Sitting down with a counselor for the first time was an awkward experience. I had talked to a guidance counselor in high school, but that was primarily about applying to college and why there were so many curse words in my poetry. I had never locked eyes with someone who was so interested in finding out what was bothering me.
In a way, I felt like I was ignoring everything my parents had taught me. We weren’t supposed to reach out to anyone for help. We weren’t supposed to admit there was a weakness inside of us. I felt like I was betraying my mother by exposing her secrets to a stranger. But I didn’t think I had any other option.
I kept trying to explain that this visit wasn’t really for me, it was for my mom, but the counselor didn’t seem to pay that any mind. Instead he kept asking me questions about myself. “How does that make you feel?” “What do you think that means?” “How is this affecting you?” I told him about my panic attacks and my insomnia, and I mentioned the sporadic crying but tried to explain that these were all just normal reactions to stress.
“They’re not normal,” he plainly put it. “I think you’re experiencing depression. I would like to refer you to a psychiatrist.”
I almost stormed out. How dare he assume I was broken. I was just trying to help someone else who really was falling apart, and maybe I wasn’t handling it so well. This guy had known me for an hour’s time and wanted to deem me crazy.
But as the session went on, I began to actually listen. “Depression is not something you choose. It is a chemical imbalance, which can sometimes be hereditary. If your mother is indeed experiencing these symptoms, there’s a chance you can be prone to them as well.” He was so calm and matter-of-fact. I was a smart kid, but somehow I hadn’t connected those dots. With certainty, I had decided my mother was experiencing some sort of mental illness. But if I would’ve taken the time, I could’ve noticed my own reflection in my mother’s weary eyes.
Realizing the dark force swallowing her up was sizing me up for its next meal felt simultaneously like a ton of bricks had been lifted off and laid on my shoulders. I finally had answers for questions I didn’t even know I had. But now I was left with more than just my mother’s brain to worry about.
“If you have a deep cut, you go to a doctor and get a stitch. If you have a cold, you go to a doctor and get medicine. So what makes having something wrong with your brain any different?”
The hardest thing in the world is to accept that something is wrong with you, face the uphill road to recovery ahead, and realize that none of it makes you less than human. I had been so scared to end up as sick as my mother, I had refused to notice the warning signs. I wanted to think that I had little bouts of depression caused by the heavy situations in my life, but that was not the truth. The truth was, I was bipolar. And I had been for several years. The only difference between me and my mother was that I was catching the culprit early on. I had a chance to end up differently.
My disorder is not something that can be cured, but its severity can certainly be controlled. The process takes guts. It takes a brave person to accept they need help and go get it. It takes an even braver person to not feel shame in the process. I understand psychiatry and therapy can be intimidating to a lot of people. After I found the right treatment, and took the time to attend consistent therapy over the years, I felt so silly for waiting so long to finally find peace.
I know a lot of secure women and men who go to therapy. They don’t see it as an admission of a flaw. They see it as a luxury, serving their minds the way a massage spoils the body. And if modern medicine isn’t your deal, then try homeopathic methods. Try meditation, anything. Just taking the time to put your mental health first, acknowledging that it deserves respect and care, and accepting help when you need it, can save your life. You are worth saving. And you are not alone.
Reprinted from Crazy Is My Superpower: How I Triumphed by Breaking Bones, Breaking Hearts, and Breaking the Rules. Copyright © 2017 by A.J. Mendez. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.