Categories: Mental Health

How to Advocate for Your Mental Health

Your feelings are valid, even if you don’t understand them.

It’s likely you’re reading this after looking up symptoms of anxiety, depression, or just an abysmal mental health day. I would like to say that I’m so proud of you for taking that first step into educating yourself on what you’re feeling and on how to improve your mental health. It’s a huge step into advocating for yourself and your needs. It takes a lot to admit to yourself that you need help. You are so cool for doing that. 

I was 16 when I started to really notice things were getting rough for me. I was 18 when I went to my first therapy and psychiatry appointment, and I knew that there was something else to be worried about beyond my original diagnosis. If I didn’t advocate for myself, I would still be in a really bad place. I hope you’re reading this article before you get there. If you’re already in that type of spot, I’m glad you’re seeking help now. Don’t worry, better times are around the corner.

Don’t doubt yourself

There is no one on this Earth, let alone in this universe who understands you more than you do. Even if you don’t feel like you understand yourself right now. Think about what’s going on with you through the lens of symptoms. “I wasn’t able to sleep at all last night,” means “I can’t sleep,” to you and your friends. The same sentence is understood as “I was suffering from insomnia last night for 8 hours,” to a psychiatrist. The “I’m totally freaking out right now,” translates to “I’m experiencing anxiety concerning certain events in my life.”

Don’t listen to people who say things like “it’s all in your head,” because it only matters what you think. When you start listening to people who make you doubt what you’re feelings, you’ll feel discouraged from seeking help. All offense to those people, it’s your life. Don’t listen to anyone who is downplaying your struggles, they’re not dealing with the same things as you. Even if they are, you only need to care about how you’re handling it, not them.

Start journaling things you feel for about 2 weeks, it’ll help you organize your thoughts when you visit a professional. It’s really common to have 3 really bad weeks, then on the fourth week you’ll see your doctor and be like “I got nothing.” Which is not great, because your doctor will in turn say “I also got nothing,” but in professional doctor words. You also don’t have to journal long paragraphs about your feelings, you can do bullet points like “Today I ate ABC, later in the day I did XYZ, now I’m currently experiencing ____.” It’s important to do this for you, and not just your doctor. Over time, you’ll see which things are triggering you and can work to remove those things from your life. Seeing is the most important part of this. Taking notes like this will help you see that your symptoms are real, and where they’re coming from.

Believe in yourself like Kanye believes in Kanye; at least that’s what I do.

Educate yourself on conditions that closely match your symptoms

This is a step that’s hard for everyone. One of my most heart-shattering moments in life was googling my mental health diagnosis and seeing “This condition can be treated, but not cured.” It was something I already knew, it’s important to focus on the first half. “This condition can be treated.” If you haven’t been diagnosed yet, or you’re unsure that your current diagnosis isn’t correct, you have to get past that scary sentence and dive into symptomology. Before you get carried away, self-diagnosing is not “I typed my problems into WebMD and now I have this.” No.

Self-diagnosing is not something I advocate for, but if there is a mental health illness that strikes you as a little too familiar, write it down to discuss with your doctor later. While you wait for that appointment, research what someone with that illness or disorder would to to feel better. If you do those things, and you start to feel better, you just might be on to something. You also shouldn’t see just one set of symptoms and call it a day, as a lot of symptoms can overlap with other disorders. Not only are you educating yourself on what you might have, you’re also educating yourself on what you definitely don’t have. Of course, your doctor will screen you for everything they can think of too, but it’s nice to have a well-put together argument about what you think is going on. It’s better to give them somewhere to start then to have them start nowhere. It’s better to give yourself somewhere to start then to start nowhere.

Demand great treatment

Demand is normally not a word I would use in any scenario, because who likes demanding people? Well, if you don’t demand GREAT treatment, you won’t get it. I did not receive adequate care for the first 4 years that I was seeking it. I knew my doctor wasn’t great, but I figured I was just stuck with the doctor who kept trying to make me take vitamins instead of prescribing medication I needed. I knew my therapist wasn’t great, so I just stopped going because I had been through 3 therapists at that point and just gave up.

