When it comes to my mental health, one thing I can always count on is that it won’t be too long before I learn something new. Sometimes it’s a mental health or psychological term. Other times it’s a phrase, or a more accurate description than one I’d been using. After ten years of living with depression and anxiety, there’s still a lot to learn. And while there are many ways to learn these lessons, today I want to reflect on how experience is often the best teacher.
When I first started experiencing anxiety and depression, there was a lot to learn. I knew what I felt, but it took a long time to understand the language attached to these feelings and emotions. Part of that was definitely due to stigma – it was harder to have conversations about mental health at that point in time. But this learning curve was also connected to exposure – or rather, a severe lack thereof.
At the time, no one I knew had gone through bouts of depression. Anxiety wasn’t talked about as a disorder, and you needed a good reason to feel anxious. I felt like I was on an island. It wasn’t that people didn’t care; they didn’t know what to say. And even more than that, I didn’t know what to say. Years passed before I could to put feelings into words and learn the language of mental health and mental illness. And a big reason for that was because there some things that I could only learn by going through them.
It’s often said that experience is the best teacher, and that’s something I’ve learned often on my mental health journey. I have a better understanding of anxiety and depression because I’ve been through it. I know what symptoms are because I’ve felt them. I understand psychological terms better when they explain something I’ve been going through. This process feels backwards at times, but having background information has been invaluable.
One of the most agonizing things I’ve ever felt is when I have anxiety about my anxiety. In those moments, things feel unclear. They feel confusing and sometimes, they just feel straight up incorrect. When something that feels undefinable becomes clear, the relief is immeasurable. If I can read something, or hear a definition and say that’s what that wasI can take a lesson from it. I can shift from being afraid to being curious, from being scared to wanting to learn more about myself.
However I feel about it, my mental health is part of me. There are aspects about it that I have control over, and there are aspects of it that I have no control over. It doesn’t guide my life, but it does impact it. Sometimes, you won’t understand what something means unless you go through it. And that can be frustrating, but I choose to see the silver lining. Because when I make it through, when the storm passes, I can take what I’ve learned and share it with others. And to see that impact has made me grateful for some of the things I’ve gone through. We’re in this fight together. No one should have to go through anxiety, depression or any other mental health challenge on their own. When we speak up, we’re ensuring that we’re not going through it alone, either. And that’s worth a whole lot.