By Leah Olds
From the first day I started living independently, I've been telling myself to get a first aid kit. The little red helpers can be taken anywhere, they’re not very costly, and the utility of their contents pretty much goes without saying. After all, a person can only ignore razor nicks and torn cuticles for so long before a more serious injury is sustained, and it will probably require a better remedy than a Band-Aid. I will have wished I was more prepared for that pain.
I know I started to dip my toes into the proverbial deep-end in that last paragraph, but I wasn’t being entirely too figurative about the first aid kit. I’m still getting by with the multi-colored Band-Aids sitting on the top of the fridge, to the right of the box crammed with last month’s mail advertisements, and just behind the basket of herbal teas.
But this piece isn’t really about cuts and scrapes, or gauze and antibiotics, or any other household medical supply. It’s about therapy and why I haven’t gotten any yet.
Nowadays, it is easy to identify the precedent that has been set for the issue of mental health. Media platforms, health organizations and everyday folks actively engage in discourse regarding mental illnesses, addiction, anxiety and trauma, and help dismantle what was once a major taboo.
This de-stigmatization process has been ongoing since my junior high school days. During seventh grade lunch hours, some of my peers openly discussed their susceptibility to panic attacks and self-harm ideation. Four years later, my mother and eldest brothers experienced severe depression for over six months. Now, as a 22-year-old, I plainly acknowledge my dealings with those same struggles, which have only been inflamed by a very personal loss just last year.
So I say that I value my own mental health, and point to the evidence of my chronic oversharing, or my keen listening skills when family members need to vent their frustrations for a night. But when people ask if I have considered finding legitimate counsel, my walls go up. I proceed to lay out a catalog of deflections, from, “Well, I don’t want to seem whiny” to “Therapy’s too expensive!”, to the always timeless classic, “What if it doesn’t really go anywhere?”
The funny thing about my excuses is that they are insanely shallow, and arriving at their solutions requires little brain power. It's like my conscience snaps a non-corporeal finger at me and says, “Seriously? You don’t want to seem whiny? The person you will speak with is a licensed psychologist who gets paid to listen to your problems, so don’t worry so much about how they come across. You worry that you can’t afford therapy, but your university offers psychological services at no charge to students. Try making a phone call that isn’t to your girlfriend or your buddy, just this once. And dude, the last excuse is by far the silliest. Believing that therapy won’t ‘go anywhere’ but making no effort to try it is like worrying your car cannot get you to a destination when you haven’t even filled the tank!”
Every one of these allowances can be whittled down to the very human fear of unforeseen change. I am afraid of something that has to happen, an inevitable devastation that will take away the clarity and confidence I might have gained in therapy. Much like those who feel reluctant to take medication, I worry that leaning on therapy as a sort of crutch will only lead to regret once the peace in my life is disturbed; or worse, if I don’t notice immediate changes in my emotional health. Recovery has always been regarded as a personal oasis, but for so long the concept has seemed more like a mirage to me. I’d like to challenge that skepticism.
But can I allow myself to embrace an environment that promotes positive, healthy changes despite knowing that my life is not impervious to arguments, accidents, pain and loss? Well, I’d like to think that by publicizing my considerations here, I can solidify my willingness to not just accept help, but choose action. I may not be naïve enough to believe that life will only ever be smooth sailing, but that doesn’t mean I should let myself get hit by incoming tidal waves without first signaling for a rescue.
I’ve learned that fear is the only thing I have become dependent on. It damages my self-respect and renders me passive toward my own mental health. I want a relationship with therapy that will no longer be about digging for thin excuses, or applying those temporary Band-Aids that smother my oozing inner turmoil. I want to let myself heal without getting in my own way, out of sheer anxiety. And above all, I want access to a first aid kit whose tools can better my mental health, affirming the love I have for myself and others around me.
It is not going to be entirely too easy, figuring out how to seek out the healing agent who can guide me through painful life encounters. But at least I know not to look on top of the refrigerator anymore.