I have a mental illness. Now, I am not one of those people who feels sad for a couple days and all of sudden tells everyone, “I have depression.” No, that is not me. I remember my first panic attack like most people recall their first kiss. During my senior year of high school, my panic attacks reached a point where I could no longer function. Housebound, I missed four months of my senior year. Suicidal thoughts fester in the back of my mind. These thoughts led to a three-day stint on the psych ward. Taking my antidepressant became a nightly ritual over five years ago. I think it goes without saying, but I think I am qualified.
However, I am also a mental health counselor. WAIT. A WHAT?! Yup, I am a mental health counselor with a mental illness. My master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling and my state license qualify me for that one.
This combination presents quite the conundrum. How on earth is someone with a mental illness going to help others’ mental health? The truth is I actually take active steps to care for and maintain my own mental well-being. Will I say it was an easy journey? Not at all. It took years of trials and tribulations to get it to this point.
Was I always as open about my mental health? Absolutely not. During my teenage years into young adulthood, I was ashamed to talk to anyone else about my depression and anxiety. I only let a select few in on what was truly going on. My friends and family had little to no clue about what was really going through my mind. I genuinely thought I could handle it on my own.
I also refused to acknowledge that there was something wrong with me. I made it through hell and back. How could there be something wrong with me if I made it this far? The truth was I minimized the fuck out of my problems. I did not want to be labeled as “crazy,” “nuts,” or “weird.” My pride got in the way. Until I could swallow my pride and accept the reality, I was not going anywhere but in circles.
Over time, I came to terms with it. I opened up more so to my parents, friends, and professionals. I chipped away little by little, dismantling the wall.
What really helped me accept the state of my mental health was being able to see the silver lining. Mental illness sucks. It sucks big balls. However, that was not to say that my mental illness could not bring some good to my life and maybe even the world. Ultimately, my experience with mental illness partially contributed to my decision to become a mental health counselor.
I figured my experiences could provide me a unique perspective to help others possibly going through similar feelings or situations. Anyone who has ever been to therapy knows the importance of having someone who can relate. It normalizes the experience and reduces the shame, guilt, and embarrassment surrounding it. It grounds you back in reality and makes acceptance that much easier.
Also, the insight I gained from all of my trauma, therapy, and life experiences took me the better part of fifteen years to gain. If I can help someone skip all of those years of heartache and strenuous effort, then it makes their journey a bit easier.
These are the exact reasons I started this blog. I wanted to be able to share my insights and tips to help others. I wanted there to be a comfortable space where people could focus on themselves and help them along their own self-care/mental health journeys.
Whatever your situation, look for the good in it. Use it to your advantage. Rather seeing your mental illness as your enemy. Make it part of your team.
-The Caring Counselor