Do I have [insert DX here]? The Joy of Mental Health with WebMD

For the Love of Labels

Receiving a diagnosis, even when it’s not considered a “serious” problem and even when it feels like all the disjointed problems are finally explained is not always a relief. There’s something about a healthcare professioImagenal looking you in the eye and saying, “You have [xyz].”

From about age 14 on, I had terrible anxiety and panic. It got to the point where I almost fainted a few times from hyperventilating. So every day in high school, I’d walk through the halls wondering if something was going to set me off, and if it did, would one of the guys in class make fun of me? Would he say, “She’s such a drama queen” or, “Oh, are you going to faint?” and roll his eyes.

It took me about 14 years to accept that I really needed treatment. Even though I had a family history of anxiety and depression, an undergraduate degree in psychology, and a graduate degree in counseling, it still took me that long to even consider getting help. After a week of feeling sick even though I knew nothing was physically wrong with me (I visited the doctor’s office the way the devout visit church) I finally made an appointment to talk about the anxiety. I was tired of worrying about what awful thing was going to happen next or when I was going to have to lie down under my desk and hope none of my co-workers walked by and saw me. (Oh yes, that happened.)

So the day I walked into the doctor’s office, I knew what I had, but even at that, having someone tell me, “You have moderate anxiety and mild depression” made me burst into tears. It’s safe to say that I was especially fragile in that moment, but I also knew I’d crossed a point of no return. I could no longer kid myself into thinking maybe I’d just had too much coffee or that it would pass as soon as things settled down at work, or as soon as my husband got a better job. There was always something else it could be . . . until there wasn’t Continue reading

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A Few Thoughts on Mental Health Awarness Month

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For many obvious reasons, maintaining mental health or coping with mental distress is a private process. The foundation of the therapeutic relationship is based on confidentiality and trust, and I completely support that. The only downside is that all of us go from regular life to therapy appointments without a clue as to the suffering other people endure in silence. Many people feel that if they are seeking therapy or considering therapy it means they are crazy, weak, or selfish. From what I have seen, nobody who has come to see me fits into any of those categories; not even close. Quite often, those of us who get overwhelmed by stressors in our lives are intelligent, generous, strong, and sensitive people, and often the motivation for seeking therapy is, “I don’t want my parents/spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend to have to worry about me.”

Also, maybe this isn’t true of other therapists, but I doubt it: in my experience, clients work hard during and between appointments. (If you are considering therapy, that is the key to making progress.) It’s a huge investment of time, energy, and often, money. Plus, unfortunately, going to therapy does carry a certain amount of risk for people. If someone has a job in law enforcement, transportation, politics, medicine, or another area that puts people “under the microscope” they really do need to stop and wonder what will happen if anyone finds out. Sadly, their fears may be valid in certain situations, and the economy isn’t helping. Of course, seeing a therapist and paying cash keeps the insurance companies out of it and keeps it off the books, but not everyone can afford to pay out of pocket for mental health, and I don’t think that pressure ever should exist. From my perspective, calling a therapist and setting up an appointment is often the bravest thing someone can do. Therapy is not always pleasant either.

Sometimes, I feel like I am dumping on therapy by reminding people that some sessions might make you feel worse walking out than you did walking in. If that is what usually happens, you may want to change therapists, but it happens with everyone once in a while. Keep in mind that the idea behind psychotherapy is talking through issues that are troubling you and, in some way, processing the emotions associated with certain beliefs or experiences. Bringing these issues to the surface tends to heighten emotions, and that’s not always going to give you the best feelings. However, if we never feel pain, we can’t feel joy. Sadly, that’s just true. Oftentimes, people believe that depression means being sad all the time. While people who are depressed may be sad all the time, and cry a lot, depression and some cases of PTSD are usually associated with emotional numbing to a certain extent. When pain becomes too overwhelming, our brain “protects” us by limiting access to some of that pain the same way adrenalin temporarily makes it harder to feel physical wounds during a crisis. If you have depression or PTSD, part of the therapy will involve learning to tolerate emotions again, and that means the full range, not just the nice ones.

As we go through Mental Health Awareness Month and into PTSD Awareness Month in June, I’d like to remind anyone who sees this that it’s so important to be kind. We never can tell for sure what someone else is going through, and mental health issues can be the most painful and least visible challenges anyone has to face.

photo credit: dawolf- via photopin cc