A classic story arc goes something like this: first, we meet the hero of the story. Then that hero encounters some sort of obstacle to confront. Finally, the hero overcomes that obstacle, leading to a satisfying conclusion.
I’ve told this story many times on here, in different forms. It starts out with me as the hero, naturally. The obstacle I encounter is struggling through life with undiagnosed ADHD. I overcome the obstacle by seeking help from a mental health professional, which gives me a new perspective and transforms my life.
Like many of the stories we tell ourselves, this story is simplified.
In the struggle leading up to my diagnosis, I sure didn’t feel like a hero waging a valiant battle. Instead, I cycled between feelings like the following:
- Wondering why I was incapable of doing basic things that other people could do
- Assuming I must have some moral or character defect
- Believing I needed to try harder to overcome that defect, and then taking as further evidence of having a defect when I failed to resolve my situation through sheer force of will
- Discovering lists of ADHD symptoms I recognizing myself in them but continuing to explain my problems in terms of the above-mentioned defect
- Realizing that I probably do have this ADHD thing but still not having insight into the widespread effect my symptoms had on my life
- Not seeking help out of fear or out of thinking that doing so would be admitting defeat
- Living in a constant state of trying to escape feelings of anxiety and failure
- Believing that happiness was simply unattainable
Most of these states of mind are decidedly non-heroic. I mean, how many inspiring stories start out with a hero whose major dilemma is in trying to figure out whether their lack of control over life stems from laziness, incompetence or a mental health condition and not having the self-awareness to really even engage with their own question in any meaningful way? If there’s ever a premise that doesn’t have the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster, there it is.
Over time, here’s how my heroic journey progressed: things gradually got worse and worse until I felt like my only remaining option was to at least give a mental health professional a try. I reached a point where I saw that (1) I didn’t have any tools left for improving my life without outside help and (2) not improving my life was not a sustainable option.
Seeking help from a mental health professional doesn’t feel like a heroic act. In my case, it didn’t feel like a heroic act because it felt more like something I was doing because I didn’t have any other options. And if you’re seeking help from a mental health professional from a place of good mental health, it still doesn’t feel like a heroic because it feels relatively trivial.
But I’d suggest that no matter what your circumstances or reasons for seeking mental health treatment, making an appointment with a mental health professional is a heroic act. That’s because it is an act of taking your destiny into your own hands. It is about finding a concrete way to change your life for the better.
Of course, it’s a real-life heroic act, which means it’s not necessarily contained in a simple three-part story. Rather, it belongs to a story that likely begins with a multitude of failures and a feeling of not necessarily even knowing what you’re struggling against, even if you’re clearly struggling against something. When you do seek help, that story might involve encountering uninformed medical professionals, having to try out multiple doctors, or not being able to explain your diagnosis to other people.
And this story isn’t a fairytale – there’s no happily ever after. But that’s OK, because there is the rewarding process of starting to understand yourself better and making concrete changes toward a happier, less stressful life, which in a way is more exciting than living happily ever after.
All of which is to say that real-life mental health stories are complex, and they don’t necessarily make a lot of sense in the moment. None of that complexity, however, detracts from the fact that seeking help for mental health is a heroic act because, ultimately, it’s always about asserting your right to have a say in the course of your own life and your mental health.
Image: Flickr/Feggy Art