You Are Not Your Illness

May 23rd, 2019

Katie waited to seek treatment for her struggle with mental health until she couldn’t handle it anymore. But from that, she learned the importance of seeking help sooner rather than later.

NAME — Katie

AGE — 23

OCCUPATION — Student

HOMETOWN — Hendersonville, TN

FUN FACT — People tell Katie that she’s funnier than their first impression of her

How would you define yourself?

“I’m the oldest daughter of 4 girls and the child of two oldest children. I’m a procrastinating perfectionist. Harsh, yet empathetic with a strong trigger for honesty.”

What is your experience with mental illness?

“I had a brush with it in high school and started seeing a therapist who told me to take medication for depression. My mom pulled me out, though, because she felt it was just circumstantial. She also didn’t want medication to be the first solution. I think most of it was because I was a teen at the time.

I didn’t seek any other treatment until this past year when it felt like it wasn’t possible to keep going. I decided to go to counseling and got diagnosed. I saw a neurologist and got on medication. At first, I was terrified of it because I would never have thought this for myself. I hadn’t realized how much of a stigma I had toward it myself. I thought I should have been able to overcome it. But being on medication for 3 months now has been life-changing.”

Have you ever gone to counseling? If so, what was your experience like and what would you tell others about counseling?

“Counseling is much different now than when I was young. I needed it both as an adult and removed from my parents. Now I just needed to pay someone to listen to me. Family and friends want to listen to you, but you just emotionally dump it and then wonder why they don’t help. Counselors have the training and skills and time to help. When you go to counseling, you lose the guilt of thinking it’ll be too much on their plate.

“I absolutely recommend counseling. It’s more freeing than anything. There are resources if cost is an issue. If you’re a student, your school probably offers free counseling. Most prices can be scaled. They’re super willing to work with you or refer you elsewhere, especially if you don’t have insurance. There are lower cost treatment options, so don’t let the cost scare you away.”

Why are you passionate about mental health awareness?

“I had thought people were becoming more aware of it and working toward ending the stigma. I would’ve said the stigma had lessened until I actually started struggling with it myself. It made me realize how the burdens incrementally add up to make someone stop seeking help.

I feel as if I’m annoying people when I tell them what I’m going through. The clichés you hear are true. It’s often your anxiety, or whatever you struggle with, that makes you believe that they’re not true. The ones who don’t want to help aren’t the ones getting paid to help. I wish I had started treatment earlier, but I’m grateful for the lessons I learned before starting treatment.”

What do you want to change about mental health and awareness of it?

“The treatment. I want it to be more accessible and more encouraged. I think some institutions discourage it without even meaning to. In law school, you have to report any drugs and diagnoses to the bar that could affect your character. People don’t want to treat it or report because then they’d have to explain why they could still be a good lawyer even with their struggles.

It’s more multifaceted than just a diagnoses. Everyone is different. You have to come at it with an approach that touches on all sides of it: physical, emotional, spiritual. One aspect alone can be a dead end with no help. I didn’t pursue the biological side for so long, and that’s what ended up making such a big difference.”

Even though you struggle with mental illness, that doesn't define you. What would you want others to know about yourself?

“Mental illness is not an identity. I worry that, in an effort to help and encourage, mental illness is almost like a swinging pendulum that is leading to romanticization. It’s not romantic in any way. It’s ugly. I want people to know it’s something I’ve struggled with, but it wouldn’t be the top thing I tell people about myself.”

What do you want others to know about mental illness?

“I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say that everyone has it – or at least struggles with it on some level. We’ve labeled it as ‘illness,’ and sometimes it is because of the biological factors. But mental illness isn’t as far away from people’s day-to-day struggles as they might think.

People ask, ‘Isn’t that just like feeling sad, or nervous?’ Well, yes but no. I feel that too, but I can’t let it go or turn my brain off from it. It’s not that crazy and unique. More people struggle with it than they think, whether they’re diagnosed or not. When people have access to treatment and/or healing, it can be helpful to everyone – not just one group of people who have experienced one specific event or trauma.”

Do you have any final words or advice to give people about mental health?

“One of my most frustrating experiences was when I thought I was getting help but it didn’t actually work. I tried resource after resource without getting it right. It felt like I didn’t get help until I couldn’t take it any longer. If you think that maybe it’s something you’re dealing with, even if just in the slightest, seek answers then. Don’t wait until you’re at the end of your rope. If you are at the end, keep going. You’ve got more in you than you realize, more support than you realize. You probably don’t feel it, but it catches up to you.

Move forward inch by inch if that’s all you can muster. People usually think ‘I’ll seek help when it’s bad since that’s when I’ll know it’s real,’ but you’re not an expert. Everyone else thinks they can tell you and diagnose you. You can probably keep it up for awhile, but you might not have the strength to get the help you need once you get to your breaking point.”

My name is Katie, and I am not defined by my struggle with mental health.

You're Not Alone

1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences a mental health condition in a given year. That’s 46.6 million people per year.

Contact Hannah Vaughn Gogh
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