Mental Health: A Therapist’s Journey

January 25th is Bell Let’s Talk Day. It is a day devoted to opening up space around metal health/illness and  having a conversation to eradicate stigma. In honour of this day, and of removing the fear around speaking up, I decided to talk, and share my own story of depression and anxiety.

I have experienced low grade depression throughout my life. It was a result of the beliefs I cultivated about myself, and a response to the anxiety I also felt. My depression was a sort of grace following periods of severe anxiety, which at times became overwhelming.  Both stayed with me into adulthood, coming and going depending on the landscape of my life. So as a therapist, I not only understand mental health from theory, but also from personal experience.

For me, depression and anxiety were layered. The past, the present and fear of the future concocted together like Neapolitan ice cream mixed up hastily in a bowl, impossible to tell which flavour is which. There were times in my life where it was extremely difficult to cope. What got me through was curiosity, hope and acceptance. Acceptance,  that this was what it was and although it felt awful, my awful feelings did not have to be seen as dangerous. I had good moments, good people and love around me and these needed to be honoured as well. Hope,  that what I am feeling would lift and that there was possibility in the future of a different way of being, even if it was only a possibility and I could not see any evidence yet, I held on to hope that healing can happen. I held onto the vision of what I wanted my life to be, even though the reality was far from it. Curiosity,  at what life had in store for me and what was coming my way, aside from the pain I was in. My spirituality was helpful in keeping me afloat during times when I could barely move or breathe and honestly just didn’t know how to be with myself. Later in life, a multimodal approach to the traumatic life hurdles I experienced in the past allowed me to gain a full perspective of both my sadness and anxiety, and finally achieve a sense of healing. Bit by bit I realized I wasn’t different, it wasn’t my fault and there was the right type of help for me.

But here is something we do not talk about. We do not talk about the debilitating fear that is part of anxiety and the shame within us that leaves the body unable to move in a state of depression. We talk about shame around having depression and anxiety, and fear of stigma, but we don’t speak about the shame and fear we carry that create these issues. We do not talk about the trauma behind what we feel. So, my wish is that we have a day dedicated to trauma, not just mental health, so that we can begin to open up and connect around the roots of these problems.

As a human being, there are still times when I feel out of sorts. We all do and it’s ok. Life is complicated, filled with transitions and changes, causing so many emotions and beliefs to come up. When these feelings visit, I know something is being trigerred and I need to employ more self-care. It also means sharing my feelings with people I trust, who can help me hold things in perspective. Self-care becomes centered around doing things that ground me, not things that others expect of me. Mental health is not about never experiencing negative feelings or never being scared or vulnerable or sad. It means honouring these feelings and knowing how to be kind to ourselves when they arise. It is about understanding the cause behind what we feel and caring for ourselves in the way it makes sense to the uniqueness and individuality of who we are.

For some, there may be a genetic component to mental illness. For others, it is trauma based. But, there are always layers no matter the reason. Different types of therapies work for different people at different times in their lives. If you tried something previously and you feel you require something more, take what worked and move on to something else. There is no “one fits all approach”, as there are so many out there to choose from: CBT to DBT to Mindfullness Based Stress Reduction, to The Relational Therapy approach, to body oriented work like Sensorimotor Therapy.  Family Systems and Structural Dissociation are also wonderful in reaching the harmed and hurt parts of ourselves. Group therapy is also helpful, and forces us to connect to ourselves through connecting to others. Sometimes we need all of these to tackle our pain. Seek different advice on medication, and practice curiosity around alternative  ways to healing that can complement clinical/medical regimens. You are worth the effort it takes to get better and you are worth exploring all the layers responsible for your experience. There is a future out there. Please embrace this possibility. Most importantly, talk to people, ask for help and share your struggle. You do not have to do this alone, nor should you. Let someone hold this with you and don’t give up.

Please note that the information contained here is not meant to serve as  substitution for psychotherapy, a mental health assessment or the advice of your own personal clinician or doctor. In the event of an emergency, please visit your local emergency department at a hospital closest to you or call 911.