For as long as I can remember, I have lived with mental health issues. In middle, high school and most of college it manifested as depression, but now I live with generalized anxiety disorder. I will be honest, I have always struggled to talk about these things. I struggled significantly more when I was younger and was depressed. I think part of this was because of my age, but also I think the stigma associated with mental health issues made me feel like I was wrong or bad because of how my brain worked.
Psychology Today describes two different stigmas associated with mental health issues: social stigma and self-stigma. They define social stigma as the “prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems.” They define perceived or self-stigma as “the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination.”
While I know there is a lot of social stigma associated with mental health issues, I personally dealt with self-stigma on a regular basis. Throughout my journey with depression I was in and out of therapy and on and off of medication. I told myself I didn’t want to be ‘happy’ because of medication and I struggled to open up to therapists. I wish I was more able to embrace my struggles then, but I just wasn’t ready to really deal with my depression.
While depression shaped much of my adolescence, anxiety shapes my current life. The National Institute of Mental Health explains that everyone deals with anxiety and worry, but people who live with generalized anxiety disorder “feel extremely worried or feel nervous about things when there is little or no reason to worry. They find it difficult to control their anxiety and stay focused on daily tasks.”
Why I Started Taking Medication For My Anxiety
For me, anxiety shows up in two ways: in my brain and in my body. I find myself worrying about things that I know are irrational, but once I begin to worry, it is a cycle that is incredibly hard to get out of. I have physical symptoms that include fatigue, back pain, and headaches. Anxiety affects my life on a day to day basis. I have been in therapy for years. This is normally enough for me to have the skills I need to cope with the worry and irrational thoughts. However, I got to a place a few years ago though where I could no longer manage my symptoms; all of the tools I had learned were no longer sufficient and I could not stop the cycle of thoughts in my brain and certainly couldn’t manage the physical symptoms I experienced.
As I mentioned, I was pretty adverse to medication earlier in my life, but I got to a point where I felt like I needed medication to help stabilize and calm my brain down. I still have to use the tools I have in my toolkit (like positive self-talk, meditation, therapy, relaxation tools), but they work when before they didn’t. Before medication my tools weren’t enough.
I will also say that when I decided medication was the right choice, I needed to be open to a change. I recently needed to change my medication to help better deal with the physical symptoms and y’all, it has been a game changer. I feel so much more free, relaxed and able to manage the symptoms that happen in my brain–it is amazing!
Medication isn’t for everyone, heck therapy isn’t for everyone, but if you are dealing with some hard things in your life and/or live with mental health issues, I encourage you to do a self-assessment to figure out what you need to do to take care of you.
Here at GenTwenty we have written a lot about self care, this may be all you need to help get out of the hole you are in. Self-care takes on many different forms. It can be as simple as saying no to a night out or something deeper and more impactful like taking medication for your anxiety or maintaining a strict routine.
If you feel like you need therapy or medication, there are a few steps you can take:
1. For therapy…
I would first do some research with your insurance. I know it isn’t a sexy part of this, but I always tell people they should do some research on the front end to avoid getting an unexpected bill later. Psychology Today is an amazing resource for finding a therapist. They have a feature that allows you to filter based on your needs (your diagnosis or time of life, insurance, etc).
For me, I use the filters to whittle the list down, choose a few that feel good to me then do phone interviews with them. Many of the therapists will do a consultation call for free. If I am going to invest my time, money and my thoughts with someone, I want to do some vetting beforehand.
While I have never tried online therapy, it is worth mentioning that it is on the rise. Here is a link to Talkspace which I have heard good things about. This may be a great option for those of you who are busy or who are not able to afford therapy on a consistent basis.
2. For medication…
If you feel like medication is a good next step, you can talk to either a psychiatrist or your primary care doctor. I have always gotten a prescription from my primary care doctor (but if you have a more severe diagnosis or want someone who is more of an expert in mental health education, go to a psychiatrist). I have always gone to my doctor and explained my symptoms and why I feel like medication can assist me. They may recommend therapy, but I will be honest–I think therapy and medication are a great combo.
There are lots of resources on GenTwenty already:
- We have an entire section dedicated to both mental health and self-care.
- Here are a few great posts to check out:
I am now much more open about my journey with anxiety and embrace it as a part of my life and who I am. I am no longer ashamed about this aspect of my life, which is huge for me. I would love to hear from our readers–do any of you live with mental illness and struggle with the stigma or know someone who does? What about medication and/or therapy- do you find it meaningful? Let us know!