The brain: by far the most complex and least understood organ in the human body. As far as we’ve come in technology, scientists and doctors are still baffled, inspired and intrigued by it. How does this lump of grey matter in our skull create vivid, seemingly tangible storylines and realistic sensory experiences while we sleep? What is really happening as synapses fire, causing us to experience déjà vu: brief, unexplainable, yet undeniable seconds of feeling like we have, in fact, been here before in this very moment. Or maybe we just dreamt we have? Why does this all seem so familiar? And then it’s gone. We’ll never know how or why. The brain remains our greatest mystery next to the meaning of life, but in my opinion they are one and the same. To better understand your brain, better understand why you feel and do the things you do—that is life’s purpose. Rightfully so—figuring it all out doesn’t come easy. As strides are made in neuroscience and psychiatry to comprehend and cure mental diseases, there are still conditions that medicine can’t fix, let alone understand. So responsibility is turned over to therapists, psychologists and counselors to help the afflicted help themselves. “Self-help” is the answer for many and the choice of few, since its name has been dragged through the mud and unfairly given a negative connotation.
Throughout the history of mental health, we have reserved therapy and counseling for those whose mental issues are severely hindering to their everyday lives. Only recently has mental health become a concern for the everyday mom, the girl next door and the man in the cubicle across the hall. Issues like depression and anxiety have more public awareness than ever. Sensitivity to OCD, eating disorders and self-harm are encouraged. As a nation we’ve finally acknowledged that to have an illness of the brain is not synonymous with being crazy—yet to pursue self-help is still not necessarily considered cool.
We recognize that people should be concerned with mental health, so long as it has to do with others, not ourselves. The term “self-help” brings up images of lonely people looking over their shoulders in Barnes & Noble pretending they aren’t scouring the taboo section in the back for the perfect book to help them. It brings up ideas of rich, self-involved Californians who can’t go five minutes without saying, “Well, my therapist says…”
And we don’t want to be that. We are certainly not that. We’re just sad. We’re going through something. We’re having one of those weeks, months or years. We can get through this without that crap.
“Self-help” has ruined self-help. It scares away people who could really use it. It also infers that there is a specific, designated, diagnosable solution to every mental ailment. The truth is there isn’t, but there is absolutely no harm or indignity in looking for what solution works for you.
When I began therapy over a year ago, I was ashamed. I had waiting so long, too long, into my depression to turn for help outside of myself. I considered going to a therapist as my last and only option; I considered it something people only should only do out of total desperation. For a long time I didn’t tell anyone other than my parents and my roommate. I was ashamed, telling people I couldn’t make lunch because I had, um, a… doctor’s appointment. After a year of therapy and practices in self-compassion (a far better alternative to the term self-help, in my opinion) I feel compelled to attempt to change the perception of seeking answers, to tell you that there is nothing to be ashamed about, that you can seek therapy in many different mediums, and that self-help is what you make it.
There is no single action I have taken for myself more important than therapy. It is a scary step, no doubt, especially if you genuinely believe you are doing just fine. But I warn you—the mind is a magician, creating intricate illusions every day to trick you into thinking one thing while it is doing another behind the scenes. To take time every now and then to dissect the trick and figure out how and why it’s done, whether guided by a counselor or during your own meditation, is invaluable. Whether you have a known condition to treat or not, there is something so unbelievably fulfilling about understanding yourself better. Therapy and guided meditation works for me. I absolutely love the hour a week I spend caring only about myself with another human who, though not a friend or family member, understands me better than most. Is this form of therapy right for everyone? No. But comprehending your brain’s behaviors is.
To be able to attribute your quirks, your ticks, your faults, your gifts to something bigger than “It’s just how I am” is, in a word, enchanting. To realize how your past has chipped away artfully and skillfully at the marble slab that is your disposition, creating something beautiful (you) is something difficult to explain. But it’s a gift I want to give to everyone. I want to share with my friends, my family and the public and tell them not to be ashamed of self-help. Because once you get past the embarrassment and down to the magic of the journey to recovery, you realize that you ARE a creation worthy of being proud of. You feel less inclined to skip a meal, cut yourself, or stay locked up in the house for weeks on end. You start to allow yourself to sleep, because now you realize you deserve it. You finally feel strong enough to tell the man who abused you that you want more from life and love. Or you simply come to terms with who you are and begin to accept yourself for it.
Self-help isn’t a joke or something only the “crazy” ones need. It is our human solution to the unsolvable. The only way we truly know to try and understand our brains and find our way through the maze that even science fails from time to time. Find your therapist, be she a woman at your local community guidance center, a doctor, a priest, a musician, a friend, Mother Nature, a sport, a book, an animal, or simply time alone with you. Find your therapy. Help yourself, unabashedly. I promise over time you will learn to understand yourself better. In turn, you will learn to love yourself better. And that, darling, is nothing to be ashamed of.