By Bekah Cone
When I was a child, my anxiety and depression was labeled as shyness. When I was a teenager, it was labeled as hormonal changes and when I left for college, it was the “normal” reaction to such a big life transition. Suddenly, I ran out of explanations for the symptoms I was experiencing and I knew I needed to reach out for support. Opening up to my parents seemed like the first and most important step I needed to take, but it certainly was not a planned out conversation.
The summer between my first and second year of college, I ended up in the emergency room with kidney pain. Shaking and crying uncontrollably, having difficulty breathing with my blood pressure spiking, I was sitting with my mom in the waiting room believing this was a reaction to the pain, but I knew very well this was a panic attack related to my catastrophic thought patterns. Trying to assure myself I would be out of pain soon, I knew I had to take this moment to explain to my mom that it was the anxiety and not the pain that was producing these symptoms she was witnessing. Through the hours of panic in the waiting room, I finally told my mom that I would like to see a therapist and I truly believe that moment was the starting point to a journey that would change my life in the most positive way.
I returned to Chicago to start my sophomore year of college and with the help of my parents found a list of therapists that would take my insurance. After a bit of time, I was finally able to schedule my first appointment and about a week later, I anxiously arrived, filled out my paper work, introduced myself and suddenly was found in the most vulnerable position I had ever been. To this stranger, I began explaining my symptoms and very quickly I had two diagnoses attached to my name, Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder.
When getting diagnosed with a mental health condition, people have many different reactions. For me, it was an immediate sense of relief and validation. The lack of motivation, loss in appetite, shallow breathing, feeling of panic, constant crying and everything else I was internalizing had a name with treatment available. With this diagnosis, I thought treatment would be smooth sailing. I began my weekly talk therapy and about six weeks in, I knew it did not feel right for me. I was not building any sort of trusting relationship with this therapist and it felt like I was wasting that hour of my Friday’s each week. I convinced myself and my therapist that I was fine and did not need to keep going, so I stopped therapy with the idea that it was not for me.
For a while, I was able to function pretty well using my busy schedule to numb and ignore all the symptoms I was still experiencing. I pushed all of these feelings under the rug until there wasn’t any more space and that overflow led me to what could be best described as a mental breakdown. I talked to my mom on the phone a few times until the encouragement was strong enough to try and seek out help again. I went to the Crisis Counselor on my campus, dumped out my feelings, left and hopped right back on to the schedule I was previously on. This cycle continued for months.
The consistent ups and downs were exhausting and after about six months of this constant battle, I decided I was ready to give therapy another try. Immediately, I felt a connection with this new therapist that I had not had with my previous one and that excited me. With only a few sessions before leaving for the summer, I had no idea how important therapy would become in a few months.
That summer was probably the roughest three months of my life thus far. With both physical and emotional challenges, I came back for another year of school completely shut down. I returned to her office and was unable to sit down let alone speak without crying. I was in crisis mode, suicidal and completely hopeless. After digging deeper into the summer, I was given a third diagnosis, post traumatic stress disorder. I believe this diagnosis changed my life.
Within the first couple weeks back, I was given a new schedule of individual therapy twice a week as well as a dialectical behavioral therapy class once a week. I withdrew from the classes I had signed up for that semester and put the little bit of energy I did have into my mental health. In the individual therapy, I was introduced to a new type of therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR, that transformed my life. Through this intensive therapy, I was able to connect past traumas I did not even know I had to trauma I had experienced that summer. Although emotionally draining, each session allowed me to connect more pieces in my personal puzzle. I gained a sense of awareness that helped me heal in a way that I did not know was possible.
It has taken years, a couple of different therapists, three diagnoses and trial and error of different types of therapy, but I sit here today writing this story in a state of hope and recovery. It has been and continues to be a process, but it is one that has shown me that there is always support out there that is worth pursuing.