Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mental Health Blog Party: My Journey, Part 1

Mental Health Blog Party BadgeMay is Mental Health Month, and the American Psychological Association is celebrating today, May 18, as a Mental Health Blog Party to
educate the public about mental health, decrease stigma about mental illness, and discuss strategies for making lasting lifestyle and behavior changes that promote overall health and wellness.
I decided to write a little bit of my journey and what mental health means to me.

My Journey, Part 1
I was always an emotional, anxious person - my memories from elementary school are of a smart, pleasant girl who was trying to please everyone and be perfect all the time. Middle school was FUN, what with all those burgeoning hormones adding to it all (that's sarcasm, people). I remember in middle school always reaching out to teachers to talk to - my mom wasn't (and still isn't) the type to talk about feelings and such. I learned at an early age to get that aspect of mothering elsewhere, and I have a special place in my heart for the many teachers who filled that role in my life.

Then came high school. The time when I felt everything was the end of the world, and I don't mean this in a dismissive way - I think high school is insular, that we place a lot of pressure on high schoolers AS IF each activity, test, action were the end of the world if not done right. I put a lot of pressure on myself, though, without even knowing it - the pressure to do it all, to be the best, to stand out from the crowd.

My junior year, my best friend at the time got cancer - and it was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I had a "nervous breakdown." I cracked. I went through the motions, but I was miserable, not handling everything, and it showed. People were concerned about my well-being, and I cried all the time. That year is a blur.

My wonderful guidance counselor referred me to the school's social worker. He was awesome. Talking about things SUCKED. In a way, it was better when I was oblivious, because that was easier to deal with (or to be more specific, not deal with). Now, not only did I had to deal with school, my sick friend, normal relationship stuff, et al., but also deal with my mental health. And I wasn't taking care of myself in multiple ways, which doesn't help one deal with everything.

There was also a lot of stigma. There still is, and I'm nervous to write this blog post knowing that co-workers and anyone can read it. But we need to get rid of the stigma. While I was working with the social worker in high school, he thought it would be a good idea to see a professional outside of school, and I trusted him so I was for it. I couldn't talk to my mom about it (and my dad would normally go along with whatever my mom wanted) so he had my mom come up to the school to talk. All she heard was that I was miserable and that it was all her fault - it was partially, in the sense that I couldn't talk to her and she always minimized my feelings, but that was the whole point of me getting help elsewhere, right? As mental health issues have a genetic basis, she also has her own things to work through, which probably affected her reaction. That day when I got home, she said to me "you don't think you need to see someone, do you?" I understood. No, no I guess not.

Things got better - they always do, I guess - and as my friend got well I got through senior year. Looking back, I regret that I still wasn't at the place I could have been mental health-wise, but I did what I could with what I had. Freshman year of college came - and it was too much to handle. I realized I didn't have the study and writing skills many of the others had, I felt inferior, I procrastinated all the time, I holed myself up in my single room when I should have gone out with my friends. I saw a counselor on campus but we didn't connect. I saw one I liked better who worked in downtown Ithaca, but I think I got worn out by commuting to see her (it couldn't have been more than once a week, and probably closer to once every two. Co-pays were probably not ideal for a college student, even if they were only $10).

It got better, as it were. Met a wonderful group of friends sophomore year who were my co-RAs (friends I'm seeing this weekend!) and my support group kept me sane. Junior year I met my now-husband the Secret Asian Man, and all of those happy hormones kept me ok for awhile (only an occasional meltdown - though I'd be interested in hearing the S.A.M.'s take on that). I graduated from college, we moved to DC, I got a job, got married,and at some point Secret Asian Man said it was time to work on myself. That he worried about me. That our marriage would improve if I improved (not that our marriage was bad). So I finally started working with someone in a real way. I discovered medication, which I should have been on since high school.

And I'm still a work on progress - but one with insight, tools, and hope. More about those tools later today!

**Update - not really in the mood for posting a Part 2 this many months later. Moving forward!


  1. Thank you for sharing your story and for joining in on our blog party and blog day. Isn't life one continue work in progress, anyway? :)

  2. @Angel - yes, it is and should always be a work in progress. We should always be working on ourselves!

  3. a brave and honest post by a brave and honest (and totally rockin') woman. we love you, colleen.