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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

Something I have learned over the past couple of years, is that when you ignore a problem it only continues to grow and expand until you can no longer look the other way. 

men and mental health
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In this case, I am referring to mental health issues and why you need to start being proactive with your health. I was someone who thrived off the idea that if you ignore a problem for so long, it will eventually dissipate and you can move on with ease. In my mind, life was too short to be stuck on things you cannot change by yourself, so your best bet was to struggle through it. So, when I began to experience panic attacks, intense bouts of anxiety, and OCD related triggers- my initial reaction was to deflect and push those feelings far, far away. This methodology can work for a while too, your life will progress and it may seem as though things will be getting better; however, these emotions always lay somewhere close beneath the surface. The thing is, your mental health has this sort of snowball effect; where once it starts unraveling, it doesn’t stop until it has destroyed everything in its path if not treated properly. 

I had seen a therapist for my anxiety in middle school, but found no solace in the way the sessions worked and only found myself to be more on guard. I did what I thought was best for my own wellbeing and just altogether stopped going- which was probably my first mistake. I attempted to handle these various obstacles of my mental health by myself, and to not let anyone in to help me. I did not want to be a burden to my family or my friends, because a part of me was ashamed for not being strong enough to deal with this on my own. I think it is important to note, that I now know there is strength in vulnerability and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. For the next couple of years, I went in between periods of doing extremely well and times where I did not know what to do with myself. 

Finally, in my junior year of high school I decided to seek help by reaching out to my doctor and getting a referral for a local therapist (different from my previous one). I started to go see him and at first, I have to admit, I was uncomfortable with sharing my feelings and experiences with a stranger. I think society makes us believe that feeling sorry for ourselves is wrong and selfish, which can therefore make it difficult to share that we feel a certain way or that people’s behaviors have hurt us. The truth is, being empathetic should also apply to ourselves by validating how we feel, instead of disregarding it as being dramatic or ‘playing the victim’. Through this cognitive strategy of thinking through my experiences and why my anxiety was there, I began to take this heavy weight off of my shoulders. It truly helped to discuss my thoughts and worries with someone, and even helped that it was someone I did not know. 

I found myself approaching a solution, or what I thought was such, and took this as a sign that I was ‘cured’. Looking back, this is a laughable conclusion to come to; as there is no such thing as being cured of a mental health disorder. Your mental health is a lifelong journey plagued by highs and lows, but it is not something to escape from. However, I was too excited to not be facing the severity of this anxiety and OCD on a daily basis and stopped going to see my therapist. There was nothing wrong with him, in fact he actually may have been too good, as I took the small progress we made and viewed it as reaching the end goal. All in all, I saw no need to continue our sessions. This period of my life was the best I had ever felt mentally, and it seemed as though I had everything going for me: a great group of friends, a new boyfriend, prom was around the corner, and I had just gotten back from a fantastic trip to Italy with my best friend. What could go wrong?

Of course, this euphoria was bound to come to an end, and it did in a horrifying, dumpster-fire blaze at the end of the summer and the beginning of my senior year. The trigger could have been many elements of that August, but started with a 180 in my emotional well being. I was unsure in my relationship and my friend group had become narrowed down to myself and my best friend. After a particularly awful night out, I came to the realization of how unhappy I truly was. This was extremely difficult to accept, because it seemed I had everything I wanted. When in reality, I had not changed much from the person I was a couple months ago: someone who was still dealing with mental health issues. So, I did what any rational human being does and broke up with my boyfriend, cried, ate ice cream, and got a haircut. Obviously, I should have also called my therapist, but we’ll get there. 

In late August I had something particularly devastating happen to me, and felt more isolated than ever before. I brushed it off and tried to reason with myself, eventually repressing the experience altogether. I hate to say it, but once again this worked for a short period and I lived the first half of my senior year as well as I could. But, as you have probably guessed, it appeared in bursts of anxiety riddled nights and intrusive thoughts that haunted me unknowingly. 

Photo by Polina Zimmerman from Pexels
I had enough with trying to cope on my own, and finally reached out to my old therapist by setting up an appointment. We began to see each other again once every week for an hour, where we worked on building that trust and breaking down the barriers to the root of my anxiety. At some point COVID-19 hit and we became fully digital, but that did not stop us from meeting. Ever since March 2020, I have been having telehealth visits with him weekly and have come so far since I started. I have never felt more validated in my emotions and experiences and feel as healthy as I ever have. I still have a very long way to go, but I know that I have an army of support behind me which makes the journey much more bearable. Through all of this I have learned there is such value in seeking out help and being vulnerable. By taking my mental health seriously, I have never loved myself more and have become the strongest advocate for my own wellness.

Contributors from the University of Massachusetts Amherst