Can Therapists Have Anxiety and Depression?: World Mental Health Day 2018
Today, October 10th, is recognized as World Mental Health Day. This is an extremely vulnerable and raw post that was written as a part of my own mental health journey as well as a resource for others who may be struggling. For all of you out there who seem to feel “off” but are unsure of what that means or how to explain that to others, ask yourself first, do you even understand it? Do you feel sad, fearful or worried but you’re unable to confidently say, “I have *insert diagnosis here*”? Do you have parents, grandparents, siblings, aunt, uncles, or cousins that are diagnosed with Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar, or even Schizophrenia but you are adamant that just is not you?
I was one of those people. Depression and Anxiety run deep on both sides of my family. Despite my field of study being mental health and therapy, I was certain that just was not me and what I was experiencing was just some sadness and little worry about my future, you know, normal concerns. It was not until I had my first panic attack that I had to confront myself and admit that I too may struggle with mental health.
For those who have not experienced a panic or anxiety attack, consider yourselves lucky. I will never forget the day I was sitting at my work desk when I had a wave of heat and then chill run over my whole body. I began having tunnel vision and my breath was quickening. I felt as though I was going to pass out, be sick, or both. I tried to calm myself down, not knowing what I was experiencing, and finally I requested to go home ill. I spent the rest of the day laying on my couch trying to calm myself down.
To say I was thankful for my best friend at the time is an understatement. I was going through a separation from my then husband of only 5 months, I was working in a high risk, high burnout job and I lived an hour from any family or other friends. I felt completely and utterly alone. I had not yet realized at that point that all of my feelings and symptoms connected to what I was experiencing in my personal life and it was not until my best friend asked me what I was going through and if I was depressed that I consigned and confronted my struggles.
For me, verbalizing that I may have Depression and/or Anxiety felt like giving up. I am a therapist, someone who helps people feel better for a living, how could I possibly also struggle with these same things? Did this mean I was an awful therapist? Did this mean that I could no longer pursue my career? I had all of these thoughts racing through my head at the beginning of my final year of graduate school and the beginning of my masters field placement in Partial Hospitalization.
My field placement soon became something I dreaded. I began having panic attacks during lectures for my patients. I had to leave the treatment rooms on multiple occasions. The scariest part of what I was experiencing culminated when one morning a patient was sharing her thoughts of wanting to self-harm just to not have to feel what she was feeling any more. In that moment, I found myself rationalizing that I could relate to what she was feeling and that it did not sound as bad to me as it once had.
I could not believe what I was saying to myself. It terrified me. Never in my life had I ever understood how someone would want to harm themselves to feel better. In that moment when those thoughts became even a sliver of rational to me, I decided for myself that I could not continue on as I had been.
No one other than my father, my grandparents, and my best friend knew I had left my husband and moved an hour from the home we just purchased together, now two hours away from friends and family. I was keeping my living situation, my life story, and my symptoms completely hidden from my peers, my field placement instructors, my professors, my friends, my family… everyone.
Isolating myself felt the best of everything I tried. I began drinking more often and finding myself seeking any way I could to escape and forget the feelings I was having including relationships, hasty decisions, spontaneous trips, and tattoos. I was completely lost and had never felt so emotionally detached from my body. For the first time in my life, I began to resent the relationships I had had, the childhood I experienced, and everything I saw wrong with myself.
Studying mental health has the benefit of learning all about resources around you. Thankfully, I was enrolled in classes at this time and I could seek mental health treatment for free through my campus mental health center. I began a few sessions here and there but I did not remain consistent. It was not until about 1 year later, after yet another extremely traumatic time in my personal life, that I finally conceded and sought treatment. It sounds funny saying it now but as a therapist, this was the first time I had ever sought therapy and I had no idea what to expect.
Entering therapy, I cried within the first 10 minutes. I had next to no self-realization for all of the trauma I had endured in my life. I began to unpack the suitcase that was my Anxiety and Depression and through the journey of therapy, I was finally able to identify that, like much of my family, I too suffer with Anxiety and Depression.
Is it scary to admit my mental health to those reading this post, knowing that I presently work as a psychotherapist? Undeniably yes. However, I would not be the professional I am today without my own life trauma. I was forced to face my demons and verbalize how I was feeling to someone other than my own mind. I was challenged to say the words, “I have Depression and Anxiety,” and I saw that my life still continued on the other side of that.
You can admit what you are struggling through. You do not have to keep it inside. The more you talk about it, the less scary it becomes, the less power it has, and the more you are able to see your own strength. If you take nothing from this post, take this; do not be afraid of yourself. What you admit may be scary at first, but facing it offers so much more than you can imagine, and I am living proof of that.
Happy World Mental Health Day,
xoxo Miranda from the Midwest