April 05, 2023

By Dora Law

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health, suicide or substance use crisis or emotional distress, reach out 24/7 to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline (formerly known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) by dialing or texting 988 or using chat services at suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect to a trained crisis counselor. You can also get crisis text support via the Crisis Text Line by texting NAMI to 741741.

Illustration of a woman's face and flowers
My childhood was chaotic, and I left home when I was 17. As I struggled with my mental health in early adulthood, I blamed myself for my difficult upbringing and my current challenges. I started experiencing paranoia; my fears about what others were saying or thinking of me became increasingly loud and impossible to ignore. To keep myself safe, I had a very strict routine: I could only do certain things and see certain people. However, even this strict schedule could not solve all my problems. One day, my perfectly-designed system broke down, and I ended up in the hospital recovering from a suicide attempt.

After a long and painful struggle to manage my own emotions, I decided to try therapy. I sought out treatment and brought on a psychiatrist to help. It took me some time to make this decision, because, when I was growing up, mental health was considered taboo or an “excuse” for failure. I internalized this message and was reluctant to admit I was struggling.

It has been three years since I sought help, and I’ve learned how to identify and dissect my distorted thoughts. I’ve also learned to maneuver through my triggers as they arise. Of course, no mental health journey is perfectly linear; I can’t navigate my healing without occasional hiccups. Even though I could often recognize when my inner critic was speaking, it could be difficult to counter this loud voice.

At times like these, I find it the most difficult to cope. So, I have developed some skills to guide me through moments of difficulty — to ride out the wave.

1. Not everyone will understand, but that’s ok (as long as they try).

It can get lonely. There are the exasperated looks that your loved ones try to hide (but your hypersensitivity always catches). It is not out of a lack of love but a lack of understanding. There are times you get lost in your mind, trying to create words for it — wishing that it was as simple as showing a wound — and they would understand the hurt.

Just because they didn’t understand in that very moment doesn’t mean that they will never understand your experience. Their frustration stems from their inability to experience what you are going through. And that’s ok. Your mind might distort the situation and make them the antagonist in your story. Because that’s just how it feels sometimes: you’re either with me or against me. But it doesn’t have to be that way, especially if they are trying to understand.

2. You just have to make it to your next check point.

When I’m about to face a triggering situation, I like to visualize what it will feel like once I have completed it. For example, if my panic disorder is triggered by an upcoming event, like a company dinner, I like to imagine what it will feel like once I come home. In the safety of my house, ridding myself of the clothes that make me feel claustrophobic and desensitizing with a warm shower. Sometimes, it helps slow my heart rate and makes my legs feel less weak.

It doesn’t stop the distorted thoughts from coming. Thoughts like, what if they don’t like me? What if they think I’m weird? It doesn’t stop the disassociation from happening; feeling like the car couldn’t possibly be moving at this speed or as if my heart has dropped all the way down. But when I got home, a slight smile is there. I made it. There might not be confetti and champagne, but you’re allowed that celebration. It isn’t about making all the feelings go away completely, but just that you made it.

Check-in with yourself, do what makes you feel safe again, and know you survived. Maybe no one else can understand, but you know what a big win that is.

3. It is a spectrum. It is not definitive.

I often feel like I have imposter syndrome. I don’t fit the definition of certain criteria specified for my conditions. There’s no way I could be suffering from this diagnosis. It’s not black and white. Just because you don’t fit what someone else has written as their definition of their depression or anxiety doesn’t mean your symptoms don’t exist. You feel it. You go through it. No one else can define what your experience is.

Somewhere out there, someone knows exactly what you’re feeling. If you know exactly what I’m feeling, then I want to say to you: “Everything will be ok.”


Dora Law was diagnosed with panic disorder, mild agoraphobia, depressive disorder and bipolar II disorder. She sees things in black and white but has been going to therapy every week to attempt at seeing things in a spectrum of colors.

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