The September Issue: A Mental Health Narrative

10:30 pm, September 3rd

Tuesday nights were ridiculous. We found ourselves at the same old bar, waiting in line with the same old crowd. We smiled vaguely at ex-lovers passing by and pretended the three shots of tequila at the pregame had yet to hit us. A dozen or so heels tapped against the concrete with impatience as we inched towards the bouncer. The smell of spiked seltzers and mango flavored vape danced through the air. 

It was a mundane routine — waiting, drinking, dancing. Quite honestly, I was getting tired of it. But a part of me also liked the chaos of a college bar. I knew it was a jungle and I was intent on seeing the night through and through. I leaned against the brick wall just as a remix of Whitney Houston’s, I Wanna Dance With Somebody echoed through the half-open door. With tipsy eyes and blurry thoughts, I let the song take me back to another familiar place. Back to my first therapy session. 

11:00 am, September 2nd

Slightly hungover from the weekend, I walked into the counseling building with a preconceived notion that I was here to “fix” myself before I graduated. As I stood over the computer screen filling out forms, I Wanna Dance With Somebody blasted through the speakers above. As I waited, I tapped my feet to the beat of the song and observed the waiting room. Both receptionists were laughing, genuinely having a fun conversation. The room was bright from the morning sun rays. For a second, I forgot where I was. 

I firmly believed I did not need therapy for years. I wasn’t depressed, I didn’t lose the will to live, and I didn’t experience panic attacks every night. This was the checklist I had in my mind when the idea of therapy presented itself. I could not check anything off. Therefore, I didn’t need therapy. 

12:30 am, September 4th

Two green tea shakers and one corona later, I was drunk. Not enough to lose my inhibitions, but enough to dramatize everything within me and everything around me. I thought about how the receptionist told me that due to a schedule change, I wouldn’t be meeting with the therapist I initially made an appointment with. I would be meeting with a graduate student instead. I didn’t mind. I was too busy thinking about whether I even needed one in the first place. 

I was happy at the bar. My friends and I were settling into the last part of the routine. Drinking and dancing. Granted, we were drinking the same drinks we ordered every other night. We were dancing the same way we did for years. And yet, I was still happy. There, in the height of it all — the music, the attention, the cheap alcohol — I laughed. 

Why on earth do I of all people need therapy? I was the happy one. I was the one who had it all together. I was the one who took care of others.  

11:10 am, September 2nd

I was confused navigating the scale of my mental health. It was never a priority. Were my issues serious enough? Were they valid? Financial issues, family matters, experiencing loss — weren’t they all part of life? So why did I need help? 

When I was consumed with anxiety or sadness, I found ways to distract myself. Through routine, lists, elements I could control. I thought writing about my trauma, the past, and my emotions would help. And for a while, it did. 

“Do you think these ‘distractions’ are a good or bad thing? 

I sat across my therapist — a young, blue-eyed man who was wearing a questionable look of sympathy as I was on my fourth tissue. When I first shook his hand, I knew this was not the therapist that was going to “fix” me. Whatever that meant. 

I was repeating the same thought in my head. How on earth was this guy going to understand what I was going through? How was he going to understand cultural trauma and minority issues? He wasn’t.

I told him I never took the time to sit with my thoughts and my feelings completely. I was always keeping myself busy so I didn’t have to face my own emotions. Maybe I was scared of what would happen. 

“And what exactly do you think will happen — when you let those feelings consume you?”

I shook my head. I didn’t know how to answer his question. I told him I was scared of processing my grief. I didn’t want to acknowledge the idea of loss and pain. I didn’t want to open that door for myself. 

1:35 am, September 4th

Towards the end of the night, a little bit after midnight, I switched my drink of choice to iced water. And as my friends were dizzy and dazed, talking about the boys they liked, I chimed along. I pretended that night, boys were the only thing on my mind. 

Another distraction. 

The bar emptied out and I slipped out of the back door. I waved goodbye to the friends I knew and felt a sense of accomplishment walking back to my apartment. Socialization. Check.

I spent the rest of the night planning tomorrow’s agenda and went to sleep. 

11:40 am, September 2nd

My therapist sat in silence as I coached myself through my flaws.

“I know life isn’t a checklist. Why do I feel the need to control everything around me? Why do I need to make sense of things when some things just don’t make sense?”

At the end of my venting, I sat back in my chair and focused on him. I expected him to give me advice — maybe give me his own opinions. Instead, we just scheduled our next session. 

I walked into therapy, seeking mental help with a sense of ignorance I had yet to shake off. 

But I realized I wasn’t the cookie-cutter “damaged goods” that was portrayed in television or film. I wasn’t “broken” so there’s nothing to be “fixed”. 

That’s fine. That’s normal even. 

__

Featured Artwork: Petra Eriksson