Mental Health: A Journey to Acceptance

In the past few years, mental health has come to light as a major issue within our youngest generations. According to the American Psychological Association, “America’s youngest adults are most likely of all generations to report poor mental health, and Gen Z is also significantly more likely to seek professional help for mental health issues.” We live in a world that’s slowly starting to have a conversation about mental health, but that doesn’t make personal conversation any less difficult.

Like any health issue, the first signs of a problem are the symptoms. Whether it’s a change in sleeping patterns (sleeping too much or too little), feeling extra amounts of sadness, lack of motivation, or so many other symptoms, you might feel like it’s all in your head. You may feel trapped and unsure. You may even feel like your feelings aren’t valid. This is not the case. If you don’t want to make an entire appointment at the doctor’s for just these feelings, make sure to bring it up next time you go in. Treat it like it is - an illness.

Even if you get past self-identification, making an appointment to meet with a specialist can be nerve-wracking and alienating. You might say to yourself things like: “Why can’t you just handle your emotions like everyone else?” “Why do you need special treatment?” “Why can’t you just figure it out on your own?” These are thoughts you need to push away. Mental health is like regular health. You would go to a doctor to fix a broken arm, so why not for your mental health? Take the steps to get help as soon as you can. You’ll thank yourself later.

I was one of those people who felt that I was just overreacting to everything. I just needed to relax. I went through life in constant fear, never understanding why I would shake and be unable to breathe when my teacher would call randomly on the class or why I would memorize my question in my head before saying anything out loud. Little did I know that after a major anxiety attack in front of peers, I would be diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder at age 15. Fifteen years of fear and panic that were brushed away because I wrote myself off as "just being nervous." Fifteen years of hiding and being scared of the world. I sometimes wonder how my life would have been different if I had been diagnosed sooner.

But diagnoses should not be seen as the end of the conversation. Many people move on from diagnosis to therapy and medication. And once again, those questions might fill your head. “Why do I need to talk to this person? How are they supposed to help me?” Try to enter the room with an open mind. Your therapist or counselor has been trained to help people in all different kinds of situations. They might be able to give an outside perspective as well. And to be honest? Lots of people find them to be shoulders to cry on, people who will actively listen and care.

Medication, however, is an entirely different game. It's not as easy as saying “I don't want depression anymore," taking a pill once and magically becoming cured. Medication is a game of balance, finding the right medication and the right levels for you. What you need now might not be the same as what you need in a year. I personally just started lowering my medication to find how much of life I can handle on my own. This was all done with the supervision of my doctor. This is key. Never change your dosage without talking to a medical professional. There may be severe side effects.

It can be hard to accept that you're not neurotypical, but I promise you it will be okay. There are so many communities that you can find with people going through similar issues. You can find online communities, groups in your area or even just talk about it with your friends. Surround yourself with people who will support you and understand that life may be a little different for you. When I hang out with friends, we all check in on each other, making sure that we're all doing well and that no one has anything they need to talk about.

At the end of the day, take away just a few things:

  • You are valid in your emotions.
  • It's going to take time for everything to feel "normal."
  • You are still "normal" (however you define it). 
  • If you're diagnosed, you're still the same person that you were before.
  • You are not your mental health.

If you or a loved one are contemplating hurting yourself, please contact the National Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).

You are loved and you are valued.