Photo by Taylor Schroeder featuring Mayah N. Hatcher for Mad Sounds Magazine, Issue 20
I remember sitting in a circle of bodega food and swivel chairs at a summer program with a group of girls from all over the country, discussing the focal point of that day's class: therapy. After going on quite the tangent about attitude and having to hide feelings, our professor landed on his past of seeing a counselor and how he dealt with his emotions and how they separated them from his job. It was a pretty productive talk and as a person handling mental illness myself, I took a lot from what he had to say.
Afterward, a girl from England commented that his story was "so American." She continued to say that, “In Europe, we don’t go to therapy. We just have our friends and family and the problem is solved.” I was taken aback by the incredibly generalized statement and held my tongue as a girl from Florida added, “I had no idea he was in therapy. He didn’t seem crazy.” And how could I not see this coming, honestly? When it comes to therapy, there’s the constant stigma of there being an abnormality, an idea of mental illness being equivalent to “not functioning” or negatively otherworldly.
I am living with a severe anxiety disorder along with Trichotillomania, a sensory disorder supposedly tied to a form of OCD, which causes me to obsessively pull out my hair. I’ve had both of these since before I can remember. I was diagnosed at age eleven during the fifth grade. Upon this discovery, along with an extremely difficult point of depression, I began therapy. I then stopped in the sixth grade, started again in seventh when my anxiety brought on anxiety attacks, then left at the end of the seventh grade, and was sent back in the eighth grade after an issue with self-harm to which I have now been consistently going for the past three years.
Though in the beginning I was completely against the idea of seeing a therapist, I am now more than appreciative of the privilege to do so and do not see any reason to stop. Though counseling is now much more normalized amongst my peers and me, along with mental illness, there is still a constant idea and reminder of the stigmas and stereotypes linked to therapy and those struggling with mental illness. As I was sitting in that circle of people who obviously did not understand the needs of others, I felt more and more like a two-dimensional character.
My anxiety can be almost comically horrible at times with the way I abruptly jump to conclusions that do not fully add up and the physical symptoms that go along with that. When in an episode or situation that makes me especially triggered, I can be seen obsessively tapping on any hard surface I can find, ripping strands of hair out, breathing heavily, or all of the above. My anxiety attacks can tend to look cartoonish. I become irrational and though I do not notice it at the time, my actions aren’t thought through and ultimately come off erratic or “crazy” as someone more ignorant would observe.
Mental illness is usually paired with this image, someone unable to care for themselves and function which is completely untrue, but the sad reality of the narrative. This is usually followed with condescending comments such as: “it’s all in your head,” or “it gets better,” said by someone who obviously has no clue what the situation is actually entailing. There are definite times in which my mind causes me to believe there is no possible way I can go on or deal with an event; this isn’t the reality. I am quite privileged to be able to have consistency and a safe environment to deal with my disorder, something a lot of people living with mental illnesses do not have access to, and therefore I can lead a (mostly) happy and productive life. As I said previously, I’m incredibly privileged, and to this day, I am able to hold passing grades, friendships, and multiple different careers at various magazines where I’m incredibly happy. This is not the case all the time, however. There are times in which it seems pointless to participate in these activities and will retract into myself. This is when things get bad.
Though mental illness has become much more normalized, as I said before, there still is an uncomfortability in talking about it. I have gotten used to not voicing my feelings and trying to be as discreet as possible with my anxiety and the depressive episodes I suffer from due to wanting my own privacy, but also the conclusions others will come to about me after hearing this. I do not wish to be thought of as “a ticking time bomb,” or unstable, or unable to function. Because none of these things are me nor should they reflect on anyone else dealing with mental illness. I am not a cartoon or the two-dimensional character people make me into after understanding that I have and to this day, seek help from therapy along with antidepressants. These things do not define me or make me who I am. My anxiety and depression are no doubt a part of my interior but they in no way sum me up.