I work in mental health. It would naturally follow that I know how to manage my own mental health.
I have two diagnoses. I deal with anxiety and panic attacks. I still sometimes have suicidal thoughts or urges to self-harm. When I think about all this, especially when I am at a low point, I feel like a fraud. I feel like the person who guides and supports others in their mental health goals should have reached all of her own. Should be “better”. It’s hard not to overthink things. I start wondering if I’m qualified to help people if I sometimes struggle to help myself.
I spent years believing that if I tried harder I could be different, better, normal. I saw most people around me handling life without crumbling at every onset of emotion and concluded that I was clearly doing something wrong. It took me years to realize there was a reason things were more difficult for me, but even at that point I continued to believe that failing to experience things normally was a flaw in character and a lack of effort as opposed to a mental health condition.
This mindset and this manner of framing my mental illness is what causes me to feel like a fraud. I equate success and effectiveness with perfection. My journey of recovery, however, is far from perfect. And it’s far from over.
The thing is, that’s what makes me uniquely qualified. I live it every day. I have been through what I guide people through. It’s this lived experience that makes what I have to share even more powerful. The fact that I teach people coping skills and self-care tools does not mean that I will always have the motivation to use them myself.
Logically, I know that this feeling of being a fraud is my lack of confidence talking. That it’s more emotional than factual. In fact, I regularly receive from feedback expressing that the fact that I show up in a way that is real, human and nuanced is what draws people to my content and my support. I don’t fall into toxic positivity. I don’t silver line everything and pretend that it’s possible to have consistently amazing mental health. We all have highs and lows. Most therapists have a therapist of their own. We all need an extra push and some guidance sometimes.
Mental health is complex and it fluctuates. Our mental state will change based on circumstance, hormones, time of year, brain chemistry. There are many factors involved in creating the emotions we feel and that emotional baseline will never be a straight, steady line.
I share my ups and downs. I am transparent and offer what I have been through and continue to go through as hope and inspiration. In the end, being real is more valuable to me than being flawless.