In today’s day and age, many different people present unique opinions, connotations, ideas, misconceptions and stigmas about mental health and just about anything to do with it.
As a Muslim, Bengali-American woman, the way that mental health has been presented to me as a child had always been very iffy and controversial.
I remember being frightened, genuinely frightened, by people suffering through any sort of mental illness. Early on in middle school, I was introduced to the concept of suicidal ideation and was sadly under the impression that suicide and self-harm were all just a silly a cry for attention.
I hate to admit it, but a lot of this mentality that I seemed to be developing about mental health was influenced largely by the community within which I was growing up. I grew up in a culturally-intertwined religious community that never really discussed mental health other than to correlate it to what is colloquially understood as being “crazy”. They don’t pray enough. They don’t have enough faith. These were all answers to questions no one ever bothered to even ask about mental illness and certain causes of it.
The world of mental health is everything but crazy. It is absolutely normal, entirely unique to each individual, and to be put simply, a vital aspect of health.
Mental health advocacy and knowledge resonates with me intensely because I myself, am a 20 year old woman diagnosed with three mental health disorders: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, as well as Major Depressive Disorder.
I remember being frightened, genuinely frightened, by people suffering through any sort of mental illness.
As a child, I always noticed that my emotions and sensitivity were more intense than others that surrounded me. I was the type of child that cried about absolutely everything and took everything to heart. I never quite grew consciously aware of this reality of my emotions until I hit middle school, and noticed that most people around me were different. I used to feel slightly out of place because everything hit me a lot harder than it seemed to hit others. It was around that time that I began to experience anxiety attacks and panic attacks regularly. I believed for the longest time that these attacks were normal, despite how frightening and tragic they were. It never occurred to me to discuss them with my parents or to bring up the emotions that caused them with anyone.
When I got to high school, I went through spurts of depression with simultaneous, intense anxiety. My teachers would notice through my behavior and mood that something was wrong and recommended me to go speak to a guidance counselor. That was the first time I had ever spoken to anyone about what I was experiencing. Though the guidance counselor I spoke to was not someone that I was the most comfortable speaking to, this was my first time in an environment that remotely resembled therapy.
In 9th grade, I started doing my own research and delved into psychology to learn more about mental health and specifically the experiences I was having. I had an idea that perhaps I had some mental health issues as I learned that one of the key points of having a mental disorder was the level of dysfunction caused in one’s life. My life WAS dysfunction. At the same time I was keenly aware that self-diagnoses were not necessarily accurate.
To be honest, at the time, I was frightened, confused and felt really alone. I just knew, somewhere within myself, that this was something that neither my family nor friends would be able to understand. I kept it a secret that I even met with a counselor at school because I felt ashamed.
Around that time, I was acting out a lot at home due to failure of being able to manage my emotions and my anxiety. I used to get into a lot of trouble at home. I was told I was being withdrawn and isolated, and I was accused of a lot of things that my parents assumed was because I was seeking attention. I was just “going through something.”
I never blamed them. It was not their fault that they grew up in a culture and religion that stigmatizes mental health and refuses to speak about it. Traditional mentality was not something they chose for themselves rather, something that seeped into their upbringing and permeated their mentalities.
While in high school I received support from my peers and counseling at school, but once that ended, it was difficult to steer life on my own.
After experience sexual abuse at the age of 16, I experienced many symptoms of PTSD, but still refrained from getting legitimately diagnosed or seeking therapy because I was afraid of the way it would change how my family would view me.
Finally at 19, after falling into an extremely depressed and passively suicidal place in my life, I realized that I needed to get legitimate help and stop relying on things I read and my own knowledge of psychology to try and fix myself. I began psychotherapy and psychiatric medication towards the end of December 2016. I took myself to an outpatient clinic in Manhattan and got myself psychologically evaluated, and was prescribed my first set of medication as well as a recommendation to begin psychotherapy.
I knew what psychotherapy consisted of, being that one of my majors in college is psychology and it essentially is one of my dream careers. But in terms of the medication, I was iffy and frightened about starting something new and having something foreign enter my body, but at the same time knew that it was for the best and a part of my treatment.
Therapy has shaped my life in a meaningful way by teaching me skills to help me battle my depression and anxiety with a long-term solution. Psychotherapy is simply talking about life’s conflicts and laying problems out so that they seem more managable. It is about delving into each individual emotion and learning coping skills. It offers a way to set realistic and vital goals, and follow through with a plan to achieve it.
The best way to summarize its effectiveness is to simply say this: I would not be here if it were not for the incredible skills and work of my therapist.