I saw a psychologist for the first time this week. This might not seem like a big deal to many of you, but it is a huge deal for me. I’ve been through depression, post traumatic stress, and still suffer through bouts of anxiety. But, I’ve always gotten through every mental challenge on my own.
How Did It Get So Hard to Ask For Help?
I look back at some of the things I put up with on my own, and I have no idea how I got through them. Does it make me feel strong? Sure. But it makes me feel stupid too. Although I got through my challenges, I undoubtedly would have gotten through them sooner had I felt comfortable asking for help.
Why is asking for help perceived so negatively? In part, I think it is part of our upbringing. Older generations aren’t so open with their emotions; for generations they have been taught to just ‘get on with it’ because they have a job to do, or role to perform. It’s perceived as a sort of weakness if you can’t handle things yourself. I was certainly brought up feeling this way.
The term ‘mental illness’ tends to conjure visions of psychotic breaks and emotional instability
I believe it is also in part a result of the ‘mental illness’ title. The term ‘mental illness’ tends to conjure visions of psychotic breaks and emotional instability; however this isn’t what most people experiencing mental illness are going through.
Mental illness can mean struggling with the loss of a baby. It can mean struggling to emotionally move on after the death of a loved one. It can mean experiencing depression and loss of confidence after losing a job. It can mean struggling to sleep because of a a traumatic event that was experienced. It can happen to anyone, and it can BE anyone. Most people with a mental illness are functional with only mild interference to daily life, and hide their emotions behind a mask of normality.
Even if we do experience the more severe type of mental health issue, why do we fear being judged so much? When our body needs therapy, we see all sorts of doctors and specialists. A psychiatrist is just another medical specialist, and we should feel perfectly comfortable to see a psychologist for our mental and emotional suffering too.
Let's Call it a Mental Challenge, Not Mental Illness
What if there are just a series of “mental challenges”, some harder to get through than others?
What Seeing a Psychologist Was Like
I was greeted warmly by a 50-something lady who led me to a room with a several armchairs and a small table with a box of tissues on it. I knew what the tissues were for.
I stared blankly at her as I sat down. There were a few seconds of silence as a wondered what I’d say. My heart started beating fast with anxiety. Then, she asked ‘So, what brings you here?’ and it just all happened. A volcano of words erupted and it just all came out. I didn’t need the tissues, I just needed to talk. In fact couldn’t stop talking, and it felt so damn good.
I didn’t need the tissues, I just needed to talk. In fact couldn’t stop talking, and it felt so damn good.
It felt good to say everything to this stranger that noone else would hear. It felt good not to be judged for my feelings. It felt good have my feelings acknowledged. It felt good to have a third party perspective that I could CHOOSE to take or leave. It felt good not to need to wear that bloody mask I’ve been wearing when someone would ask how I’m doing.
Overall, it was surprisingly ‘nonclinical’. I think that shocked me the most. I half expected a cold, calculating person staring down at me over a clipboard like in the movies. But, instead, I felt like I was talking to a lovely Aunt or friend.
It's OK to Need to Talk
I’ve realized that it’s OK to NEED someone to listen; someone who doesn’t tell you that emotion is useless, that you are overreacting, or being unreasonable. Just someone to metaphorically hold your hand as you take steps to deal with your own thoughts and emotions.
I had taken things into my own hands; I decided to talk to someone and felt MORE in control of my own feelings because of it.
Eleni Fegan is the founder and Managing Editor of DearBub Blog and Magazine which began from a personal journey of research and healing. Her motivation for DearBub is beautifully summarised in her Editor’s Letter: “I realised that there is beauty to giving voice to our experiences, and raising an awareness that we are not alone in them. I realised the immense power that ‘sharing’ had in transforming our sense of self and being through creating connection”.