Twenty-five years ago, or so, I received the basic stamp of “anxiety” and “depression” from some doctors doing what they could with a fifteen-year-old girl who didn’t know what was going on. In fact, my initial diagnosis came after six to eight months of checking for heart problems, anemia, food allergies, and “period problems.”
Below are the pros and cons of being a graduate student in mental health, as seen through the lens of a social work graduate student. Although this is one perspective, I believe that many of the opinions I express here also resonate with many other professionals in the mental health field.
I can’t really begin to describe how it feels to “go manic” other than it feels like your brain is being taken over and that you have this heightened sense of paranoia. For me, that meant that the government was watching me, studying my every move.
It’s the first word that seems to come to mind when we are feeling that things are occurring too much, too fast, and / or too confusing to absorb and manage. We just simply say, we’re “stressed out”, “under stress”, or “too stressed” to handle it. When we are feeling such immense stress, we generally, and ultimately, don’t take the time to slow down to truly identify all that is happening in our minds, our bodies, and our spirit at those moments.
Of course, the first thing that comes into play is the stigma. The number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m so OCD!” the pop culture meme for explaining away control issues. At this point I’m aware of how social stigma functions, so I won’t be letting it get me down. Still, it’s out there in spades, pushing the self-stigma triggers ever more so, prompting mindful response over knee-jerk reaction. Dealing with another diagnosis is challenging enough without letting stigma derail my quality of life.
The staff on our wing had their work cut out for them, with twenty-four patients to attend to. Community therapy concentrated on setting and achieving goals. Occupational therapy focused on creatively integrating right- and left-brained processes. Twenty-four individual viewpoints on life; twenty-four souls needing to communicate, each in their own unique way. A microcosm of the very world we longed to be a part of, treating one another with respect when someone went off the rails, supporting one another when life’s lessons got too hard to shoulder alone.
“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”“I focus on creating now, instead of destroying myself. My stitching gives me a reason to keep going, to keep fighting. I have to finish so many portraits,” she says of the benefits the stitching process provides for her mental health. “I start something to bring comfort to someone else and it ends up bringing comfort to myself. It’s like a circle. By helping others I’m helping myself.”
It feels like an admission of failure to say that I hear voices, like it’s a personal flaw in my character, that I somehow have a modicum of control over the experience. I don’t. It’s an involuntary response to stress. At least that’s what science claims. I actually have no idea, even with all the research I’ve done, but it makes sense.
But there is one feeling that’s unnecessary: the loneliness, and in my time supporting my wife, I’ve never felt more lonely. In times of crisis we tend to wall ourselves away from each other because we’re too afraid to talk about what we’re experiencing. In all of my internet searching, it felt like I was the first husband who had to take his wife to the psych ward, because no one out there was talking or writing about it.