on reaching out for help (when you don’t think you deserve it)

you know what’s a lil depressing? That it took three people convincing me over the course of several months to go to therapy… for me to even consider it. That i thought so little of myself that i didn’t trust my judgment of my own state of mind. I was convinced that if other people were suffering more loudly, their suffering must by extension be more severe. If you are able to grin and bear it (well…more like grimace and bear it), then it can’t be that bad, hence, you don’t deserve to get help.

I have known many people who were plenty vocal about their suffering, and I never thought to question it. If they say they’re depressed, then they must be depressed, why would they lie about something like that? Yet I didn’t extend that same courtesy to myself.

what was annoying was that i didn’t have any one major thing tragically wrong with me. I didn’t hear voices, i wasnt paranoid or delusional. instead, countless little things were just… slightly… off. I didn’t know what things, or in what ways, exactly; up until fairly recently i didn’t even realize that it wasn’t “normal” to dislike yourself, or for your mind to go blank when asked about your strong suits.

I didn’t know that most people didn’t approach relationships the same way I did; that one central friendship wasn’t a focal point of their entire lives. I didn’t know you didn’t have to agree with everything your best friend said, or like whatever she liked, or that there was no point in comparing yourself to her or trying to imitate her.

I had all my physical needs met. Why, then, was i feeling so… hollow? I hadn’t gone through trauma as i understood it. If Mom sheltered me from the outside world and protected against all perceived risks, real or imagined, then my feeling bad regardless was an act of defiance. My feelings didn’t make sense; I had no reason, no right to feel them.

So I tried to dismiss them. And when that didn’t work, I tried to convince myself that everybody else felt the same way, I was just making a big deal out of it. My Mom sure believed the same thing; it was like the opposite of gaslighting: me knowing that something’s wrong, and her adamantly denying it.

I was taught that denial was a legitimate way of solving your problems … maybe it was the only way she knew how to solve hers. Or she was afraid of the stigma attached to mental illness. Or worried that by agreeing with me, she would be admitting to messing up. i dont wanna go into her motivations; nor do i intend to lampoon her by pointing out her parenting mistakes. In fact, I have nothing but compassion for her, and the experiences that made her the way she is. If anything, she’s suffering more than i can even begin to comprehend, and she has for many years; so much so that you have to admire her resiliency.

The difference is, I know that some part of her suffering, however small, isn’t inevitable. And that if you’re hurting, whether you like it or not, you’re gonna end up hurting those closest to you. Some of your suffering you necessarily gotta come to terms with… but why put up with all the rest?

But how do you help someone who doesn’t wanna be helped? I wish I had the answer to that. I know first-hand that ultimately you can’t make them better; you can only support them while they help themselves. I can’t do her growing up for her, either.

Back to my original point: for me, my internal conflict simply became too great to ignore. On the one hand, I thought I was making it all up. On the other hand, I didn’t believe anyone else would ever do such a thing. And also, if this was supposed to be my “normal”, then why, instead of getting used to it, did I keep hurting more and more?

I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by understanding, caring people throughout my life. People who validated me even if and when it felt so foreign and out of place. I also had access to the internet, with all its abundance of websites spreading awareness of mental health topics. My Mom wasn’t so lucky, and even though she endured suffering far greater than I ever will, she still doesn’t believe herself worthy of receiving help.

“A mental disorder is a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important activities.”

That’s according to the DSM-5.

Well, I was experiencing distress. My emotion regulation was disturbed. For me, reaching out for help was as simple as no longer being able to pretend like everything was fine. It was about understanding that things didn’t have to be spectacular to impair your functioning, and that if i was waiting for somebody else to tell me i deserved to get help, i might wait forever.

I used to think (well, not think, presuppose) that to be interested in mental health was self-indulgent. That there were far more important things to worry about than your feelings or your self-esteem. But what if these were the very things preventing you from ever engaging in anything “more important”? How long can you stay in denial and hope that the issues you have struggled with all your life will at some point just magically resolve themselves on their own? (of course the opposite happens: the longer you ignore something, the worse it gets.)

sometimes you have to trust your own judgment, even if you’re not used to it. approach yourself with the same kind of compassion as you would anyone. if it hurts, it hurts. but asking for help… means you have found at least a little bit of hope… of faith that things can get better.

they will.

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