I was talking to some people the other day about the word “counseling”. It’s a word that had been thrown around since I was a little kid. One of my first interactions with it was when I was in school.
I remember sitting in the elementary school principal’s office overhearing a conversation. I must have been very young because I remember my feet dangling from the seating area. I was always a small-sized child so it could have been easily when I was 8 or 9 or as young as 4 or 5. I vaguely remember that I was being told that I was suffering from some sort of behavioral something, but I couldn’t make out the words then. I think that was one of the first recognitions to me that something about me wasn’t quite right.
After that day of swinging my legs to and fro without being really clear on what happened in that school office, my next memory leads me to a time in my teens where I was sitting squarely in front of what I was told was my academic counselor. I remember trying to tell that person about my emotional problems and then being told, “I’m not THAT kind of counselor.” I was led to believe that those type of people were very expensive to come by and that I was too young to really have any real problems that would cause a mental illness like depression. Asking for that kind of help would only scar me and my reputation. That was also the first time I even heard that I had a reputation.
I woke up in a dorm room some years later, feeling horrible and awful about my life. I had done well in class for about two semesters. I had gone home in the summer, visited family, and then ventured back to school. I was even flown to an interview later in order to contemplate a future internship at a huge corporation. I should have been extremely overjoyed and happy with my life, which on the outside I was. There was something seeping inside me, though. I couldn’t shake that feeling of “something’s not right” that I had felt since I was a very young child.
When a bunch of my peers told me that I was crazy and needed psychiatric help for my “condition”, I went to see the counselor in college. At first, I only talked about my classes and how I felt about them. Later, I was being coaxed into saying more on how I felt about school and the people around me. I remember being ashamed to talk to him about that subject, and seeing that most of the people in my school were not from an environment like mine, it took a while for him to become accustomed to what I will now call my “culture”. I told him about how the people from my culture viewed the help that I needed as weakness and that I had to come to him for it. I tried involved as many peers as possible into this world in the hopes that they would understand the things that I could not even explain to them. I thought the counselor would be my translator for life and… for life.
A really, really big argument with a peer led to me seeing a different counselor, in which I had to retell my entire life to. It felt uncomfortable. I was away in school and I didn’t know anyone that I could just easily call up. During those days, a car phone was thousands of dollars, and there was no such thing as a cheap cell phone (they were still experimental and extremely costly). That was also during the days where long-distance was not a regular part of a calling package. So, seeing that I was several hours away from home, I did what I could do which was hide my illness from my peers and not talk to anyone about it (or minimize its appearance).
I remember only a few other things from my college days. Most of it is coursework, the rest is that I felt ostracized and spent most of it trying to be alone without feeling lonely. I did the best I could to try to cope with my illness in relative silence until I stopped going to class. I barely even remember making the decision to do it. It was almost like a non-issue… like choosing between Coke and Pepsi in the cafeteria. I knew this wasn’t right and when I talked to my counselor about it, I was told that I needed to take a semester off.
I went home. I tried to understand what happened. I didn’t even seek further medical attention because I didn’t have the money to get what I didn’t know was professional counseling. I thought it was for rich people who had money problems or couldn’t get over their parents not loving them. I didn’t know that it even was for me. I made an effort to hide myself, again, until I found a job with benefits that would allow me to go to counseling. And then, there was another roadblock.
I got a low-level basic job, benefits, and was independent enough to go to and from work without issue. However, when it came to me actually going to the job and retaining and dealing with the strict belief systems of the people there, I ran into a separation wall. You had to either agree with them or be out. If I chose to have my own ideology about any issue that was different than the status quo, I was told that I wasn’t “fitting in.” People were still hanging around me, but I could tell that I was starting to be tolerated rather than accepted. When I had the first ability to leave, I did. I thought maybe if I went into a bigger society, my “difference” wouldn’t be that much of a setback.
During that time, I didn’t receive any counseling. I had gone to doctors for a medical condition separate from my depression, but not one of the doctors at that time even thought about diagnosing me or saw that I was experiencing it. I guess it hadn’t gotten that bad back then. My behavior had been erratic only during times of deep loathing. Otherwise, I appeared fine, maybe even slightly happy.
I had gone though a bunch of self-treatment by the time I had actually seen a mental health counselor. I thought to myself how many hoops I had to jump through just to get there. I relied on people that I thought would know what I needed and discovered how clueless they were even if I considered them competent, consummate professionals. I learned that knowledge was indeed relative. People I valued highly pretended (a lot) to know that they know what to do for me instead of admitting that what I was experiencing was out of their realm. Unfortunately, when I finally called them on their bullsh*t, they rebelled very harshly and told me that I had no clue what I was talking about. I stuck to my guns and finally found a counselor that was fit for my needs.
Moral of the story? You may have a mental disorder, however, that doesn’t mean that your gut reactions are off. Gut runs off logic, and when your depression is at its height and running rampant, it’s the gut that will save you. You’ll forget this truth just as surely as you’re reading this, but if you practice it, it will stick. I know I wasn’t getting the right help and kept trying even when I had no other sound information around me. I trust my gut more often, now. And it has helped get me out of some terrifying situations, in hindsight.