I Prefer To Listen!! Enjoy
My sophomore year of high school, I had a lot of “appointments.” I’d rotate on what I told my friends they were for: dentist, doctor, orthodontist. Really, I was going to weekly therapy sessions, and I was afraid to tell them the truth.
It wasn’t my first time in therapy. I started seeing a therapist in second grade, when my fear of thunderstorms had me obsessively watching the Weather Channel and the sky, afraid to go to school if there was a single dark cloud, a 50-percent chance of rain, or, god forbid, a tornado watch. If a thunderstorm rolled in during the school day, the teacher would excuse me to go visit the school therapist, where I’d anxiously sit and talk with her until the sound of rain passed. No one in my classes knew where I went except for the teacher, and I made sure to keep it that way.
Around fourth grade, I started seeing a therapist on the weekends. Most sessions, I went angrily, ashamed of myself for needing the help. I refused to open up to the therapist at all. Middle school came, and, somehow, each year I started caring less and less about watching the sky. I stopped seeing a therapist regularly, and thought I’d finished my stint with mental issues—I was fixed now.
But then, sophomore year of high school, my anxiety came back for an extended visit. I realized that fear of weather was just a small manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder and general anxiety, and the two began to torment me each day. My mom suggested I head back to therapy. Unlike when I was younger, I didn’t resist it this time. I went into the sessions and began opening up, recognizing the way I think and learning how I could fight back against irrational thoughts and fears, things that could easily suck me up into an anxious spiral. It was difficult work confronting the things that scared me and the power my mind could have over my emotions, but it needed to be done. I could tell it was helping.
Still, I didn’t want to tell anyone. I didn’t want my friends—who I’d leave on a perfectly sunny summer day at the pool for a “dental cleaning”—to think there was something wrong with me. At school I was happy, confident and carefree. I didn’t want people to know the truth, to look at me like I was “sick” or not OK.
Looking back, I realize now that’s why I should have told people. To show them that, yes, someone with a mental illness can seem totally fine on the outside, but battle something on the inside. To show them that it’s OK to get help for mental issues—just like it’s OK to go to the doctor for the flu, or the dentist for a cavity. To show them that they’re not alone if they too struggle with their thoughts and feelings.
Today, I know I’m not alone. A staggering one in five adults suffer from a mental illness in the U.S. in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. And 18.1 percent of adults—that’s 44 million people—in the U.S. suffer specifically from anxiety disorders, according to Mental Health America. But sadly, there’s still a stigma surrounding getting help for mental illnesses. Only about a third of people suffering from depression seek help from a mental health professional, and the MHA explains it’s because they “believe depression isn’t serious, that they can treat it themselves or that it is a personal weakness rather than a serious medical illness.”