sometimes i think it would be easier to get help for mental health problems if they were physically visible. when you can see broken bones or a growth on an x-ray or take blood pressure, it’s easier to gauge the urgency. we can measure how serious the problem is, and more fundamentally, we actually see it and know immediately that help is needed.
mental illnesses are not so obvious and are certainly not so measurable. we may exhibit behaviors or wear certain expressions that cause concern in ourselves and others. but many of us are too good at hiding our symptoms. for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is stigma – we don’t want other people to know that we have a mental health problem. we don’t want to seem weak, we don’t want to jeopardize our jobs, we don’t want to bring others down. we don’t want to ask for help.
i lived this way for a long time. i told only my family about having depression and taking medication. i felt it would be inappropriate to share with anyone at work. i didn’t want to burden my friends. my mental health issues were usually mild and when they were severe, i powered through and didn’t ask for much extra help. i secretly wanted more support but was too scared to ask for it.
i don’t live this way anymore.
beginning last march, i had a serious episode of depression and anxiety that lasted for close to one year. following a med change i was hit with major panic attacks and spiraled lower and lower and lower into a dark, seemingly endless depression. i thought the pain would never end.
i saw no way out except to say “help.”
asking for help saved my life. when i started to experience new and alarming symptoms, i told my family. i called my doctor. when the symptoms continued to worsen, i went to the hospital. i checked myself in. when i was discharged and still struggling, i shared with my family and therapist – in detail – about my thoughts and feelings. when i felt suicidal, i went back to the hospital. i checked myself in again. over the next six months, i asked and asked and asked for help until i found what i needed. i changed doctors when i felt that our approaches differed too much. i tried new types of therapy. i researched my medications. i asked questions and i pushed back. i developed a safety plan – and the first action item on the plan is to ask for help if i am feeling unsafe. each time i reached for support i saw another light along my path, guiding me through the darkness to a safer place.
i had to ask for help because otherwise i wouldn’t have gotten the treatment that i needed and deserved. i have a wonderful and supportive family, but they aren’t mind readers. my suicidal thoughts weren’t obvious to anyone else. i had to declare the emergency and rush myself to the hospital. only i could say “i need help. i am in danger. i need support.”
i can’t imagine what the last year would have been like if i had never asked for help. the best case scenario is that i would have been much more sick for much longer. too many people live with a worse case scenario – suffering in an invisible silence. i hope that our society will become more tolerant of mental health issues and that more and more people will reach out for the support they need. we all need to accept that mental and physical health are one and the same – whether or not you can see the problem with the naked eye, it deserves immediate attention.
i am thankful i was, and am, able to reach out. i am proud that i asked for help so very many times. i am strong enough to recognize that i needed help, i need help now and i will always need help – no shame, no more silence.