By Sarah Hively
I was sixteen the first time I saw a therapist. The thing about being sixteen is that everything is out of whack. So many classic symptoms of mental illnesses are synonymous with the “symptoms” of a wildly hormonal sixteen year old girl. Because of this, my parents were adamant that they did not want a diagnosis, they did not want medicine, they just wanted their daughter to be their daughter again. You see, when your daughter goes from straight A’s to bad grades for no apparent reason, is still self harming after three years, and bounces back and forth between interests, clothing choices, friends, etc. faster than is considered healthy, you send her to therapy. And therapy helped me so much. My therapist was a kind, spunky woman who had lived in Ann Arbor for several years, let me rant, made me feel like I was not at fault for the first time in my life, and taught me breathing exercises to calm myself down when things got hard. She was wonderful for so many reasons. And I left therapy end of my junior year, after a few short months, feeling like I was on top of things.
In the three years since then, I have never been that junior year Sarah again. But I also haven’t quite been Sarah, either. Sometimes it was hard for others to pick up on, sometimes it was hard for me to pick up on. I was still growing up, and some of the things that could’ve been considered indicators of something being off are hard to recognize as anything more than that.
But things got unbearable this year. In abnormal psychology, I learned that a “nervous breakdown”, more accurately defined as the prominent display/beginnings of a mental illness, tends to rear its head during periods of extreme stress. This year has been stressful. My physical health was rough there for awhile, and I have been extremely busy.
I’ve also been in a consistent relationship with a girl who respects me enough and loves me enough to be honest with me when my actions are off, and I think having someone in my life who is so constant, and who I trust so much, allowed me to recognize that there were fault in my actions and thoughts, and that I was not always acting in a mentally stable way, because I couldn’t just retreat and isolate myself when things were bad.
So, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist. You see, this was not my first course of action. I have done yoga, I have slathered essential oil blends with names such as “Joy” over my heart every morning, I have tried every dietary plan imaginable, I have taken vitamin D, I have restarted therapy this year. And after much debate with myself and the people I trust most, I decided to seek a psychiatrist’s professional opinion. Because mental illnesses are hard. You can open up the DSMV and have so many of the symptoms that suddenly you have diagnosed yourself with a bajillion different things. It’s about deciding whether those symptoms are so hindering to your being that they are affecting you to a drastic level.
The psychiatrist armed me with a diagnosis, which is a very unnerving thing. Especially if you are me, and march in there all prepared with your research and what you think is wrong with you, only to be told it’s something you never had even looked into. I don’t like to be caught off guard. I was also given a prescription for an antidepressant. For my own privacy, I’m not going to go into much more specifics than that, but there is a point I am trying to make in this post.
There is a large stigma surrounding diagnoses, and medicine. There is an argument that receiving a diagnosis makes one start to see symptoms in themselves that maybe aren’t really there, or allows them a cop out for their behavior. That is not my experience. My experience is that receiving a diagnosis equipped me a whole new toolbox. It equipped me with finding specific therapies that are proven to target this exactly, it equipped me with library books written on the subject, with articles written by people and a sigh of relief knowing I was not the only one experiencing these things, that I was not just immature.
And going on medicine? Medicine made me happy most the time, not vicious cycles of happiness followed by sudden crashes of hollowness and anxiety and insecurity. Medicine has me applying for fellowships. Medicine has me getting out of bed in the morning. Medicine has me wanting to spend time with my friends and my family. Medicine makes me realize that I haven’t felt so much like myself in a really, really long time longer than I realized. Medicine has me doing my homework, raising my hand in class, wanting to learn. Medicine allows me to hear my girlfriend say that she feels like she’s “dating the girl [she] started dating again”. Medicine may not be a permanent thing, but if it is what my body needs to help me get through until I can get to the root of the issue through further research and therapy, why would I not do it?
I am posting this not for sympathy or judgement, but because I honestly believe we live in a society that tells us not to talk about these things or that when they are talked about they are highly stigmatized or incorrectly portrayed. And I think that everyone is their own best judge. If you feel like you are not yourself for an extended period of time and no effort of your own is helping that, you have to be your own advocate. I am grateful for a support system that encouraged me to take care of myself. I am grateful for a girlfriend that takes time to do her own reading, research, and loves me when things aren’t perfect, but also loves me enough to tell me when my behavior is harmful. I am grateful for friends who I can confide in, who love me. And I’m grateful that I took care of me.