May is National Mental Health Awareness month.
For most of my life (2/3rds) I experienced undiagnosed social anxiety and general anxiety, which would often collapse into occasional depression when it was too overwhelming. I missed out on a lot –grades of school, trips, extracurricular classes, friendships, healthy romantic relationships, sometimes even food, and definitely developing social skills– until I realized what was going on and sought treatment. And even now I am still undergoing treatment and self-improvement and deeper understanding.
Many folks in my family have experiences and symptoms and challenges that can be categorized under mental health diagnoses. Many friends have them as well.
Some people don’t like labels and official diagnoses because those words are stigmatized, have very severe negative connotations. That is true; in this society, it’s very true. In other societies, it’s even more true. Having a mental health diagnosis can change the health care you receive, the jobs you can get or keep, the relationships you are invited into… It’s a sign of weakness, of imperfection and possibly moral failing.
On the other hand, having a schema (a word or phrase that is an anchor for a large amount of qualities/descriptions) that is a launching point, an explanation, a rationale, a self-description, and a thing that insurance or schools will deal with to help you get help, can be incredibly freeing. Having two words that encapsulate the sense that you don’t deserve to take up space because your needs would discommode others, that people despise and scorn and resent you as soon as you’re out of their presence, that making eye contact with strangers on the street or making phone calls is certain to result in you attacked or ostracized when you inevitably make the wrong facial expression or wrong stammered phrase, when you don’t go to your class or your dining hall because you’re taking up someone else’s deserved place in line or in the conversation by existing and so you eat nothing but oranges bought from the convenience store for a month… It is freeing to have two words to start to disentangle that bundle of sensation and experience from your self identity and daily behavior. It’s relieving to have words to describe the people you grew up with that shaped these responses.
And I’ve treated this social anxiety with CBT and internal family systems and Jungian dream work and homeopathic remedies and pharmaceuticals and acupuncture and vitamins and Western herbs East Asian herbs and targeted amino acids and elimination diets and they have all of them helped. All of them.
The experience of living with the amorphous dread of some unnamed wrongness for most of my life and then the upward climb of self-understanding and then understanding of my family and friends has been so enriching.
In July I’m officially starting a residency where I primarily treat mental health and it’s interlaced presentation with physical experience, by way of Naturopathic medicine and East Asian medicine, and I am so excited because this is the calling, this is what I want to do with my life. I want to help people who are going through the Wrongness to find understanding and progress and ease and relief, that I am still seeking myself.