Easier doesn't mean better.
This is a sentence that a very special human told me in the first week of my freshman year at Penn. This simple sentence has transcended into all parts of my life and has become a mantra that I tell myself daily. I didn’t know it then, but that mantra defined my relationship with mental health, and ultimately helped shape me into the person I am today.
I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, but looking back, there were no conversations about mental health growing up.
I still look back and wonder how much better my experiences would have been if I had had the guts to share my feelings. Even when I was fighting cancer, I hid any emotion that bubbled up, with a smile. I wanted to prove to others that I was okay, and even more than that, I was happy. In my head, it was ingrained that emotions are dramatic and attention seeking, and all I cared about was gaining the validation and approval from others. This perception of emotion became almost a culture. I remember in 6th grade, a friend crying, and someone came up to me and said: “Oh, she is just trying to get attention, so don’t talk to her. Just let her cry.” The culture came out of the insecurity and the fear of being vulnerable; feeling was a weakness and something to look down upon. If you didn’t cry it meant you had a better life and didn’t need to cry. And I wanted to prove that I had a good life. So, I didn’t think twice about feeling emotions and carried on with a fake smile and a shallow outlook on life. “It was easier that way,” I told myself, and I didn’t know any better.
Hiding the pain is easy. Feeling pain continues to be the best and hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Moving across the country to a place where I knew no one was the catalyst to my confrontation with my emotions. It was only when I removed myself from all that I had ever known that I realized I was in pain and that I’m not alone in my pain. It was only when the people I loved showed me that they too weren’t okay that I realized I didn’t have to be okay all the time, in order to maintain deep connections with friends. In fact, showing my emotions only enhanced the relationships I had because I created real connections based on authenticity and truth.
The vulnerability I let myself have was unprecedented. Once I unlocked the door to my emotions, they all flooded out. Whether it was crying profusely over the smallest thing or feeling an extreme weight on my chest, I was feeling more than I had ever felt. It astonished me that so many people struggled but would only talk about it when I put my guard down and admitted that I was not okay. It was not easy to begin the conversation, to be the one to open up and be vulnerable, but the more I did it, the more I realized that each and every one of us is struggling with something. Fast forward a year and a half, being open and vulnerable has allowed me to ask for help and to begin my process of healing.
Getting help is hard, but it is also brave.
Medication and therapy exist for a reason. Medication and traditional therapy got me to the place where I could help myself. And that’s where my version of alternative therapy began. Dancing has always been my outlet, but I never realized how therapeutic it really was. What was indescribable with words was expressed in movement. There was such a healing quality in acknowledging that I was lost and vulnerable and that I could freely show these raw emotions through dance. Now don’t get me wrong, without medication and therapy, I would not have been able to let dance help me, but it was truly a mixture of all three that truly helped my mental wellness.
Asking for help is hard, and there isn’t one solution or one way to go about it. What works for someone may have no effect on something else.
But to try and find your own therapy is the first step to recovery. It is about investing time and energy into caring for yourself, and I for one, think that a trend towards self-care and alternative therapy only makes us more confident in our journey to finding what works.
Right now, therapy for me is integrative. It truly is a mixture of so many kinds of therapy, and I love it. I see a psychiatrist once a month and adjust my medication to help me stay balanced. I also see a therapist once a week. I’m not ashamed that I need to talk to someone professionally to work through what I’m feeling. I am dancing almost every day of the week, which helps me to keep moving, release endorphins, and express myself. And, to be frank, my therapy also includes getting help from close friends around me. If I am having a bad day, sometimes the best therapy is to cuddle up on my couch and watch TV with my roommate or to cry into someone’s arms just to release some of that emotion. I combine lots of different kinds of therapies and it is the mixture of both traditional and non-traditional therapy that helps me stay afloat. And I am proud that I was able to find these different ways to help myself. I have learned to be proud of asking for help and taking extra measures every day to ensure that I do not self-sabotage myself. I know what I need, and I am learning every day what is best.
Mental health and wellness are universal.
Every human being grapples with their own mental health at one point or another. This makes mental health a crucial topic to be discussed, and the fact that a dialogue is beginning about alternative therapy means people are more and more willing to be vulnerable in starting the conversation about mental health.
Vulnerability is hard. But vulnerability leads to growth. I was recently diagnosed with Bipolar II and rather than being afraid of the diagnosis, I became curious and ready to learn about what that meant. I realized that being bipolar does not change who I am. I can still be the positive radiant light that my friends characterize me as and also have hard days where I need medication, therapy, and dance to help lift me up.
The second takeaway is simple in my mind: All you have to do is overcome what is perceived as easier. You have to take the leap of faith, start the conversation, and explore what is best for you in your healing process.