You cannot give up. I know how hard it is to not give up right now. I know how much it sucks. I know saying “it sucks” does not even begin to scrape the surface of what you’re feeling, but you cannot give up on your mental health treatment plan because you will be giving up on yourself. I’m writing this for myself just as much as I am for you, because this isn’t something you can ever forget about. If you know you’re not getting the medical attention you need, you need to say enough is enough and get the medical care you’re seeking. If one doctor isn’t working for you, try another one. If the second one doesn’t work, try another one. Even if it takes months or years to get yourself to the right doctor (and there is one,) you cannot give up on your desire to be better. You are reading this because you have a soul-crushing hope that things will get better, and they will, but only if you’re putting in the work to find the right mental health team to help you.

My current doctor is great. My current therapist is fantastic. If I gave up seeking help and never found them, I would not be typing this article for you to read right now.

The medicine isn’t magic, but it’s close

If you’ve ever met someone who said they didn’t want to take antidepressants because they would “lose their sparkle,” I have news for you: their “sparkle” is depression. Finding the right medication and taking it as prescribed made an incredible difference in my life. It made an incredible difference in my mental health. It took a long time to find those medications, but my life is so much better with this than it was without it. Contrary to myth, you will not “be stronger,” for “getting over” your symptoms without medication. You will simply struggle more for the same result, so why would you make things harder on yourself when they could be as easy as spending ten seconds to take your medication? I can’t say that my prescription is my cure, but I can say it’s really, really close to one. I simply don’t know how to explain the way I woke up finally feeling like myself again after my medications had taken their effect. I can’t explain how nice it was to look in the mirror and recognize myself again. I can’t explain how f*cking awesome it’s been to overcome my struggles.

Therapy also isn’t magic, but it’s close too

Now, here’s one thing about therapy that takes awhile to understand. Unfortunately, the therapist does not wave a magic wand over you to make your problems disappear (wouldn’t it be nice if they could though?).  What a therapist does is talk to you to learn who you are and what you’re seeking to do. Then, they’ll do the part you hate: help you find things for you to improve on. My God, that sucks. Imagine going to therapy and learning you’re part of the problem. It’s going to happen, because we are all responsible for our own actions and it is only through our own actions will we remedy our illnesses. If we do not take responsibility for the person we desire to be, then who will? 

Therapy is not painless, but it does lessen pain. It does give you tools to use to defeat pain when it next arrives. It gives you a safe space to talk about your thoughts, and the best part is they can’t run away because you paid them for a full hour. You know how you like calling your best friend when something is going on? You can keep doing that, but you cannot treat your best friend like your therapist. Your best friend is not a mental health expert. Your therapist will know more than your best friend. Your best friend knows you and who you are, but your therapist knows other people like you. Your therapist knows more about how to help people. Your therapist knows what tools will help you the most. Your best friend is pure royalty, but they are not a therapist. The advice you get from your best friend is not the same you’ll get from a therapist. The blind should not lead the blind!

Therapy!

It’s your life. It’s in your hands.

It’s up to you. How much your mental health gets better is entirely up to you. Nobody else is going to take control of this situation the way you can. I know it feels like you can’t, I promise you, you can. I’ve been there. A lot of people have. You deserve to not be afraid of your reflection. You deserve to not panic at every assignment. You deserve to not worry about if you’ll get a text from you-know-who tonight. 

See Also

You deserve to be happy.

You deserve to get better.

You deserve to live.

You deserve love.

You deserve everything.

You are worthy.

A gif my mom sent me whenever I was feeling down. You should have it too 🙂
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Cristina Aguila

Hi! I'm Tina! I was born in Miami, FL, and raised in the Florida Keys before attending Florida State University in 2016. I graduate at the end of July with a degree in Editing, Writing, and Media and a combined minor in English and Film; yay! I've been writing since I was a small child and have worked to hone my craft since then as well. My favorite book in Kindred, by Octavia Butler, and you can often find me cuddling my dog and playing silly iPhone games in my spare time.

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