on self-help

I am in no way an expert on mental health or a connoisseur on all the different colors and brands of pills. Tread carefully across this post.

counseling: I sought out a therapist at the beginning of this school year. Misconceptions definitely clouded my mind. Before my first session, there was a voice in my head saying “boy am I excited to start speaking to this therapist and fix all my problems. Let’s get going!” The problem is that I constructed this portrayal of therapy as a panacea that would be effective immediately. Maybe this notion came from all the people who asked if I was considering therapy earlier on. And who can blame them? What can you really say to someone who is mired in a situation you can’t even begin to comprehend? “See a therapist; pop a pill. Be happier.” Nothing really sensible or meaningful can be said as a solution.

My experience with my therapist has been…lukewarm. I’ve only ever seen a single counselor, but I have heard from many people that finding a compatible one usually takes a few tries (think dating). I basically sit in a dimly lit room once every week and blabber on about myself until the hour runs out. In my past experience, my therapist didn’t offer much profound advice or life-changing insights, which deep-down I know I wished for. For the sake of this narrative, let’s call her Sam–Sam sifted through and recapitulated all the nonsense coming out of my mouth at the end of the hour. She asked questions, which I also grew annoyed of at times. To be honest, I thought therapy was useless after my first few sessions. The concept of it also seemed pathetic to me: I was so lonely and messed up, with thoughts so unwholesome and indigestible to those around me, that I had to seek out a random stranger to listen to me! I kept going to my sessions though, I think just to go through the motions, and look at me now! I’m somehow a bit better now.

I still don’t think therapy is perfect. I don’t think it fixed all my problems. But Sam lent a space where I could speak openly and honestly for once. That was refreshing and over the long run, probably revitalizing.

In short, a therapist isn’t going to hold your hand and show you the light. 99% of the work is yours to trudge through. Therapy is just a form of thinking aloud which is more valuable than I had previously assumed. When you try to formulate your hazy thoughts into words, clouds sometimes part and you see things in a new light. And that is how therapy operates in a powerful way.

medication: I also only tried one type of medication (I’m a pretty inflexible, lazy person if you haven’t deduced this yet). Halfway through this past semester, I felt like I was moving in different directions, but things were staying the same. I was still stuck in my rabbit hole. I still turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms because I had no way of truly handling my emotions. So I spoke to a psychiatrist and after a lot of careful contemplation and bouts of neurotic anxiety, I started on a prescription of Wellbutrin XL.

The road to this consequential decision was fraught with indecision and apprehension. I was terrified antidepressants would change me in some fundamental, irreversible way. My brain felt poisoned enough at that point; I didn’t need other foreign chemicals polluting my mind in some unforeseeable way. The psychiatry practice was dubitable too. The whole gamut seemed like a game of darts, with a psychiatrist prescribing whatever “seems ok” and shooting in the dark for some sort of pill to stick. Sorry, I don’t mean to demean an entire field; this is just how my fears manifest themselves.

On a more philosophical sphere, I fundamentally didn’t believe in the healing ability of antidepressants either. On the off chance that I did end up feeling better due to ingesting a hodge podge of chemicals, the adjustment of my serotonin levels or realignment of neurotransmitters in my brain didn’t seem to equate with actual happiness. How could they? Is that all it takes to alter my psyche, the thing which I guard so carefully–a few chemicals, a rewiring or neurons, some tangible minutiae of the mechanisms of my brain? Is that really all I am?

Eventually, I swallowed all my fears because I was achingly desperate for change, anything really. So I started on Wellbutrin XL. The first few nights, I slept turbulently and woke up in a sweat every morning. I also lost my appetite. There were days when I subsisted fine off of a half salad and a Cliff bar. In terms of mental effect, I didn’t feel much. I wasn’t bouncing off the walls with jubilance. The most significant and powerful change was in my energy level. I was pulling 4am’s and 5am’s almost every day because I had to give a few hours to be in my state of existential panic before I could seriously begin to sift through my unforgiving workload from classes. Despite such prolonged sleep deprivation, I somehow managed to stay awake in my classes better than I ever had before, which was truly an unfathomable feat. I honestly felt somewhat like an Olympian god, transcendent even of the basic human need of sleep.

These initial side effects gradually wore off as my body adjusted. I began sleeping quite deeply, and I think all my sleep deprivation caught up to me eventually. For the last few weeks of school, I consistently slept past all my morning classes because I legitimately couldn’t hear my alarm clock. This deepness of sleep alarmed me. Who was I becoming?! A lethargic loch ness?!

All antidepressants do is give you the physical energy boost to actually wash your face, get out of bed, and go through daily motions. And that is enough. That is more than enough. Because I was able to stay afloat my schoolwork, that was one less thing I had to bash on myself for. I believe that made all the difference. I might not have made the finish line through second semester otherwise. And I can’t describe how good it feels to be on the other side because summer has been forgiving, rejuvenating, and healing. I have had time to really think clearheadedly.

These past few weeks, I’ve been feeling more like myself than I have for many months. I’m not entirely sure I can pinpoint a formula for the bettering of my mental health. I’m not religious, so I don’t attribute my wellbeing to some celestial force. Nor do I think antidepressants magically healed me, or my therapist guided me to see the light. Mostly, I just….grew up, I suppose. I sincerely believe life is a forgetting game. I always find myself wishing for some sort of amnesia. I wish I could forget what the past was like. I wish I could stop obsessing over how hurt others have made me feel. I haven’t exactly forsaken my past or this depression I’ve been struggling with. What I mean is eventually, time helps you forget these sort of things by laying new layers of meaning and experiences atop the pain…like a mille feuille. I admit, what happens isn’t really amnesia but rather an expansion of perspective, so that the past doesn’t have to occupy the forefront of your mind anymore. Eventually, life becomes somewhat bearable again. And if you’re lucky, you might even wake up and feel blessed to be alive someday.

To be honest, I’m a little suspicious. I don’t believe good things last, which sounds awfully pessimistic, but on the flip side of the coin, the bad shouldn’t last for too long either. “So dawn turns down to day / Nothing gold can stay.”

 

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