Mental health has always been the field closest to my heart. While pursuing my undergraduate degree, I dove deep into crisis counseling, therapy, and the field of psychology as a whole. I spent time thinking about frameworks of mental health in different cultures and how to best help people through therapy. But it wasn’t until I received a diagnosis of my own that all these abstract concepts became a little too real for me.
It started in my second year of college, right after the pandemic hit. I went back home, going through a whirlwind of uncertainty and grief after being ripped away from college life in Los Angeles, California. A few intrusive thoughts began to nag at me: a vague feeling that something bad was going to happen, that I was a bad person, that I was somehow making terrible mistakes in life that I would regret. This voice in my head started as a whisper, and the more I tried to shake it off, the louder it got. Within a few months, it became a cacophonous nonstop scream from morning to night. I was confused, miserable, and paralyzed with anxiety.
I tried everything I could think of to make it stop – journaling, mindfulness, cognitive restructuring, affirmations, you name it. Nothing worked and I was losing hope. In one of my desperate Google searches, I stumbled across a list of symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I read through it and realized I fit almost every criteria. Still unsure but willing to give anything a shot, I made an appointment with an OCD-specialized therapist. She confirmed my suspicions – that I did indeed have OCD. I spent the next few months working very hard with my therapist in treatment. With time, I built the skills I needed to manage my thoughts so I could go back to living a normal life.
As we go into Mental Illness Awareness Week, I’m reflecting on how receiving any kind of diagnosis can shake up the way you perceive yourself. It gives you a new puzzle piece to figure out how to fit into the picture of your identity. Diagnosis is a delicate tightrope to walk. It’s hard to balance the comfort of a label that validates your experience against the suffocation of letting a label box you in and define who you are. But diagnosis or not, seen or unseen, nobody is struggling alone.
The pandemic has been tough on many people’s mental health, and more people than you might realize are dealing with challenges. We could all use a moment this week to do something that brings us joy and talk to someone we love. Here are some lists of resources for anyone who might need help:
NIMH » Help for Mental Illnesses