There are many things I wish I’d learned in school: how to write a cover letter that is the perfect blend of desperation and confidence, how to do taxes, and how to tell your parents that you want to see a therapist.
For a while, I attempted to doctor myself. I created mantras that didn’t work. Yoga didn’t sufficiently distract me from the onslaught of toxic thoughts. Heavy applications of lavender-scented lotion. Long, hot showers. Surreptitiously checking out piles of self-help books from the library. Endless marathons of TV shows. Frequent searches for videos of hedgehogs. Sleeping for long periods in the hope that it would provide an escape. (It often didn’t, because anxiety and depression can leak into your dreams, too.) Telling myself that once I was employed and living on my own again, I’d have a career and social life to focus on, banking on the idea that I’d be too busy to be unhappy, a fact which never really rang true throughout my years in school.
But three years of terrible freelance work in between periods of unemployment caused my anxiety to flourish and my bouts of depression to become more frequent. I’d stick a “Please Do Not Disturb” sign on my door when I needed to have a breakdown, which would either consist of me having a panic attack (intestinal discomfort, desperate attempts to rationalize my thoughts, shortness of breath, and a sense that my neck and face were abnormally warm), or allowing depression to wash over me (crying on my bed, loud music, a intense sense of loneliness, and desperate prayers wondering why I had to feel this way). These breakdowns could be caused by anything from PMS to applying for jobs (and subsequent job rejections) or finding out someone I had a crush on was in a relationship. I’d do my best to hide these reactions from my family simply because I felt stupid for feeling things so intensely. Job rejections? Not uncommon. Applying for jobs? God forbid anyone tell me to calm down. Heartbreak over someone I was never in a relationship with? I run the risk of looking delusional.
It frustrated me that I felt I had to justify my emotions. I tried to talk myself out of my depression. I tried to look at my life and realize how much I had to be grateful for: parents who were able and willing to take me back in after graduation, clothes to wear, food to eat, friends who loved (and for the most part) understood me. But there were days I couldn’t fight the despair, when it was all I could do to keep my fragile mental stability in place long enough to get through a meal with my family without breaking down into tears.
Sometimes I could sense my dark days were coming; a subtle undercurrent of desperation leached into my actions and a frightening sense of restlessness I couldn’t shake. The anxiety, on the other hand, was harder to predict. If I was waiting for a job interview or something more naturally scary such as like a doctor’s appointment, it was easier to deal with. But sometimes it would pop up out of nowhere, and then it was impossible to hide from. The two-second-long breaks between scenes on TV shows was just enough time for an image or a negative thought to play in my mind, and I’d feel the prickling heat spread across my face. After a while, it seemed like it was impossible to cure myself. All I could do was hide in my room and remind myself that these feelings WOULD end. They always had, and there was no reason they shouldn’t continue to do so. But what about the meantime? When you’re in the depths of depression or anxiety, it seems incredibly daunting and nearly impossible to wait it out. And more and more frequently, a little nagging thought would make its way into my mind: either it’ll run its course and you’ll get on with your dismal life, or it’ll completely wreck you and you’ll fall apart.
My dad could usually tell when I was depressed, and he’d always ask me what was wrong, and all I could say was “Nothing.” He once asked me, in so many words, if I was suicidal. I’d said no, that I would ask for help if I was. And here I was—not suicidal, but just absolutely tired of feeling so lost and hopeless—and I wanted help. I didn’t necessarily want medication, and I wasn’t under the impression that it’d be an instant gratification situation. I’d already had several reality checks that were like slaps to the face. I just wanted someone to talk to, someone who wouldn’t be frightened of my feelings. I began researching therapists online. I made one sweat-inducing phone call to the insurance company to see if I was covered for mental health.
I agonized over how to ask my parents to help me with this. I couldn’t do it without them. I’d need help with the copay. I’d need a ride, because to add to the list of reasons why I’m pathetic, I don’t drive. I kept waiting. When anxiety wasn’t bothering me and my depression was dormant enough to forget how it felt to not want to get out of bed, or even to eat, it was easy enough to put things off.
I waited a few more months—things got better. I got a part-time job. I landed a coveted volunteer position. But still, there were days when I hated the way I dealt with things. I burst into tears on a train when a friend asked me to meet her at a different station, which required me to make a transfer on a public transit system with which I wasn’t very familiar. Minor disappointments, such as a friend bailing on a planned phone call, seemed as devastating as getting dumped.
And then one day when I’d fallen into a bit of a funk, I was trying to talk myself out of it by reminding myself that there was no reason for me to feel guilty about being sad. It occurred to me that I should be adopting the same sort of feeling to going to therapy: You do not need to justify this to anyone. You do not need to care what others think about the fact that you want help. It’s for you and your well-being. It was such a startlingly simple solution that I was embarrassed to have arrived at it so late.
I sucked up my fear. I sent an email to a therapist I’d found online. She called, and we made an appointment. I know it’ll be a process, and that it’ll take time, and that it may very well be painful. And I’m not going to worry what anyone else thinks about it. I have better things to worry about. I’m also trying to stop worrying so much. It takes years off your life, you know?