When I first learned about mental illness, I thought of sadness and tears, but I never considered how deeply it could strike. I didn’t anticipate anxiety’s overwhelming thoughts and the worry nagging and gnawing away at my consciousness. I didn’t expect the resulting exhaustion and hopelessness that stood as an immovable wall between me and everything I attempted. My limited understanding blinded me, and a long time passed before I noticed it was happening to me.
The first symptom I recognized was the anxiety—it presented itself most apparently. Of course, there was the apprehension associated with it. As a society, and even as a species, we consider fear the primary level of anxiety. Yet the other aspects of it lay on the inside, existing as an endless, whirling cacophony of thoughts, picking away at my every idea. I would linger on the smallest of actions, analyzing every conversation I had with peers, teachers, and even close friends. Thoughts like, “You’re being excessive,” played on repeat, bombarding my mind after every movement I made, every expression on my face, and every word I spoke. Although I tried not to make my mental state obvious, the suffocating thoughts inside my head would not stop.
On the other end of the spectrum, I felt the weight of depression acting as a roadblock. After days and weeks of worry, I would feel myself slowing down, and already exhausted by my anxious state, I found it hard to think positively. I criticized myself in every class and then lay down at home, exhausted from the sheer emotional strain of the day. I was afraid of the future—the next day, the day after that, and all the weeks to come—and at times it was so overwhelming that I couldn’t do anything but wrap myself up in a blanket and wait. But even that didn’t succeed in blocking out the persistent thoughts that seemed to taunt me. Any perceived error on my part would warrant a stream of self-criticism, and emotion would build up and cloud my thoughts, at times so much that I could barely think. Repetitive behaviors and self-harm became a problem as I couldn’t find a release for my pent up emotions, and still I blamed myself.
Despite many of these symptoms that I felt early on, it was very difficult to work up the courage to ask for help, as my fear and continuous self-denial told me that I was wrong, that I was lying to myself just to seek attention. That I was making it up because I wanted some love, or even pity—I was terrified of taking advantage of others. Not only did I struggle in letting myself get help, but when I managed to mention my fears to people they would kindly tell me not to worry, and that I didn’t have any disorders. I don’t blame them. In reassuring me they were trying to help and I appreciate all of it. But between my own denial and their assurance, it was some time before I did get help.
Therapy is terrifying and emotional, and altogether hard work, but bit by bit I have started getting better. I wouldn’t say the process is easy for everyone or that once you get professional help, you immediately recover. Mental illness has a tricky way of rooting itself into one’s habits, proving difficult to cut out, and for some, therapy can even initially worsen symptoms. When I started seeing a therapist, the first few weeks were very taxing as all of my problems were laid out in front of me. My self-criticism continued as I told myself that I was somehow “bad” at therapy and not trying hard enough to fix myself. At times I didn’t even feel sure that I wanted to get better. Change is frightening and even when it’s for the better, it can seem like the easiest route is simply to stay put. Even after months of therapy I still worry about whether I feel comfortable with how I have changed. It’s certainly a process, yet I can safely say that I am willing to push forward. Though a brighter day may be a long way off, and I can’t quite see it yet, I am determined to be there when it comes around.