I wanted to expand my response to this comment into its own post:
“But this isn’t about me. I want to say something about the “get help” advice. People seem to think it’s that simple. Tell someone to get help, they get help, end of problems. It is nowhere close to simple. There are many obstacles to getting “help” in the first place. Many people who need help are very anxious when dealing with new people, especially authority figures such as doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, receptionists, etc. And then if you think the receptionist once gave you a dirty look? Or they really are rude to you? Can NEVER go back there again. In addition, depending on your life phase and such, “help” can be prohibitively expensive. Then, even if you do find help, and can approach it, and can , it is often the wrong help, or inappropriate help, and the persistence to keep looking until getting the right help doesn’t tend to be associated with the types of issues one might need help for.
I have been told in my life, by people from boyfriends to casual fucks to professors, to “get help.” It’s condescending. I’m trying to, and it’s not succeeding. Do they really think they’re the first to ever suggest it? I’ve been seeing mostly-ineffective shrinks off-and-on (with the very occasional more effective one that disappeared thrown in, plus one so ill-suited for me I walked out of his practice significantly more suicidal than when I walked in) since I was 14. If it were as simple as “get help” I’d be fixed by now.“
I recommend therapy here a lot. And I will keep doing it. Even though it is often prohibitively expensive. And/or difficult to locate. And/or difficult to acquire once you do locate it and can maybe afford it. I have a very strong bias in favor of therapy/counseling/mental health services because I have found them to be personally extremely helpful to me and to people I love – some of whom are alive and breathing because they sought out mental health services in time to save their own lives. My bias: I openly admit it. Therapy: I’m pro.
I definitely do not want to condescend to people who have a hard time getting therapy, don’t believe in it, have tried it and found it unhelpful. You have critical thinking skills and are the expert on your own life. If you’re dealing with some fucked up shit in life and the prospect of getting therapy seems unhelpful, exhausting, unaffordable, and like you’d rather keep dealing with the shit on your own than even attempt getting help, go with that! And own that choice, and make it something powerful for yourself. “You know, the people who keep recommending that I ‘get help’ are basically saying ‘I don’t know what to do for you, but I sure wish you’d talk to someone else about that problem’, so I guess I’ll handle things myself from now on/find new friends/try out other stuff until maybe I feel better. Humans survived on the earth long before the mental health profession existed!” might be the right solution for you. I have answered letters (privately) in pretty much that way. Emailer: “Here are my problems, they are large and complicated and feel overwhelming, but please don’t recommend therapy!“ Me: “Look, I have no idea what to say to you. If that were happening to me, I’d seek out some therapy. Ask someone else. I hope you will be ok.”
Also, I say this here a lot: If you read a response to a LW and think “She is maybe talking about me but she doesn’t know my specific situation so she’s getting it all wrong and is excluding me and people like me!” you are correct. I don’t know your specific situation! I am possibly getting it all wrong! I am responding to a person who had a problem and wrote to a stranger (who, may I remind you all again, has an unpaid for MFA in film & video as her sole credential in life) because maybe my best guess at how to go about handling a problem might maybe perhaps shed a little light on their situation. Because sometimes the act of telling your story to a sympathetic third party who can listen and offer an outside perspective is helpful. (Hint: That’s what you do in therapy, but there are lots of ways to do that). And sometimes me being wrong *is* the helpful thing – the LW says “No, you’re wrong about all of it…but an alternate perspective/helpful commenters gave me some insight.”I count that as a victory.
All advice from anyone anywhere is caveat emptor. You decide how much or how little of it you want to apply to yourself and use.
Here’s what I know. Anything on this blog that is any good happens when I am like Meg Murray taking her faults into Camazotz. When I say “Oh god, don’t send FEELINGSMAIL” it’s because I have sent feelingsmail and reaped the resulting awkwardness and shame. When I say “these are some tricks that helped me pull myself out of depression, maybe they will help you” I am writing honestly about my own experiences and what worked for me. After fucking up professionally, after fucking up romantically, after fucking up my family relationships, after being a person who harbored slights and bore grudges and raged silently at people who failed to read my mind, I somehow managed to stitch together a somewhat functional adult persona who can have a feeling and speak up about that feeling within the same month…sometimes even the same week or day!
I did that partly be treating my mental illness like an actual illness, but it wasn’t like someone told me “get help” and I went out the next day and magically got help and got better or that I think any part of it is easy. It took years. It took trial and error. It took being so broke that my level of income meant that I got services for $5/session. It took experimenting with meds, sometimes with very bad results. Just like with getting asthma treated, it took many bad fits and much procrastination before I found someone who could actually help me. It took friends and a concerned boss saying “Have you thought about therapy? It really worked for me” when they saw me acting in ways that were dysfunctional and detrimental to my own happiness. And frankly, it took getting to a place of despair where anything – even the torturous project of picking up the phone and making appointments and figuring out money and telling my darkest secrets to a stranger – seemed better than going on as I was. And then it took the slow, hard work of teaching myself to live in a different way without knowing for sure whether it would ever get better, full of days where “Got out of bed. Fed cat. Put on pants and shoes. Walked outside the house. Didn’t ride my bike into traffic.” counted as victories. I would have had to do that work with or without therapy, since my other choice was death by my own hand. It went a little easier with therapy. That’s an important thing to tell people, I think, especially when there is such bullshit and stigma surrounding mental illness even when it’s so fucking common. “You get to try to make really hard stuff a little easier on yourself.”
We teach what we most need to learn, and writing this helps me heal myself a little at a time. Sometimes I write with strong biases and make emphatic arguments, but that doesn’t mean I’m trying to set myself up as an authority on other people’s lives. It means I think it’s fucking exhausting to qualify every statement with “Unless of course that’s not true for you and your situation, 200,000 people who stop by here every month, I’m sure you are all different so only do what applies to you! Love, Captain Obvious of Planet Tautology” on my website that I write in my free time for free.
In closing, I have a strong bias toward mental health services being a force for good in the world. I realize that comes from a place of relative privilege with regards to social class, education, location (large city with a variety of available resources and sliding scale options), access to a phone and computer to research things, free time to go, a form of mental illness that responded well to that kind of treatment, knowing what my options are, etc. I almost always try to recommend it in conjunction with other concrete behaviors or steps. I definitely don’t do it to condescend to people – in most cases I am trying to validate the letter writers by saying “Yup, that sounds pretty serious, and you might benefit from having a trained professional on Team You.” I accept that therapy doesn’t work for all people. I don’t accept that because it doesn’t work for you that I’m not allowed to recommend it to people as one possible solution.
And if therapy doesn’t work or hasn’t worked for you, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sorry. I wish it worked for you. I wish it were easier for you. I hope someone smarter than me can give you a better road map. I’m sorry that people tell you to “get help” when they really mean “please go bother someone else about this problem.” That is never not painful to hear, even if friends and family are within their rights to set boundaries around how much of your pain they can carry. I hope you find out what does work, and that if you do, you come back tell us. I support you in whatever helps you live to tell the tale.