I find it uniquely hard to talk about my own experiences with mental health troubles. It feels far easier to talk about an embarrassing moment or about my history of being bullied during my time in grade school. Those kinds of topics are more concrete and easier to explain than something like struggling with mental troubles that feel nearly impossible to describe accurately. How do you describe problems with self-esteem when it’s something that’s your own personal struggle that no one else experiences in the exact same way? It’s something that’s unique to you that your whole life has been building up to and has influenced in some way. An embarrassing moment lives and dies in that moment, but mental health troubles exist from everything you’ve experienced before.
This is what I found myself thinking in my university’s Counseling Center on campus as I tried to talk about what I was struggling with to my counselor, Rachel. Rachel was a graduate-level student whose program required she work with undergraduate students for the last year of her program. She was a wonderful counselor who ultimately helped me break through the toughest of my problems, for which I am forever grateful to her. Yet in the beginning I made it hard on her and myself when trying to identify what I could do to fix myself.
That was the issue, right there: I was trying to “fix myself.” In trying (and struggling) to explain to Rachel what I was dealing with in my mind, Rachel helped me realize where my mind was wandering off to. Up until then my mind was so focused on being the “perfect” person that I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be socially awkward anymore or feel discouraged when someone did not immediately take a liking to me, or get exhausted after being social with strangers for long periods of time at college events. In my mind I had already figured out the solution to my problems: I needed to change myself into a “better” person. In my mind I was falling in love with the solution instead of the problem.
This is actually a concept I learned in my studies at university when taking a class on new business creation. When entrepreneurs start businesses, they don’t start off with a solution. Did Apple start off by designing a touch screen phone without first looking at existing technology? Did Microsoft start off with a spreadsheet application without any market research? Any entrepreneur will tell you that to start a business you need to identify and fall in love with the problem. If someone falls in love with a solution to what they think is an existing problem, then the entrepreneur will be resistant to change and adaptation. They’ll be stuck trying to find ways to force their dream solution to be the right fit for the problem that they think exists, which it might not even! On the topic of mental health, these problems do exist, but the reality of getting trapped in the beauty of a dreamed-up solution also exists as well.
What finally helped me begin my journey of healing was learning to adopt a different outlook on my mental health issues. Instead of focusing on the solution I had dreamt up, I began to look at my mental health troubles from different angles to better understand what was affecting me. By adapting my mindset, I began to adapt to new strategies to help me overcome what was causing my issues and begin healing. Opening my mind up to different ways of understanding gave me the courage to no longer focus on my “perfect” solution to all my problems.
It is this story that I tell my friends who are experiencing their own troubles with mental health. There are those of us that think that we know what the solution is to our problems and that all we have to do is follow that solution to get better. The longer we go without realizing our narrow-mindedness, the longer it will be until we can truly accept ourselves for who we are and open ourselves to new avenues of healing. To my friends who have said they’ve tried therapy and it didn’t work for them, I recommended they try to change their mindset on their troubles, from “this is what I know I need to do” to “I need to understand what’s affecting me better to begin identifying the best ways for me to heal.” They’re believers in that method too now and are much better from it than they were before.