read about someone else who found ways to be less depressed/anxious. it’s another thing to pursue your own issues, whatever they may be. no matter who you are, taking progressive steps towards the betterment of yourself is propitious for your wellbeing.
to make this a bit easier, let’s end by applying the theory of humanism. this psychological approach is meant to answer that which psychoanalysis and behaviorism cannot (sorry freud & skinner, maybe next time). rather, humanist theory considers the unique experiences and personality of every individual. it pushes you towards self-actualization and a better understanding of yourself as a whole person. you become the best version of yourself, in your own way (like nirvana but not the kurt cobain kind).
when you apply humanist theory, you can stop thinking about aunt mildred and focus on your personal worth and capacity to overcome whatever hardships you endure. in fact, you can stop thinking about who you are in terms of everyone else altogether. a schizophrenic aunt, an anxious doctor, and an overly self-critical accountant walk into a bar. what do they have in common? (drinking problems) (jk) they’ve all accepted their distinctive psyches, and are cognizant of how no two approaches to improving mental health are the same.
thus. herein lies the true cogency of my contention. reconstruct misconceptions of self-help. reconsider that counseling can benefit your day to day life. recharacterize who you are. because if i can spend this long talking about my own mental health, then you sure as hell can too. it’s okay if you’re ‘the shining’ level of scared. heck, even if you’re ‘nightmare on elm street’ scared. regardless, you will never regret trying.
so let’s recognize our humanism. let’s talk about our mental health. let’s be the best ‘us’ we can be. we might not be hercules, but we can go the distance.