My mental health story started before I knew what mental health was, before I was even a glimmer in my parents’ eyes. My anxiety and depression were passed from my grandparents to my parents to me. Raised by guardians with mental illness in denial, I grew up in cognitive dissonance. I coped by shutting down. I froze out my emotions. Some people called me strong. Others called me an ice queen.
The funny thing is, when you shut your emotions down, eventually they start to yell. When you don’t listen to them yell, then they scream. And when you don’t listen to them scream, you eventually break.
For me, it started with headaches. Then nausea and digestive issues followed. And finally, full-body widespread muscle pain and fatigue. It was debilitating. Suddenly I had to take a medical leave of absence in my third year of college.
What was wrong? Well, it wasn’t some medical mystery. I received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, but also, on a deeper level, I believe this illness is my body’s reaction to a lifetime of emotional repression.
Now, I’ve recognized that I need to take care of my emotions. I go to therapy and take antidepressants. I’ve learned healthy ways to express myself. And I’m even studying to become a therapist, in hopes that I can help others like myself.
Since last year, I’ve been interning at a mental health clinic. I’ve learned that to be an effective therapist, I need to be able to listen attentively and offer my empathy and compassion freely. Admittedly, it can sometimes be difficult to do that while living with depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. When those days happen, I give myself grace, and do the best that I can for my clients.
I don’t believe that having a diagnosis of my own makes me a less effective clinician.
If anything, my experience with depression has trained me to be sensitive to the needs of others. But I do need to be extra diligent with my self-care to make sure that my mental health remains afloat.
Being a therapist is emotionally and physically draining. It doesn’t earn you status or fame or wealth. It earns you the gratitude of your clients, but often it’s a lot of work before they can get to the point of noticing change. If I could go back to my past self, I would ask: Are you sure you want to do this? It’s harder than you think.
But I return to the same answer again and again. I want to help people get better so that they don’t have to suffer the way I suffered. I want to be a therapist who can empathize, not only because I’ve been trained to practice empathy, but because I have been there myself and made it through.
Even as a therapist (in training), I’m still working on my own mental well-being. I still see a therapist. I still deal with anxiety and depression, and my chronic pain still persists. But I have more hope every day that things are getting better, and that I will be able to see this through. By processing my emotions rather than burying them, and by helping others do the same.
People need other people. You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].