It’s Mental Health Awareness Month and I want you to read this. I’m Amy, a Clinical Therapist, which gives me the “authority” to talk (write) to you about what it means to be aware of mental health. Now listen, there are major mental health issues that I could talk about and we could get really deep, but I think I’ll leave the heavy stuff to others. I want to focus on awareness. To do that, I am going to tell you about my journey to awareness.
I first realized I might be a little different when I was 16 years old. This event started like any other day as I walked through the YMCA talking to the front desk workers, greeting my “old” lady friends in the locker room (who consequently were probably the age I am now, ah youth) and talking myself into actually working out rather than going to the pool to talk to the hot lifeguard. I go to my locker and begin to take my pullover jacket off when low and behold, the underwear I’d surely packed in my gym bag were actually sticking to the velcro of my jacket, right on my chest. You need to know, these weren’t your 16 year old, PINK cute undies either, we’re talking full Hanes comfort grannies, I can still see them– navy blue, large and clearly undies, sticking on my light blue jacket. Not one person had said “Hey Amy, you’ve got something on your jacket there” not one! And I laughed, so hard at myself (because I mean that’s funny), and at the fact that all those people I’d greeted even chatted with hadn’t told me, I just found it absolutely hilarious. I laughed all by myself standing at my locker for probably a solid minute. It wasn’t until later when I shared this hilarious event with my friend, that I realized I might be a bit different. My friend said that I should have felt mortified, she would have, anyone else would have, & I was “so weird.”
Now I’d love to tell you that I embraced being different and kept being that light hearted girl. But, no, I started to become more aware of how I reacted to things and started questioning everything about myself. I became embarrassed for not having been embarrassed and I succumbed to the general angst of being a teenager, self-doubt, peer pressure, etc. I suffered with it well into my 20’s. It’s interesting (and one fundamental of good therapy, btw) how we can sometimes trace feelings and behaviors back to certain life events.
So, what happened? Eventually I got tired. I realized I wanted to be the girl who laughed at herself again. I didn’t want to put more emphasis on what others thought of me than what I thought of me, I wanted to trust my gut reactions again. And this is where I wish I could tell you I went to a therapist who helped me find myself again. Because goodness that would have been something beautiful, not feeling so alone while I tried to “fix” myself.
But, I didn’t know what I know now and even while I was in school to become a mental health professional, I still felt the stigma assigned to people who seek help. I felt it would show weakness on my part & I wouldn’t be a good student. After all, how could I help people if I couldn’t help myself? So, I took a harder route but eventually I found ME again.
I became aware. Everyone has a story, we all have mental health “issues.” Embrace yourself as you are and seek help if you find you don’t like something. I promise you’ll find a new type of freedom. Once you allow yourself that freedom, you become more open to accepting others for who they are and THAT is life changing, societal altering, good stuff.