The Lalatennis Shoes Grass

My Experience with Mental Health, Therapy, and Medication

We wouldn’t dare to speak about our mental health challenges because it is seen as a weakness, a burden, something that makes us broken. Too often we are told that everything is going to be okay and the way we feel is normal. In doing so, society teaches us to suppress our emotions. It seems as if we constantly have to put up a persona of strength, one which does not tell the full story. I for one know that it does not tell my story.

When I was in eighth grade my dad was diagnosed with cancer, a very scary time in my life, yet one no one knew about. As my dad’s health quickly deteriorated, I continually told my parents to make sure that none of my friends found out. Each day I went to school with a brave smile on my face, even if I had been crying not more than an hour before. I didn’t want to be seen as weak. I didn’t want to be seen as the person with the sick father. I didn’t want to be seen as different.

Sad woman with smudged mascara holding a fake smile Photo by Sydney Sims from Unsplash

I remember completely breaking down one day in Spanish class when I received a few grades much lower than I typically received. I knew that I had been putting up this strong facade for too long and I felt myself finally breaking. I was scared and I was allowed to feel this way, but I did not accept this because so few people open up about these experiences.

Not more than six months later, my dad passed away, and I remained silent, only telling a few friends about what happened, but never truly opening up about my mental health. It was not until I made lifelong friendships at Camp Kesem that things began to change for me.

Camp Kesem provided me with a community in which I was allowed to be vulnerable. I surrounded myself with people my age who understood, people who had also been affected by a parent’s cancer. It was not until I entered this space that I realized it is okay to talk about my mental health struggles; I do not always have to be strong. 

I saw therapy as something those kids went to and thought that was never for me but as I realized that talking about what I was experiencing was important and essential to my survival, I saw therapy as something I needed. With constant sadness and tears streaming down my face late at night I realized I needed help even if this conversation was not going to be with my peers.

Woman Wearing Blue Top Beside Table Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

As I entered high school things became much easier; with a closer group of friends, I allowed myself to be vulnerable. With validation and an open space to talk about how I was feeling, I noticed my mental health starting to stabilize. 

When I learned to drive, I was nervous. We can go to say that everyone is nervous while driving and this is a normal feeling, but this was far from normal. The crippling fear I had before getting behind the wheel of the car caused me to flake on events and have panic attacks in my parked car. As my hands constantly shook and my heart beat faster and faster, I tried to open up to my friends and those around me, but these feelings were dismissed as normal and that caused me to shut down, not allowing myself to feel these emotions.

There is such a stigma surrounding medication for mental illness, but as I continued to talk with my therapist, she acknowledged my feelings and how for me they were anything but normal. While this may be livable for someone else, these feelings of heightened anxiety were causing me to not live the life I knew I could live.

For the next few years, my body allowed me to begin to drive again and accomplish everyday tasks that for a period of time became so difficult. For me, medication was an essential choice and helped me to regulate how I was feeling.

Pills Spilling Ellen Gibbs / Spoon

With the pandemic, I cycled through therapists but nothing seemed to be working. I was unable to get out of bed most days and even when I did I was tired after an hour of doing something as simple as taking a short walk to the grocery store. In addition to feeling so out of it, I felt constantly drained both emotionally and physically. I knew something was not okay. 

Having learned that it was okay to talk about my mental health, I opened up to those around me about how I was feeling. At first many told me “you are always tired” and “you are just overreacting” but I had to remind myself that these were my lived experiences and not someone else’s. There was no one else inside my brain or body, I had to advocate for myself.

After countless doctor appointments and medication adjustments, I was diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). PMDD shows symptoms a week or two before your period and lasts a few days after causing severe anxiety, depression, and irritability. For me, it presented in a way that brought down my mood and caused me to eat potato chips to compensate for the way I was feeling. 

bored woman looking out the window Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris from Unsplash

My medication no longer was working and I felt myself plummeting. After talking to my doctor we began to take a new approach, one that would phase me off my old medicine and onto some new ones. My body immediately shut down, faster than it ever had before. I couldn’t leave my bed for more than five minutes, staying awake for more than an hour became impossible, and I was constantly shaking. After learning to speak up for myself I knew it was okay to open up about my struggles. 

By advocating for myself and talking about my mental health, I have paved the path to a more livable life, one that I feel is worth living. My journey has not been easy, nor is it representative of everyone’s but by opening up about these experiences I hope that you can see how important it is to have conversations about mental health. If there is anything you take away from my story, I hope that you realize how important it is to talk about your mental health; it allows you to receive the support that you need.

It is okay to hurt. It is okay to take a step back. And most importantly, it is okay to not be okay.

If you are ever in a time of crisis and feel like you have no one else to turn to or need resources to help get you back on track, Crisis Text Line is available 24/7/365 by texting HOME to 741741.