Monday Musings…."I Can Handle Things on My Own"

Seeking help for a mental health problem is like learning to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission. You know you need a mode of transportation to get you from point A to point B, but you’ve never driven a standard before. You look around the lot hoping to find an automatic, something easy to drive, but all that seems left are the cars with the stick shift.

And so you hesitate…you think the problem will go away on its own...or maybe it’s not a big enough issue….maybe you think you are overreacting. You then say to yourself, along with a large segment of the high school students in my research project, “I can handle it on my own”. And sometimes you can.

But what happens when you slowly start to slip? You can’t sleep. You can’t shut your mind off. You start to obsess. Google becomes your quasi-therapist as you search to find a diagnosis or a solution. Nothing you do seems to make things better. And panic starts to build to the point where you think you are “going crazy”. Suddenly, the reality of doing it on your own is not working, and not only are you still suffering, but those around you are likely suffering too, not knowing how they can help when you say nothing is wrong. Where do you turn? Who can help you?

It is really difficult for most people to reach out. It is for me too! The students in my study gave me their reasons, and I don’t think they are far off from the reasons held by adultier adults. The students wrote that they are scared of what people may think, afraid of being judged, fearful that it won’t make a difference. They worry that no one will understand and that no one will truly care. It was hard to read those words from 17 year olds who are on the brink of adulthood trying to discover who they are and where they are going in this life. And so it makes sense to me that they (and maybe you) resolve to do things on their own, where the only one responsible for their mental health is themselves. They can’t let anyone but themselves down that way. But then they suffer in silence and solitude, not knowing the answers. And sometimes this ends in tragedy, where, in the aftermath, people whisper among their friends that they never saw it coming. Of course they did not. The person never told anyone. They were ‘handling it on their own’.

So as children progress towards adolescence they all dream of getting their driver’s license. It is a sign of emerging adulthood and the independence they long for. But here’s the deal: a young driver needs some coaching. He can’t just get in and drive off the lot. He may be fortunate and get the automatic model and simply learn when to apply the gas and the brake in life. He then leaves the lot with hesitation followed by relative ease. But for most people, in adolescence and throughout adulthood, they are given the keys to the manual transmission. This is the standard model after all! And anyone who’s ever tried to drive away from the car lot, without any instruction on the thing called a ‘clutch’, knows how tough that is. It’s called a manual transmission for a reason – you have to shift the gears of life one at a time, not advancing to the next gear until you are at the right speed. It forces the driver to be more mindful of the velocity and handling of the car. It really helps to have a seasoned driver beside you as you take control of the vehicle and motor towards your destination. There is no fear or embarrassment asking for this type of help. In fact, you are grateful and become a more confident driver.

Our mental health is no different. It’s hard to take control of the steering wheel of our life when we are struggling to know how to shift the gears. The fear of not getting where to want to should override our fear of looking silly or weak, and motivate us to talk to someone who can help guide us. There are definitely times when each one of us has to admit that we can't handle things on our own. There is no shame in reaching out, getting support, so we can be back on the road again! The next question though is how do I find the right driving instructor? That will be the focus of next week’s blog!

The song for this blog is Drive by The Cars :) Give it a listen - whose going to pick you up when you fall?

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