Mental Health Monday: Help

Monday, June 9, 2014 
Here we are, another rainy Monday here in ye olde Philadelphia. I don't know about you, but rainy mornings are the hardest morning for me to get out of bed, and not just because my joints are angry that the barometric pressure has fallen. Our bedroom is way darker when it's raining, and it's decorated in purples and greys, so everything just seems cozier and sleepier when it's storming outside. I also hate driving in the rain, mainly because it makes people forget how to safely operate their motor vehicles. There's no way to have a good hair day, and if I get wet, then I spend the day freezing in my office even moreso than I usually do. Basically, rainy days make everything harder (and that goes doubly for snowy days in the winter, but I won't even get started on that.)

Sometimes, rainy days make me feel my depression or anxiety even more acutely. (Then again, sunny days are sometimes the hardest; more on that at a later time.) Today, I wanted to talk about getting the help you need if you're going through a tough time. The first step is often the hardest step, and that is deciding that you actually need help.
I've had quite a few people approach me and ask how I knew when I needed help from a professional or how I knew that something was wrong. I kind of had an unfair advantage as an adolescent because I had a mom who was very into talking about things and was absolutely supportive of therapy. I kind of fell into therapy as a kid, but since I haven't been in continuous therapy or on continuous medication since the age of 12, there have been times when I have needed to figure out what was going on in my own head and how to attend to it. 

My go-to assessment usually goes like this:

1. What am I actually feeling?
This sounds like a stupid question, but sometimes, it's really hard to pin down the actual emotion or feeling that's occurring. Sometimes, it's more anxiety than depression, sometimes it's the other way around. Can I pinpoint the source of the anxiety or depression, or is more generalized? Am I angry about something? Do I feel like I'm on fast-forward or slow motion? Naming your feelings can be especially powerful, and if you do seek help, you should be able to articulate how you're feeling to a better extent than, "Gross."

2. Is how I'm feeling short-term or long-term?
This is a bit trickier, because you might not have an answer. If you've ever read the symptoms of depression, you probably can point to at least a few times in your life where you've experienced at least some of them. If this is the first time you're dealing with a depressive episode, some feelings to be aware of include:
- Feeling persistently sad, anxious, or "empty"
- Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy doing
- Decreased energy or feeling "slow"
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Difficult falling asleep or staying asleep (or alternately, sleeping too much)
- Appetite or weight changes
- Suicidal thoughts or thoughts about death
- Feeling restless or irritable

The thing to look at is whether you've been feeling like this for a few days, a few weeks, a few months, or longer. For example, people frequently experience depressive episodes after the death of a loved one. This is a heartbreaking event that warrants a grieving period, so if you're feeling like this immediately after losing someone you loved, then you might just need to let it run its course. However, if you've been feeling like this for weeks and weeks with no "cause" that you can find, or even if you've felt like this for a long time following a particular event that caused a lot of grief, then it might be time to get some help. 

3. Is how I'm feeling interfering with my health or life?
This is the biggie, and the one that matters the most, in my opinion. No one but you can decide what is normal for you. For me, here's how I decide if it's interfering with my health/life:

- Am I making choices that I otherwise wouldn't make if I didn't feel this way? For example, am I avoiding making plans with people because I feel too "down" or because I'm anxious about being in public places?

- Am I losing or gaining weight? Have I changed my eating habits? (I've had both happen due to depression.)

- Are my emotional responses disproportionate? (Do I threaten bodily harm Ken forgets to buy eggs, do I cry after seeing a completely innocuous commercial about furniture, etc)

- Is my sex drive totally tanked? (Sorry if that's TMI, but it's a really good indicator of general health.)

More seriously, if I am having thoughts about self-harm or suicide, that's obviously a flashing red sign that I need to get myself into my therapist or psychiatrist's office. 


Obviously, this is a very generalized post and what works for me might not work for you. The best advice that I can give you is to really listen to yourself and keep your finger of your proverbial "emotional pulse". And most importantly, needing help or feeling like this isn't something that should cause you to feel ashamed. I've been so surprised by the number of people who say that they feel like they can't go to therapy or take medication because it makes them think that they are weak or that they feel like they should just be able to solve their own problems. We all go through parts of our lives that get too big or too overwhelming to handle. 

Also, just because you're in therapy now doesn't mean that you'll be in therapy forever, and the same goes for medication. While there are some people, like myself, who are "lifers" as far as taking antidepressants are concerned, many people take them for a short period of time (9-12 months) to help stabilize them through a trying time, and then are able to wean off of them. Another thing to keep in mind about medication is that it will not be an insta-fix. I like to think of getting mental health assistance as three-pronged for myself, with the parts being therapy, medication, and self-assessment. At times, I've only been in therapy and not on medication, but unfortunately, those times have been short-lived. Medication isn't going to magically solve all of your problems, but it certainly can help get you to a functional level so you can actively deal with and work through the issues causing your anxiety and depression. Also, medication can take 2-4 weeks (or more) to get to a therapeutic level in your system, so it's not like taking an Aleve for your headache and 20 minutes later feeling relief. 

Working through depression and anxiety is hard work. I can't lie to you and tell you that it's easy or fun, but I can tell you that it's 100% worth the effort. One last thing about therapy. You can always go to therapy, even if there's nothing acutely "wrong". I tell people that going to therapy doesn't mean you are broken, it means that you are learning. If I had my way, everyone would go to therapy for at least a year, simply to learn about how they communicate and interact with the world. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend spending some time in a therapist's office. It might change your life. :)

If you are having trouble and want to talk to someone about it, please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly. You can also reach me on Twitter or Facebook. It can be totally overwhelming to feel like this, and even more overwhelming to navigate finding help. If you're looking for a therapist, I've used Psychology Today to search for therapists with good success. Also, you can always ask your primary care doctor for recommendations. Insurance will sometimes cover therapy, but you have to check with them to see if there are limitations on how many sessions you can have, and many providers (unfortunately) do not take insurance. If you are looking for a psychiatrist, your family physician should be able to recommend one to you.

I hope that if you're going through a rough time that this post has helped you feel less alone, and that maybe it will nudge you towards getting the help you need. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me and I'll do my best to answer them. If you're interested in other mental health blogging posts, check out the hosts' blogs, Blog of Erisred and Uncorked Thoughts for interviews, book reviews, and more.

Take care of yourselves, friends. Be kind.

- A


  1. Thanks for the resource! A good one to share! Puts into words a lot of my opinions on the topic!

    1. You're welcome! I'm glad it was helpful. :)

  2. This is so, so true! I've always said that if everyone saw a therapist regularly, the world would be a much better place.


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