Therapy Saved My Mental Health In College, And I'm Not Ashamed Of It
It can be hard to personally address our need for therapy or acknowledge our faltering mental health.
The stigma surrounding first-hand discussion of it only prevents people from getting the help they need.
For those in need to get help, we need to be able to openly share our experiences and break down the stigma.
I personally know how terrifying it can feel when you think the world is judging you.
The first week of college felt like an endless cycle of crying, eating and then crying again.
It got to the point where I was worried about damaging the wood floors. (That's only a slight exaggeration.)
Adjusting to my new life left me feeling more anxious than I ever had before.
Desperate to feel better, I decided to seek counseling.
I went to talk to someone because of anxiety, but initially doing so only made me more anxious.
On the bus ride to the Wellness Center, my heart started racing as it became increasingly clear I would be the only person getting off at that stop.
All I could think about was how the other riders would be judging me, wondering what issues I had and immediately labeling me crazy.
To avoid the critical glances of others, I got off the bus a stop early and then walked over to the office.
Now that it's later in the semester, I get off at the actual stop in front of the building.
This is partially because I've developed more confidence, and partially because I know that everybody is either too tired, too hungover or too preoccupied with themselves to care what I'm doing.
Even though I now know nobody was focusing on me or judging me, that shouldn't have been a concern of mine in the first place.
For people to feel comfortable seeking the help they need, the dialogue about therapy and mental health has to be opened.
The way we currently handle mental health is by not handling it.
If you're talking about your anxiety, it has to be a joke.
This unspoken agreement has often forced me to turn something I feel sensitive about into a punchline.
Although this coping mechanism provides a brief moment of relief, it only brushes over the issue and fails to actually acknowledge it.
Starting a genuine discussion rarely happens, and the few times it does, it happens in hypotheticals.
People shy away from sincerely discussing their mental health.
It can be awkward, uncomfortable or deemed "inappropriate" to discuss our own mental states.
This stigma only hurts people.
Fortunately for me, my mom never backed away from discussing her experiences with going to therapy.
Therapy has always seemed normal to me, and my mom has always praised its benefits.
The main reason I decided to follow through on going to counseling was because my mom kept insisting on it.
When I told her I booked my first appointment, she cheered.
When I tell other people I have an appointment for counseling, however, their reactions are less enthusiastic.
Typically, there's a tense silence as they calculate how to respond and imagine the worst-case scenario.
Although some people who seek help do have more serious issues, I use therapy as a space to vent without consequence for an hour.
After spending so long bottling everything up, therapy allows me a weekly emotional catharsis.
Therapy is healthy.
It's good to have a space to speak openly about your feelings, no matter how insignificant you think they may be.
Whether the feedback you get helps you or not, just having a place to let out your emotions is beneficial.
You don't need to be dealing with great mental battles to seek help.
All problems feel big when you're dealing with them, and it's important to acknowledge your concerns.
Therapy provides a safe space for that.
There have been days when I walk into the office, thinking it'll be a 15-minute session and that I have nothing on my mind.
Then 10 minutes in, I'm unloading about my fears for the future, and Eric, my trustworthy therapist, is passing me the Kleenex box.
Even after the sessions that leave me most emotionally raw, I still feel better walking out the door than I did coming in.
If I hadn't started going to therapy, I wouldn't be as well-adjusted as I am now.
And I want people to know that.
I've shared the fact I go to therapy with a close group of friends, most of whom also go.
We love to talk about what happened in our sessions, share our breakthroughs or poke fun at ourselves for crying over something.
It's refreshing to be able to speak openly about a topic that other people consider taboo.
I'm proud of myself for the things I've been able to overcome since talking through my feelings in counseling.
I want to be able to genuinely share my progress for once instead of making a frantic joke about having a mental breakdown.
I'd also like to discuss therapy without everyone around me freezing up.
Therapy does not have to be a big deal; it's just another way of staying healthy.
If we remove the stigma surrounding therapy, other people could be encouraged to seek the help they need.
Instead of being crippled by anxiety that might lead them to get off the bus a stop early or avoid counseling altogether, people could walk into their appointments with their heads held high.
Mental health is as essential as physical health, and if speaking about my therapy experiences encourages one more person to try it, I'll be satisfied.
I shouldn't feel shameful or dirty about going to counseling, and I shouldn't have to make up excuses for why I'm busy during my appointment to avoid admitting the truth.
At 10 am each Monday, I go to therapy.
I'm not going to lie about that any longer.
If we can openly speak about our weekend shenanigans, our physical illnesses or our love lives, we should be able to speak openly about therapy.