It’s Okay to Not be Okay

By April 6, 2016 No Comments

The start of a new year or the sweet taste of summer nearly always brings in a flock of people determined to hit the gym and shop at Trader Joe’s, striving to make a change in their lives by living a healthier one. But what good is physical health, if our mental health is, well, unhealthy? How often do we stop to think about where we stand mentally, emotionally or spiritually? How often do we check in with the voice in our head? How often do we consciously take the time to reframe our minds to one of self-compassion, gratitude, curiosity or joy in moments of self-doubt, frustration, judgment or sadness?

The first time I went to a counselor was my freshman year of college after two semesters of one unlucky disaster after another. I was extremely hesitant to even enter the Counseling and Wellness Center. When I finally did, I was skeptical of what the counselor would tell me. Then, sitting in a chair across from this stranger asking me to “talk a bit about what’s going on,” I felt the inner psychologist in me fighting back against the head nods and moments of silence, saying, “Listen. I know this strategy. I just need you to give me advice on how to survive this terrible year so I can be on my merry way.” However, I left that afternoon with a simple piece of advice that changed my life and that I have kept in my pocket for times of need: Do one thing everyday that makes you happy; 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or an hour. Just find the time to smile and find peace, however brief it may be. Could it really be that simple?

That was the day I had my wake up call. Why are we, as a society, so afraid of seeking help? The purpose of therapy is to elicit restoration, to encourage potential, to foster life satisfaction, or, quite simply, to help us find what we’re looking for. When I’m in a funk, I have my go-to gals and pals, I have my parents and brothers, I have my faith, I have my journal, and now I have the courage to seek professional help if need be. Now pursuing a degree in the counseling field myself, I wholeheartedly advocate seeking therapy in times of hardship or uncertainty. I believe everyone can benefit from talking to an objective, third-party about whatever he or she may be experiencing, whether it’s a traumatic event or natural growing pains. In my experience, it’s comforting to expose my heart to someone and receive confirmation that I am not, in fact, crazy.

But what happens when no advice in the world seems to be working?

Last semester, something shifted in my mind. I felt a sadness I couldn’t shake. Like a leech I couldn’t find, my happiness seemed to be draining more and more each passing day and I didn’t understand why. I talked to my friends, I wrote about it, I prayed about it. I even decided to go to the Counseling and Wellness Center again. Still, I felt nothing but despair.

While I couldn’t quite put into words what I was feeling, a few key terms seemed to repeat throughout my journal. Shitty, sad, lonely, isolated, unworthy. My whole world came crashing down. I began to believe I was unworthy of love and belonging. I was incapable of human connection. Nothing brought me joy anymore. I couldn’t stop crying. How am I supposed to be a counselor and help others if I can’t help myself? Ah. But that’s just it.

After crying on the floor over the fact that nothing anyone said was helping me, I realized it was only me, myself, and I in this battle. I was fighting my own brain, and I was the only person who was going to pull me out of the self-loathing, isolation and negative self-talk.

So I did. One day at a time.

I learned that gratitude, prayer, forgiveness, laughter, music, food and nature keep me centered. Everyday, I wrote down three new things I was grateful for – something I learned actually rewires your brain to search for things that bring you joy. I went on religious retreats, spent time with my dog in the sunshine, learned how to forgive myself for the things I was ashamed of and how to ask for forgiveness. I found genuine friends who love me not despite my wounds but because of them. I learned that music and food have the power to heal, especially when coupled together. But most importantly, I had finally found the poison that was preventing me from flourishing: Perfectionism.

In her book “Daring Greatly”, Brené Brown discussed the importance of vulnerability and the armor that we wear to avoid it. One of these shields, I learned, is perfectionism. Brown claimed that perfectionism isn’t the same as striving for excellence or healthy self-improvement. Nor is it a way to avoid shame. Instead, perfectionism is a form of shame. It’s about earning approval and believing that “if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame.” Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities. Brown added, “Perfectionism is self-destructive simply because perfectionism doesn’t exist.”

Mind. Blown.

In reading this book, I found that the cause of my run-in with depression was due to the belief that I was a perfectionist. In every moment I wasn’t perfect, I told myself I was nothing. What kind of life are we living if we strive for perfection? If we fear mistakes? If we shame seeking help when we need it most? If we believe that anything short of 100{c89cd7f4fa26d16537b3fe779361f4468ca92e80ef52e309b9ca31cbc1af2626} is a sign of weakness?

In the darkness of rock bottom, not only did I learn to love my imperfections, but I also found that taking chances and approaching opportunities with humility instead of fear of humiliation tends to make life worthwhile. I found the thrill in being vulnerable with others by having the courage to be in the spotlight, unapologetically myself. I’m more myself today, flawed and all, than I was when seeking perfection. Perfection is lame. It’s boring. It’s stifling. It’s toxic. Life is a journey of learning, loving, laughing, and, well, living. Feel the fear, then do it anyway.

-Lauren Troncoso

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