The side of mental illness we talk about is the most indulgent and crippling part: The actual feeling. It’s necessary, of course, to understand exactly what we’re feeling, and it’s helpful to know that we’re not alone. But we rarely fast forward passed the “realization” step and discuss getting help.
Once you’ve accepted that there is something wrong and have the will to do something about it, you’re lost all over again. The hows and whats and wheres make it a daunting task. It is a lot to be depressed, or cope with severe anxiety, or be aware of your bipolar tendencies. But then adding the necessity of figuring out what path to take and learning about therapy, counseling, prescription drugs, etc. makes it completely overwhelming. Taking action provides relief, but it also adds to your anxiety before it tames it.
When you’re suffering from mental illness you are constantly overwhelmed, and have trouble remembering even the most basic tasks. You’ve thrust all your concerns, your fears, your meltdowns to the front of your brain leaving little room for much else. There’s seemingly no room to figure out how to find a therapist, figure out your insurance, or talk to your family about the fact that you need help.
Approaching your parents, or someone who loves you, is the most obvious next step. If nothing else, they might hold the key to your insurance, but that shouldn’t be the only reason you need them. There is someone who loves you enough that they deserve to hear what’s happening to you, if you’re ready to tell them. Someone cares enough to listen. There will be a lot of questions you don’t want to answer about how you’re feeling, what brought this on, or when you started feeling this way.
And then you’ll go see a doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, find a resource at your high school, your college or your local clinic, that you can find with a quick Google search. Asking a professional’s advice can be easier than asking advice from people you love. Allow them to make suggestions, while remembering that you are in control. Be direct, try to verbalize exactly what you think you need. They’ll likely give you a referral for a psychiatrist (who’s able to write prescriptions) or a psychologist (who is licensed to provide guidance, isn’t a medical doctor). You don’t have to take their advice or use their referral, but you may want to, so save all your information.
Don’t go to counseling if you don’t want to go. Counseling can be someone else’s idea, of course, but if you’re not onboard with it, it’s not going to work.
I’ve been to counseling both voluntarily and involuntarily and I can tell you that going, without wanting to be there, isn’t nearly as useful. (The only time I went involuntarily, I was 11ish, and it was an excruciatingly long hour in which I sat on a faded yellow couch, stared at the left corner of the counselor’s desk and refused to use words other than “yes” or “no.” It wasn’t productive for anyone.)
This is not to say that if you’re a hesitant to go, your inner preteen terror will emerge. It just proves that if you’re not accepting to the idea of opening up to a complete stranger, or fear their judgement, it won’t be as fruitful.
If you are willing to try talking to a counselor, find relief in the fact that you are able to say anything and everything and not be judged. It might be emotionally exhausting, but it’s the kind of exhaustion you feel after a good run. The exertion feels worth it and makes you feel lighter, because someone took your concerns, and worries and fears, without making you feel like you were a burden on them. The counselor isn’t your friend, your parent, your employer, or your significant other. They’re objective, and you’re not weighing them down.
You don’t have to make a habit of going, but asking a professional help puts the responsibility of making a plan for your mental health on someone else, while leaving you in control. It gives you an opportunity to put every concern you have surrounding your mental illness out there, and you get an impartial opinion in return. They can help you find what will actually work for you – whether that is a prescription, or specific breathing exercises, or other regimented habits that can put you at ease.
People assume that it’s easy to choose something that will make you mentally healthier, but that’s rarely true. Taking action for your mental illness is a lot to handle on your own. Even accepting that you’re ready to approach someone, or ask for help, takes more courage than you’d expect.