The Story of a Soon-to-be-Psychologist, who also Battles Depression
This is a guest post by Julian, an artist and student of psychology on track to become a psychologist.
Rumors say people choose a psychology major hoping to solve their own issues because we’re a bunch of narcissists.
(Really, it’s one of the most cliché things you could say to a student in the psychology field.)
Along the lines of the: “Oh, you’ll have plenty to analyze with me!” bullshit.
But, cheesy as it sounds, sometimes it’s true.
I mean, we have issues, too.
I got in my first year in university with a wreck of a self-esteem. I thought studying psychology would set me apart from the rest of the crowd. Mainly, because I had an ex who also happened to study psychology.
(And I just thought he was cool.)
When I got to read the textbooks, some part of me knew it right from the start.
I was different from the others.
When students in any health-related major prepare for an exam, they get anxious. Hypochondriac, even. They see the illnesses they’ve read about in themselves.
Most of these thoughts usually come to an end when the exam is gone.
With me, instead, they came to stay.
To this day, I don’t have a strong grasp at who I am.
Or, who I’m going to be.
As the academic years passed… these thoughts got worse.
The dangerous struggle of self-diagnosis
I told myself: “You’ve got this.”
The significant other I lived with traveled out of state for a conference. I took those days alone to figure out what I was going to do with my life.
Because, to be honest, I really had no clue.
Eventually, I got tempted by the labels. I dived in my latest clinical textbook. I searched through the pages for anything that would match with the emptiness I felt inside. Deep in my stomach. For most of my life.
Borderline personality disorder? Check.
Narcissistic personality disorder? Check.
I read on the Internet that they would overlap.
Schizoid personality disorder? Well, that sounds scary, whereas the others were kind of more acceptable. Besides, I’ve got an uncle who’s schizophrenic. He’s been an island on his own since I was a little kid.
Want my 2 cents?
Don’t do that. Don’t try to diagnose yourself.
I know, when you feel nothing – when you know nothing, having a label to stick with seems like the world. But it consumes you in the long run.
You desperately search for your tribe.
You build up entire castles over tiny details.
You get obsessed over the differences, what sets you apart from the rest.
Even more dangerous, you get other people to believe in that label, as well. And in the end, you’re left with something worse than nothing.
A psychologist in the psych ward
What does he do?
Well, he’s hospitalized.
I was hospitalized.
After laying in bed for three days, I got my significant other to drag me to the ER. He couldn’t handle me anymore.
Yes, I had become something to handle.
So, moderate depressive episode. In the psych ward, I had bad moments and good ones, as well. Sometimes I thought I didn’t belong because I didn’t feel like the other patients.
The first three nights I didn’t sleep at all. Then, I meditated a lot. I did some origami. Pens were not allowed, so I couldn’t draw. But I had my friend from outside smuggle a text marker, even though I didn’t get to study.
I got myself occupied with the other patients.
“So, what you’re in for?”
Starting a conversation was rather easy. Easier than in real life.
I found a purpose in listening to their stories. It made me feel great, even. Up to the point where I would care for them, standing by their side. Where I would try to help them. I spread my love for origami. We played with cards together, eat together, smoked many cigarettes together. I discussed with the fucking nurses for their sake. I guess I always had some of the leader's figure in me.
With hindsight, clinical assessment feels trivial to me
As a part of the hospitalization, I was assessed through personality tests.
I’ll cut right through it, they had me utterly disappointed.
Not to brag, but I scored perfect in every psychometry class I took.
Given a questionnaire, I could see the trait any question was really asking about. I could guess the design of the test, where it was going. When we had a talk about it, the psychiatrist couldn’t restrain from laughing at my face.
“Pardon me”, he told: “But you seem to know about everything in the questionnaire.”
He had never had a patient like me before. I tried to answer in all honesty, I swear. But ultimately, I felt like I could have given any answer. It just didn’t matter.
What the psychiatrist believed was that I had been depressed for so long, I didn’t get to develop a strong personality. So, nothing fancy. The questionnaires for personality disorders resulted in negative. I had been just so much used to the lows, that even having a normal mood felt excessive to me.
The whole assessment thing, though, it was questionable to me.
What’s the validity of a test that you give to someone who knows about it? It still boggles my mind.
Maybe, I’ll build my final thesis around that.
I can picture the title already: “So, therapists, who are they going to turn to?”
Anyway, all I wanted to say is: forget about the labels.
A diagnosis is given only to provide you with a possible treatment, and medications. While these might turn out to be helpful, the diagnosis itself doesn’t change anything about your life. So, forget about it. Focus on the things that are meaningful to you.
What the future holds
It’s a billion-dollar question: “How am I going to be a therapist if I suffer in the first place?”
I don’t know if I’m ever going to be one.
I could just take pride in the fact that I owned a master’s degree.
Or, maybe I am.
Since the days in the psych ward, I’ve recovered from multiple episodes. Things have changed in my life.
(Knowing what to do with it, precisely, isn’t one of those. How unfortunate.)
Although hearing that Marsha M. Linehan, the designer of the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), has suffered from borderline personality disorder in her own time is encouraging.
At least, that means I’m not marked for life. Nobody is.
I might still not know what I truly want, but I’m going to figure it out. Eventually.
A message for the like-minded
Even though you’re struggling with mental illness, you can find purpose in helping others. You just have to keep your own demons at bay. So, reach out. Even if you’re a psychology student.
I get it, I felt really ashamed at the idea of going to a local therapist. They were either people I knew, or they worked with people I knew in turn.
But, it just got better after I took that first step.
Soon enough I couldn’t care more.
Besides, if you’re going for the clinical route, you’ll have to go through supervision therapy someday.
Therapy will give you ways to express what you feel, to turn it into something beautiful.
It’s no coincidence that I had a breakdown while I was approaching the end of my curriculum. Those times when you have to take a decision for yourself, they can be harsh ones.
“What am I supposed to do now?”
Chances are, we tend to overthink that question. If you’re yet to pick your major, but you feel the itch to, you might give psychology a try. It’s a fascinating field of study, with plenty of niches for you to explore. The point is, there’s nothing that forces you down a single path. You can enjoy the journey all the while and wait to see what comes out of it. Eventually, the answers are going to find their own way to you. Me, I’d love to hear your story.
Julian is a creative writer and illustrator from Italy.
He’s on his way to getting that master’s degree. In the meantime, he lives with his beloved cats and a few other species.
He’s a storyteller on his blog, the Structure of Me, where he shares original artwork inspired by his intimate experience with depression – the lows and the highs of life. You can also follow his journey on Instagram.