I am a psychotherapist and I believe in the power of talk therapy—it has, after all, saved my life.
And yet, and yet, even I have hesitated in the dark hours of my own mental ill-health to reach out to the people I know could help.
During a recent WrestleMania style bout with my old friend depression, as I battled in solitude with little more than sweaty sheets and my ever-patient dog to console me, I wondered (not for the first time) what the hell is wrong with me?
I tried to explore this resistance I always feel and it seemed to boil down to just a few (not great) excuses. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, I’m willing to bet you can relate.
Here are some of the lies my brain tells me when it’s not at its best.
I don’t want to ask for help because:
1. I don’t want to be a burden
“People have their own problems, why should they have to deal with mine as well?”
There is some truth to this. We can’t go willy-nilly and dump our stuff all over everyone. Maybe there is no one in our lives who is strong enough or healthy enough to take on our pain. Maybe there is no one we trust to have their own sh*t together enough to help us with ours. We might worry that our problems could be completely overwhelming to somebody else.
These things could all be spot-on—but none of them apply to professionals.
If worrying about being a burden is what’s stopping us from reaching a hand out from the abyss, we need to grab on to someone who is trained to be an emotional life preserver. The great thing about someone like this is that they can accept your pain, they can help you process it, and they won’t be unnerved by the depth of your need. This is their calling. Let’s let them do their job.
2. People will think I’m weak/stupid/lazy.
“I don’t want to come across like some loser who can’t get their sh*t together and is always whining about one problem or another.”
Maybe we are in a moment of weakness. Maybe we do lack the knowledge we need to do better. Maybe our pain is making us immobile, paralyzed, “lazy.” Should these facts condemn us to days of hopeless misery? Of course not.
If these are the reasons we can’t or won’t reach out, what we really need is a dose of humility. Everyone struggles and everyone needs help sometimes. Anyone who judges us for this is in denial about their weaknesses. Don’t let what other people think be the reason you suffer needlessly.
3. Nobody can do anything that will really help me anyway.
“I mean, really, what can anyone say that will make an actual difference?”
Ohhh, this is a tough one. How can just talking change a damn thing, am I right?
In fact, I am not. Left to our own devices, our minds can be quite limited places, stuck on a single track, and woefully short on creativity due to the very real stressors of depression and anxiety. While talking about things might not change them, it dramatically changes how we perceive them, and that can be the golden ticket.
If we can get out of our cognitive ruts and see new ideas, name emotions with clarity, and connect dots that were formerly obscure to us, reality shifts. It’s like a miracle, really. Where once we saw no answers and had no hope, suddenly things seem to open up; we have a sense of possibility and can take a much-needed breath and a few steps forward into a much better state of mind.
4. I can just tough it out.
“It’s better to just suck it up and eventually this will pass. Then I can pretend like it never happened.”
This is definitely one of my go-to’s. The problem with sucking it up is that even if the misery passes, we haven’t done anything to address what caused it in the first place, so it’s bound to return.
Living a healthy life requires an ongoing willingness to examine issues and try our best to resolve them. Sure, new issues will then crop up, but because we’ve had practice doing the work, we’ll be more skilled at handling them. Toughing it out just puts off the inevitable, and slows down our growth.
5. I don’t have enough money or time to spend on therapy.
This is valid and not to be taken lightly. Sometimes we truly don’t have access to the resources we need. If I have to choose between food for my kid and therapy, my kid will never go hungry. But, if we are prioritizing things like manicures, fancy gym memberships, or designer coffee over our own mental health, we need to ask ourselves why.
If the honest answer is that we’d rather have the easy fun stuff than the deep meaningful stuff, okay, we need to just admit it and know what we are choosing. And then when we feel so desperate we’re not sure if we can get out of bed one day, we need to remember the choice we made and the fact that there is something different we can now choose.
Asking for help—especially for anxiety and depression—can be one of the most difficult things we ever do. We are taught that we need to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps” and “Git ‘Er Done.”
We internalize messages that those who can’t help themselves are somehow less than, and then we load feelings of shame on top of whatever else we are grappling with. It is a dangerous spiral resulting in almost 50,000 American deaths by suicide in 2019 alone (according to NIMH).
Whatever your situation, there is help to be had, whether from a trusted friend, family member of a professional. Go to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) for lots of great free resources or try Psychology Today to easily find a great therapist near you.