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.

My First YouTube Vlog: Honoring Your Authentic Self

Get in front of the camera, they said. People want to actually *see* the artist behind the work, they said. I heard all of this repeatedly and continued to ignore it until finally, I didn’t. That’s the thing about slowly conquering your fears though, resistance loves stepping in and making sure you avoid exactly that. The War of Art, a book by Steven Pressfield, is a powerful resource all about fighting these creative blocks if you’re looking for a push. It’s about battling the urge to run, hide and avoid the work you’re called to do. When you do finally push through, you’ll find that people resonate with you more than you ever imagined.

For my latest video, I took a leap outside of my comfort zone and a step in front of the camera. I take viewers on a behind-the-scenes look at my day when I have art projects to work on, showing them the art materials I use and chatting about how you can find a space to paint even when you don’t have a studio (most people don’t). I also include a time lapse of my latest painting, “Pressure” where I get real about my insecurities and the pressures to be perfect online. I found piecing the visual work with my writing to be especially cathartic. I even include some clips of what it looks like to ship a painting amidst all the clutter of an apartment we’re moving out of. It’s all imperfect, and that’s the truth.

From the Facetuned and polished Instagram influencers to the YouTubers with every brand deal under the sun, we live in a time where new creators feel like they need to compete at that same level right away to be seen at all. Remember when people created content they were passionate about instead of trying to sell themselves and their surroundings as a product first? Those were the days, and that’s what I turn to for inspiration when I need it.

I’d like to think that 2020 is a catalyst for change in more ways than we’re yet aware of. One of those shifts is that people are being forced to be still and honest with themselves — they’re getting in touch with what matters to them for the first time in years. I think this is calling for a new era of content. People who want to bring honesty, light and empathy onto popular platforms in a way that’s been missing in a sea of superficiality and commercialism are coming out of the woodwork.

At the end of the day, the importance and beauty of art is that it connects people from all walks of life — they see themselves reflected in someone else’s work and feel like they’re a part of something. When we’re honest about who we are and we show all the bits that aren’t always beautiful or easy, we create a space where people can unite and find common ground. I believe now is a crucial time in our lifetimes to shed our facades and lead with authenticity so we can come closer together.

My longterm goal is to never stop being sincere, never forget what this pandemic has taught me and to share work that spreads light in times where it’s needed most. I think we’re all being called to connect on a deeper level and I’m eager to see where it will take us if we listen.

Pressure | Original Abstract 12×12″ Acrylic Painting by Mariana R. Cabral