One day in 2015, I realized that I couldn’t keep going the way I was going, that I had hit a breaking point.
I ended up in therapy. While it probably was pretty obvious to my psychiatrist early on, rather than tell me I had depression, he let me figure it out on my own. We worked together to unravel the layers of insulation I wrapped around myself as self-preservation, and once it clicked, a lot of things finally made sense.
As I continued with therapy, I eventually recognized that my self-preservation also manifested itself as a wall surrounding me (bear with me! I like similies and metaphors). Along with the layers of insulation, I built this to block off the teasing, the bullying, and whatever else I was subjected to that gave me the message that I was not good enough.
Except, by the time I constructed the wall, it was too late. I already felt unwanted, unappreciated, unworthy, un-everything.
To make things worse, while warding off the insults and brickbats, the wall also kept out what could’ve counteracted them—positive feelings, like affection and appreciation and gratitude and love. On an intellectual level, I know that my family and friends love and value me, but I couldn’t feel it. I once said to one of my sisters that I believed the only reason they loved me was that I was related to them, and there was nothing innate within me that was worthy of love. Pretty disconcerting for me to say, and for her to hear me say it. But I don’t always feel positive regard, or more correctly, I don’t let myself feel it.
My other tactic, if it could be called that, was essentially avoidance. I did not like to acknowledge my feelings, and just put all of them in a box (yes, more metaphors). I acted as if nothing got to me—good or bad. All things—the layers, the wall, the box—were to stop me from feeling anything, negative or positive. Life went on, and since I never dealt with anything, when difficult situations happened again, they would affect me in a monumental way. It compounded, so to speak, and was now the current dose plus the previous one.
Eventually, the cumulative effects led me to therapy. To continue with the wall metaphor, I learned to create a window. At least I could see what was coming and could crack open the window a bit to let positive feelings in and shut it when negative ones appeared.
I’ve also learned to acknowledge my feelings, good and bad. I now take the time to sit with how something is making me feel. I observe quietly on my own and reflect on it, or verbalize it to others. The thing about verbalizing is that some people, even those who are incredibly well-meaning, do not know how to respond to it. To me, the least helpful response is “why?” I already feel inadequate, so not being able to explain makes me feel even more inadequate. That then makes me want to go back to putting things in the box or shutting the window.
On the flip side, the most wonderful response I’ve ever heard was from one of my nieces. I once reached out to her, and she simply said: “How can I help you?” She risked sounding like a call center worker or a retail salesperson to let me know that my feelings were valid and that I could guide her on what I needed at that moment.
That little sentence reminded me that reaching out is not a weakness, it’s empowering. I have the agency to decide how to manage my mental health, and how I want someone to help me as I negotiate this wave (one last metaphor). Sometimes all I need is to not feel alone or to hear about past good times that remind me that whatever this is, it will pass, and I will be stronger for it.
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].