Recently, I have been feeling morose. It’s a combination of immense hopelessness due to my personal life, school, work, and being in a new city, and my ongoing struggles/insecurities with my mental illness.
Being in San Francisco, away from people I consider my support system, I feel isolated. I have put on a happy face for weeks in order to appease myself and others around me. Meeting new people and being liked is hard when you’re in a slump.
It’s when you’re alone, cut off from your comfort zone, when you really acknowledge your problems. Acknowledging your problems isn’t limited to “getting help”. It’s really thinking about and feeling the pain associated with your problems in every dimension of wellness. Let’s face it, being productive or busy is only good as temporary distraction.
In the dark, you are forced to confront your demons because there’s nothing else to see. In some ways, being in an unfamiliar environment is enough motivation to explore options for help. At home, I always used school or work as an excuse to not follow through.
I only opened up about my problems when I was in the midst of a crisis. Any crisis I had was only considered a crisis if it had disrupted my distractions. Although doing so is arguably an instinctive reaction, I am realizing that it is incredibly unhealthy. It’s like only eating healthy when you’re sick.
So what, you may ask, are the options for getting help? The following are options I have tried and tested. I am in no way peddling any beliefs or ideas.
Talking it out with allies
Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on in different environments. We interact with people everyday and their actions towards us shape our mental health. I was literally crying at a computer screen at work the other day. No one approached me until I made it more obvious that I was going through a difficult time. As someone at a support session I attended put it, you have to find people you can trust to open up to. Not everyone is as understanding as you would like, so it’s important to carefully choose your allies. I know I talk about it exhaustively, but there’s a huge issue with empathy and vulnerability in STEM education and the tech industry. It’s a diversity issue that manifests itself in other problems like harassment and abuse.
I have always felt guilty for unloading my problems onto other people. Personally, I hate it when conversations are one-sided. I have realized though that being a good listener is just as valuable as being able to open up. The person who is opening up should also appreciate and connect with their listener.
Due to the guilt of burdening my allies and the erroneous belief that “no one around me could possibly understand my circumstances”, I have dabbled around with anonymous counseling. This includes suicide/general mental health hotlines and 7 Cups of Tea. These services have helped me to calm down in a crisis, but they aren’t a long-term solution to tackling my problems (which involve people I deal with on a daily basis). Having anonymity is a plus!
Due to the traumatic experiences of being forced to go to various counselors throughout high school, for years I have avoided counseling like the plague. I am now at an age where I recognize the need for someone professional I can talk to about my mental health. Counseling is never “one size fits all”, so it’s important research a compatible counselor. Of course, that in itself is enough to cause anxiety.
Like counseling, medication is sensitive topic for me. In the past, I have struggled with and abused various selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. I definitely recognize the value of medication in treating mental illness. Like any form of help, you have to explore your options. From what I have learned from others, it’s important to find the right psychiatrist who can monitor you effectively. I also believe that the placebo effect exists to some extent.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
In particular, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) applies to treating OCD. During high school, I tried CBT for a couple of months. I would do exercises with my therapist to understand and control my obsession and compulsions. Truth to be told, it felt like homework to me. I would pretend to be studious with my therapist so that she should say positive things to my family about my progress. The exercises we did would get thrown out the window when I was in the middle of an episode at home. Like I said before, I think I am mature enough now to take CBT more seriously. I am little concerned that CBT will be counter-intuitive and cause me to develop more intrusive thoughts.
Yesterday, I attended a support group for OCD for the first time. Attending a support group has always been on my mental health bucket list. I was really nervous about opening up, but when I got there it felt like a burden was lifted off my shoulders. Opening up to strangers who share similar experiences made me feel less alone. It was somehow empowering having a glimpse of their life stories. They also shared insights (like emotional freedom technique (EFT), meditation, and OCD literature) regarding treatment that I never knew existed.
Well that’s the end of my list! I hope it helps someone out there somehow. Most importantly, I hope I can follow through with this “exploration”. Stay strong everyone.
This blog originated from Julia Nguyen of http://julianguyen.org. Please visit her site for more of Julia's content.