What I’m Learning From My First Psychological Diagnosis

When my therapist confirmed that I have an anxiety disorder with depression lingering not far behind yesterday, I wasn’t surprised. Instead, I felt relieved OR was it more like validated? It was a mixture of both. It’s strange how visceral the rush of serotonin was that came over me in that moment. It felt like I wasn’t carrying the load on my own anymore. Oddly enough, it didn’t matter that I had already guessed what was wrong and that my therapist had only confirmed it — the fact that I was having an open conversation about it at all and that my concerns were valid…? Groundbreaking.

Since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about what a diagnosis means. Does it change anything? No. Does it magically fix the problem? Not at all. What it does is offer a point of reference, an outline to work off of so we can take the actionable steps needed to function with our diagnosis. It’s like adding another flavor to the rich, complex meal that is your life. If you’re anything like me and have to work a little harder to find order in your life, a diagnosis can help break through all the abstraction and confusion to give you something solid to hold onto. The irony is, it can actually help you feel like you’re not crazy at all.

Up until very recently, unfortunately, I thought I was defective. I thought everyone around me was moving through life normally and I was five steps behind. When I discovered that drinking made the symptoms go away, I leaned on that like it was medication. It was especially bad during my freshman year of college when I was pretending to be someone else and fear filled every room I was in. I was drinking constantly, numbing myself in social gatherings to present myself as fearless and crying myself to sleep every night. Eventually, I flunked out. The sad thing is everyone around me thought I was outgoing, happy and calm. Inside, I was working overtime to make it appear that way. Nobody knew. It was exhausting and I needed help.

I look back at this time in my life and if it hadn’t been for a hip injury that forced me to sit at home for months, I don’t know how I would’ve found my way. I so deeply wanted to be happy and stable that I did everything in my power to start over. I know now that I’m very fortunate to be able to say that, not everyone has the ability or the support to keep climbing. Although I developed healthier habits as time went on, the fear was always present. That’s where the diagnosis comes in.

There’s comfort in knowing that I’m not weak, off or incapable. Those were the labels I put on myself when I didn’t have an answer for why I was struggling to do seemingly normal things. Now, when my hearts starts pounding in my chest and it’s hard to breathe, I know why. When the weight of the world seems to press down on me, I know I’m not the only one that feels that way. Even when I fail to manage the symptoms — and I know I will sometimes — at least I won’t feel alone and broken. For a long time, I put off seeking help and addressing what I was feeling. It kept knocking on my door until it kicked the door down. Just last month I opened a bottle of wine at 9am to get through something that most people do every day, but that was making my whole body shake because it meant that people would have to really see me. While I feel ashamed and embarrassed sharing this, it’s worth it if my story helps someone out there who’s perfected the art of pretending everything’s fine. It’s okay if it isn’t.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. I hope you’re all doing well and intending to prioritize some much-needed self-care this year. Whether you’re planning on starting your mental health journey or channeling those buried feelings into art, I sincerely wish you the best along every step of the way.

Losing My Stand-Up Virginity

I attended my first ever stand-up comedy show with my boyfriend last week. As a self-proclaimed empath, the probability that I’d have to sit through watching at least one or a handful of comedians bomb made me uncomfortable to the say the least. The same kind of uncomfortable that overcame me during a middle school talent show when one of the performers clearly farted during her dance routine and the sound echoed around the auditorium. The second-hand embarrassment and nausea followed me all the way home.

With that being said, I have an endless amount of respect for comedians. I grew up on stage, dancing and failing many times myself. However, I usually played a character or felt that the dancing itself was a barrier that kept the real me hidden inside. I never had my raw personality scrutinized by others. I never had a crowd of people stare blankly at me while I failed to make them laugh. This specific kind of person and the specific kind of courage it takes to be this vulnerable is magnetic to me.

Not only are comedians brave, but the best of the best are also acutely aware of their surroundings like they have a sixth sense. I’d like to think comedians are sort of like boggarts from Harry Potter, those creatures that can shape-shift and contort themselves into our greatest fears, only instead they shape-shift into the dark, light, strange, true, and connect it all together through story-telling, ultimately revealing something universal and distinctly human about life – and they juggle the ability to do so while being charming and making us laugh. That’s a lot!

The open-mic comedy night was no exception. I was stunned by the respect I felt for all of these up-and-comers, even the ones who “bombed”. Not all of the jokes were my cup of tea, but the sheer confidence the people delivering them carried up to the stage was enough to be impressive in its own right. I was stunned by their lack of fear, or at least by the way they made it seem like they were indestructible. When a joke flopped, most of them would just shake it off with transitions like “guess that one didn’t take” or “probably not the right crowd to be talkin’ about eatin’ ass with”, which was one of my personal favorites. The whole thing was messy, funny, a perfect homage to how beautiful chaos can be.

By the end of the night, the host bought my boyfriend and I a couple of drinks just for sticking around to support the performers. I held my third glass of wine in one hand as I shook the hands of the comedians we were introduced to in the other. Off the stage, chatting with them, it was impossible to detect any discernible difference between us – but it was clear to me that we weren’t the same. Not at all. As I left the bar, I looked back at the stage and thought about how important it is to introduce fear and vulnerability into our lives, to take chances on the things that scare us the most even if it means you could end up farting in front of an audience, even if all you hear is crickets when you tell a joke.

Anyway, if you live in the Boston area, definitely go check out comedy night at The Burren in Somerville to support some cool local comedians. It’s definitely worth it, chaos and all.