Leslie Tulip
June 20, 2016 10:12 am
Getty / Tara Moore

I was 17, I read the book Girl, Interrupted, and although there was a lot I loved about the book, there was one part that I will never forget.

In Susanna Kaysen’s memoir, when she is first hospitalized, she has this moment where she thinks that her hand has no bones in it. This thought turns into panic, then a need to know. She begins to claw at the skin on her hand, tearing away at the flesh to see if her bones are, in fact, there.

I remember sitting there reading that part and thinking how truly fragile our mental health is. How quickly things can take a turn for the worse in our minds. When I first read that book, I was basically the same age Susanna was when she was hospitalized. I remember feeling a reverence for mental health; not a fear, but an understanding that no one is “safe” from mental illness, and it could happen at anytime through the events and tragedies of life.

I recently began seeing a therapist after leaving a graveyard shift at a group home for pregnant and parenting teenagers, a facility that drew nearly all its residents from either foster care or the juvenile detention system. I knew while I was doing the job that my mental and emotional health were being seriously and negatively affected. (Hell, I knew they would be when I took the job.) Working there, I was being cracked open and rawly exposed to the traumas these girls faced on a nearly daily basis.

When I quit, I thought all I needed was some time, that my mental and emotional stability would sort itself back out. It doesn’t always work out that way though.

After leaving the job, the trauma I experienced in my time at the group home began to manifest in small and large ways. I started to acknowledge that I had been depressed while working there, finally putting the word to the feeling. Working the shift alone, being awake all night and sleeping all day, had thrown a wrench into my psyche.

Even still, I thought I just needed time to work myself out. But a few months after I left the job, with many things remaining unsorted, I had to acknowledge that time and change were not enough in themselves, and I needed more help. Time heals a lot of wounds, but time cannot heal all wounds.

Sometimes you need more help than you and those closest to you can provide, and there is nothing wrong with that. Mental health is as important as physical health. If you are physically ill, you can’t just wish it away. You need someone to help you work towards a cure. It is okay to not understand your own body all the time. It’s a pretty complex thing that people spend years studying so they can help you figure out what’s going on inside it.

Mental health works the same way. I didn’t have a stigma against therapists or people who went to counseling, but it still took me way too long to acknowledge that something was wrong. Now I am getting good treatment. And guess what? I’m so glad I took that step.

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