We hear so much about mental illness in the media and from people that are suffering from it themselves, including yours truly. I embrace this growing trend of owning your flaws and imperfections: I feel this openness and vulnerability is a good thing because it breaks down the
stigma associated with mental illness. Erasing that negative thought process and fear when it comes to mental illness allows us to reach out to others as well as seek treatment for ourselves. In fact, it is this reaching out that is essential for completing the journey from mental illness to mental wellness. Something you can read more about below.
Admitting You’re Not OK
It’s all too easy for a great majority of us to respond to the question: “How are you doing?” with “fine, OK, or cool thanks,” even when we feel very far away from this. I’m the worst at putting on a really good “fake it face” and saying “I’m fine” or “it’s nothing”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly hard to show vulnerability and admit to those you want respect and approval from that you are struggling; it can be a truly scary thing! The whole “what if they think less of me” or “what if they now think me incapable of my responsibilities?” starts swirling around in your mind, thus making the entire mental situation worse!
However, when you do start to acknowledge you aren’t feeling 100% and there is something wrong, you are creating a space for things to start getting better. After all, you cannot fix a problem when you deny its very existence. That is why it’s OK to admit you’re not OK, to yourself and to a trusted friend, colleague, professional, or family member as it is often the first step on the road to recovery.
Finding the Problem
Next, once you have admitted something is wrong, it can be useful to do a little soul searching to see what exactly the problem is. Is it a situational thing: meaning can it be fixed by fixing the situation or removing yourself from it? It is your job (coworkers, amount of work, your boss, etc) and can you fix that by talking to someone there or searching for another job? Is it a relationship: are you being treated badly, do they not see your worth, do they take you for granted, or is it the lack of a relationship? Sometimes finding this perspective shines some light on how you can crawl out of that hole you’ve find yourself in and some possible solutions. Maybe – it’s about saying the word NO – enough is enough or some barriers need to be put into place. Maybe it’s about saying YES to new opportunities.
Some folks may know this quickly and instantly, especially those with addictions, or other conditions with physical manifestations. However, for some of us identifying what is causing us to be mentally unwell may take more work, something it can be useful to seek help for a therapist to uncover and address in a safe, non-threatening environment.
Once we have admitted there is a problem and gone some way to identifying what the issue is we are in a much better position to seek treatment. With my patients, it’s key to assess whether or not they’re ready for education, whether they’ve accepted their new state of being (like diabetes for example) and being in an open position to start learning how to care for their diabetes (insulin administration, diet, etc). The same concept applies to seeking mental health treatment – you have to be emotionally and mentally ready to start making your life better and to accept/process the advice being given to you.
Treatment is, of course, different depending on the problem you are addressing. Some mental health issues like this alcohol detox timeline require a lengthy detox and rehabilitation process – to safely deliver the patient to a path of wellness under professional supervision. It is possible, however, to treat other mental health diseases like anxiety and depression on an outpatient basis with weekly therapy sessions and homework activities to strengthen our ability to cope better with the issues that are bothering us. Getting in the habit of incorporating therapy into your weekly routine may be different at first, but soon will start to fall into step with everything else going on in your life.
Learning to cope
It’s important to remember that the aim of going to therapy is to allow you to cope with the discomfort of your problem in a much more healthy and adaptive way: making communication the essential building block.
It is these coping skills that make it easier for us to choose how we behave rather than let our disorders and addictions choose for us. Something that can, in turn, help us move towards mental wellness and the life that we truly want, while also minimizing the control that our problems have over us. So let’s look in the mirror, pinpoint our weakness, and grasp that step towards being in control of your own life!