Being diagnosed with “depressive tendencies” by my first therapist in early high school was a shock to me. I only went to therapy due to my parents’ insistence, and was convinced that the state of constant negativity, agitation, and stress that my fifteen year old brain had been operating in was just what every other teenager felt. I was shocked and frustrated about my diagnosis and terrified of any of my peers finding out that I had to go to therapy, leading to a generally very negative experience. I could barely talk during my sessions and largely blocked out anything my therapist tried to teach me. When I had “graduated” from her services, I remember being given a packet detailing possible relapse symptoms for different mental illnesses. Convinced that I would remember the symptoms but never need help again, I quickly shoved this away in a corner of my childhood room, never to be looked at again.
College-aged me could not be more different when it comes to my views on mental health. I’ve since learned that therapy and any struggles surrounding mental health are nothing to be ashamed of, and that getting help when you need it is an extremely healthy and mature thing to do. I still struggle with my mental health, but I’ve worked with other therapists to learn healthy coping mechanisms and how to recognize when I might be going downhill again. No matter how stressed or busy I am, I always try to make time to check in with myself and see how I’m actually doing.
However like many of us, my mental state has been unpredictable at best throughout the better part of this year. While I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get through the pandemic relatively unscathed compared to many people, ending my college career during the wake of COVID has certainly taken a toll on my mental health. Not being able to celebrate important events and milestones that I’d been looking forward to for years was hard to come to terms with. On top of this, one of my immediate family members is immunocompromised, and the stress of thinking about her possibly getting sick added to the helplessness that I already felt, and I reacted in an unhealthy way. I shoved my feelings of frustration aside and threw myself into any activity that I could think of: hours of studying more than I needed to, sending out (literally) hundreds of internship applications, intense workout challenges, hobbies, and anything else I could think of. I filled every minute of my time with something that felt productive so I wouldn’t have to be alone with my thoughts.
Needless to say, this didn’t end well. I spent the summer waking up anxious and exhausted every morning, immediately worried about everything I needed to do that day, and was lucky if I slept more than a couple hours every night. I never felt like I had enough time to take a break, and on the rare occasion that I did let myself relax, I didn’t enjoy my hobbies or passions like I used to. Rather than addressing these feelings and checking in with myself like I had been so careful to do in the past, I ignored them and just hoped they would go away.
A few months of this has taken a toll on my overall health, but It only just clicked for me that the mental and physical exhaustion I’ve been feeling lately could be my depression creeping back up on me. I sat down a few weeks ago and, for the first time in half a year, really thought about how I felt, and was frustrated that I had let my mental health deteriorate so much despite thinking that I knew how to recognize all of the warning signs. I looked back on teenage me, so convinced that I would never need to recognize the signs of a possible relapse in my own behavior, and wished that I would have realized what was going on sooner.
Whether or not you have struggled before, realizing that you need help brings on a complex, scary mix of emotions. However, there is no shame in struggling with your mental health, as I’ve had to tell myself many times before, and acknowledging that you can’t always handle everything on your own is a brave first step that a lot of people, unfortunately, are never able to take. Even just acknowledging that I am not at my best right now has made me feel better, and has empowered me to be able to take the steps that I need to get my health back on track. While I’m sure a lot of us are sick of hearing cliche things like “It’s Okay To Not Be Okay,” these sayings really are true.
The main takeaway from this is to take the time to check in with yourself and really sit with, and work through how you’re feeling. I know many of us are scared to spend time alone with our thoughts, and for good reason, but sometimes this is the only way to get better. As I know many of us are not at our best right now, please respect and love yourself enough to know when things are too much for you to deal with on your own. Reaching out for help is scary and difficult for many reasons, but you can start small talk to your friends and family about how you’re feeling, make it a point to take good care of your physical health, and take how you’re feeling day by day. There is no shame in needing or wanting help, especially during such a difficult time.