health

'I sat in my psych's office with a straight face. At the time, I didn't know I was lying.'

I had an appointment with my psychiatrist the other day. It started like most of them do — I fill out a little survey in the waiting room, she comes and gets me and we chat about how I’m feeling as she looks over my answers and asks any questions she has about them.

This time though, she kind of pauses halfway through the survey and says, “Kim, I don’t get it.” Don’t get what? I wonder to myself, but she continues: “I’ve been doing postpartum mental health for 12 years and I still feel like I missed something with you. I should have recognised how badly you must have been feeling earlier.”

I reply with the only thing that comes to mind. “I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?” she asks, half-laughing. “If anything I’m the one who should be sorry.”

And maybe she’s right, but I’m also pretty sure that part of the reason why she had trouble realising I needed help was that it took me a while to even admit it to myself, let alone open up enough to share how much I was struggling.

Which is both unfortunate and a little weird, honestly. Not that it’s weird to be uncomfortable asking for help, that’s pretty normal and in fact basically the thesis of this piece. It’s weird because the person being uncomfortable asking for help in this instance is me. Me, the girl who posts things on Facebook about her brain issues. Me, the girl who has willingly attended psych appointments more of her life than not. Me, the friend who has convinced at least a handful of you to try therapy yourselves.

And yet I managed to sit in the office of the psychiatrist I’d already been seeing for two years and tell her with a straight face that I was feeling pretty good and excited about the whole newborn thing while actually I was slowly crumbling on the inside and barely sleeping despite the baby slumbering away. I don’t even think I was lying at the time. I just wanted so badly to be well that I managed to convince myself that I was, despite all evidence to the contrary. Me! Heck to her 12 years of experience, I’ve dealt with my crazy brain for 30.

So I understand her confusion at missing my distress. I would be confused too… at least I would be if this exact same thing hadn’t happened before. If this was the first time I had waited too long to say something, the first time I’d convinced myself everything was okay long past the point where it was not. But it’s not the first time. Not even the second or third time either.

Why do I wait so long then? Why don’t I just say something sooner? It’s not exactly an easy question to answer, because the reason(s) aren’t always the same every time, and they’re not always the same for every person. Nevertheless, I think a lot of us are putting off getting help for similar reasons, and I have a few things to say about that.

“I don’t deserve help.”

Maybe it’s because you’re too messed up for anyone to be able to ever “fix” you or maybe it’s because you’re not really messed up enough to warrant help in the first place. I understand. I’ve been on both sides of this coin. In fact part of this whole recent episode of me not saying something soon enough was definitely that I assumed “real” postpartum disorders would be much more serious. That sufferers would be, well, suffering much more. But that’s silly. And it’s rarely how we decide who gets helps anyway. Sure, in the case of an overwhelming amount of emergent physical injuries, patients may need to be triaged.

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But your regular doctor doesn’t refuse to see you over your cough because a different patient has pneumonia. It’s okay to want to feel better than you’re feeling now even if how you’re feeling now isn’t absolutely terrible. It’s okay to ask for just a little help. But of course, on the other side… You deserve to feel better too. You do. It’s not hopeless. I know you feel bad, really bad, and you can’t see a way out, but that’s the point of asking for help. So that other people can show you the way. It’s okay to ask for a lot of help too.

Image: Supplied.

“I can’t share that stuff.”

That nonsense that goes on in your head is private, right? You haven’t even told your best friend because it might scare them. But here’s the thing… Going to therapy isn’t picking a random person off the street and immediately pouring your heart out to them. Remember that mental health professionals are doctors, first and foremost. It is in fact their job to listen to the concerns that people like you and me have about what is going on in our heads and give us advice on how we might address those concerns. Unlike your best friend, they are well-equipped to deal with the things you feel are scary — again, being familiar with this stuff is their job!

And more than that, because they’re not your best friend, their suggestions will be unbiased and always in your best interest. Now I know none of that makes it easy to just start talking about your feelings, but I also can tell you this: All the things I thought I could avoid if I just never named them and kept my fears hidden away inside? They ate me up from the inside instead. I’m not telling you to share all the most intimate details of your life immediately, but I am telling you it may be worth it to explore whether you need to play sole secret-keeper forever.

“People will talk.”

You may be right. I’m sorry to say but stigma around mental health issues definitely still exists (it’s half the reason I write). And it’s worse within certain populations and demographics. So you probably know your situation better than me. A few things to consider, however. First and foremost, you simply may not always be able to just hide your brain stuff. Untreated mental illness often gets worse. You may be choosing to get help now or have a public breakdown later. Secondly, people who don’t want you to feel better are not on your side.

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If family or friends are discouraging you from something you think will improve your health, you don’t owe it to them to simply agree. Are their reasons really in your best interest? Third, if you’re feeling altruistic, other people in your community may be struggling as well, unbeknownst to you. “Coming out” often has a ripple effect. Finally, overall the stigma is getting better. I can talk about mental health more now than I could 10 years ago, even being open at work.

“I can’t afford it.”

That sucks and while I really hope you’re not right… you might be. The state of healthcare in a lot of places, especially mental health care, is not great and that’s a whole other article. That said, do check with your insurance, if you have it. Check any other benefits as well, through work, through assistance programs. There are often free or reduced-cost resources or hotlines. Some therapists and psychiatrists will work with you on session cost if it’s prohibitive.

Quintuplets mum Kim Tucci says it took her 16 months to bond with her quins. Post continues after audio.

“I can do it myself.”

I’m not saying you can’t. You probably can. This is where I was a few weeks ago. Struggling a lot with intense anxiety, but convinced that if I relied on my coping mechanisms and breathing exercises that I could get through this rough patch. And you know what, I probably could have. But being “probably technically able” to do something on your own and deciding to attempt it without any help or support anyway isn’t really the same thing.

Life isn’t a competition where you lose points for asking for help. I know that sometimes it seems like it is, that we have to be big and strong all the time and never show weakness. And I know it is a point of pride for many of us that we are independent, and we can do things on our own. But remember that this is not about can or can’t, it is about feeling better and not suffering. This is not really the time to worry about wounding your pride. You are already hurting on the inside and figuring out how to stop that will probably do your self-esteem far more good in the long run. No one gets medals for suffering, and frankly, if this was easy to just “fix on your own” you already would have taken care of it. But brain stuff is hard. It’s okay to let someone else help.

A decade and a half of therapy and I still have to remind myself of this because it’s still not always easy for me to just knock down the walls and let others in. And I definitely don’t always do it as soon as my doctors would prefer. Heck, not as soon as I would prefer if it meant I could have saved myself some struggle these past few months. So believe me, I get your hesitation at saying anything.

But as hard as it is, I can also honestly tell you this: I do not regret for an instant any of the times I asked for help. And I’m not sure I’d be writing this if a friend or two hadn’t been the one to push me to ask for that help once or twice before.

I hope this can be your push if you need it.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission. You can follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.

If you or a loved one is struggling, Mamamia encourages you to contact Beyond Blue.

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