Story by pseudonym Light at the end of the tunnel

I sat in the therapist’s chair and started talking. I talked about my history so naturally that it was frightening; the words just came out. The therapist looked astonished and said, “You have obviously thought about these things a lot.” The therapist wasn’t wrong.

My path to the therapist’s chair had been very long, and at the beginning of the journey, I didn’t even know I would end up there.

For a long time, I thought that it was normal to be down, apathetic, and always tired. I thought that self-loathing, immense performance anxiety, and continuous crying were part of life.

My path to the therapist’s chair started at pre-school age. My guess is that I had some social challenges then because I wasn’t used to being in a group of children several hours a day, several days a week. I felt anxiety even then. I felt pressure in my lungs, and my heart was racing. I thought they were pangs of conscience. I thought I had done something bad, and now my conscience was bothering me. I couldn’t talk about my feelings because then my evilness or badness would have come out. So, I decided to keep silent and just buck up.

My symptoms, therefore, started in early childhood. The first bigger cluster of symptoms, also known as an eating disorder, got a hold of me when I was 11 or 12 years old.

I wasn’t able to say what caused my problems. Even my parents couldn’t, so the reasons for these symptoms remained hidden. At that time, I talked about my problems with eating for the first time with a school nurse. I got referred to a doctor who suggested that I could talk to a child psychiatrist. My parents thought that I wasn’t in need of any professional help. They planted the idea in me that I would never get a job or get into any school if I went to see a shrink. How could a 12-year-old question their parents’ views on something like this? That’s why I didn’t want to go talk to a psychiatrist.

My symptoms suddenly stopped, or so I was told. My eating disorder had clearly been cured because my weight was back to normal and I was eating properly again. I still compulsively exercised several hours a day. This continued for a while until I found an easier option instead of continuous exercise: vomiting. It also enabled occasional treats because it was easy to just throw up and flush down the calories. At this point, I was aware of feeling depressed and cut myself occasionally.

I ended up talking to a Nuotti youth coach, and for the first time, I was able to talk to someone about our family’s internal problems. I was 14 or 15 years old at the time.

The coach was really empathetic and understood me. Still, I felt that the coach didn’t take my problems seriously enough. Yet, my symptoms apparently seemed so extensive that I received a referral to the adolescent psychiatric unit.

The adolescent psychiatric unit applied a system where the parents were also included in the treatment. That’s surely a good concept for the young people whose parents understand and recognize their problems or, at the very least, believe that mental health problems are real illnesses. My parents still didn’t think I had any problems.

I visited the psychiatry unit to see a nurse for some six months but quit because I started getting frustrated by the treatment. Nothing really progressed because I didn’t know how to verbalize my feelings and thoughts.

I was exhausted and emotionally completely blocked. At 16, I didn’t feel that by going through emotion cards, we’d be able to achieve anything concrete. I felt that I was being belittled and treated like a child. The nurses and doctors thought that I would definitely have needed medication in order to cope with my everyday life. My parents didn’t consent to it, and due to their lectures, I couldn’t even think about the possibility of medication. Even more than medication, I would have needed the support of my loved ones.

It took many years before I had the courage to seek help again. My depression and anxiety had gone untreated for four years. My life was a constant struggle for survival. I felt that professional help wouldn’t do me any good. Yet, I felt so bad that I had to seek help.

I went to see a nurse, and for the first time, I felt that someone genuinely listened to me and understood me.

I received a referral to a psychiatric nurse who I visited for a few months. It was easy to talk to the nurse. I started to understand how much I had gone through in my life. This nurse was the first person to introduce the idea of psychotherapy. That was two years ago. I felt unsure, but on the other hand, I considered psychotherapy necessary in order for me to get better.

Soon I moved to another city to study, and my treatment was supposed to continue with a psychiatric nurse in my new hometown. I left a message for them to get back to me, but no one ever called. I thought that I didn’t matter. I thought that my problems weren’t big enough for the treatment to be continued. But I felt so bad that I contacted a local organization offering youth support services. I received a designated social counsellor, and my contact with that place continued for a year and a half onwards.

The knots of my mind slowly started to open up when I had the chance to talk to the same person for a longer time. I felt secure as I wasn’t being passed from one person to another as before.

A year ago, in the spring, I felt so anguished that I tried to get an appointment for a psychiatric nurse again. I received a referral to a doctor, but for some reason, I also needed to visit a psychiatrist before the treatment could begin. I had to wait for nearly six months to see the psychiatrist who would evaluate my situation. Finally, over a year after my first contact and six months after my second contact, I started to receive treatment again. No one ever explained to me why my first contact wasn’t answered. Anyway, I got brief therapy for my anxiety. During treatment, I started to feel worse, but on the other hand, I received tools for feeling better. The goal of the brief therapy was to prepare me for psychotherapy, although I feel like I have been preparing for it for a long time.

And now, ten years after first becoming aware of my mental health problems, I am sitting in a psychotherapist’s chair for an introductory visit.

A lot of bitterness is involved in the situation. It’s unbelievable how many people I have talked to. I have stepped into many professionals’ reception rooms and chosen my seat from various alternatives. I have told the story of my life to a great number of people, and the story has been shaped a lot by these many encounters. Now I will finally receive the treatment that I needed ten years ago. But at least I am here, in the therapist’s chair.

The background of the story

As a part of the #HelpWorthy campaign we collected students’ stories about seeking help and the challenges associated with it. We published the stories during the campaign period between 12 and 23 April 2021 to show how multifaceted experiences students have had when seeking help. This story was published as the sixth of a total of seven stories. You will find the other stories on the campaign page.

With the #HelpWorthy campaign around Students’ Mental Health Day, we wanted to encourage young people and students to share their own experiences. Above all, we want to encourage you to seek help whenever you feel the need.

When you need support, there is help available. The most important thing is not to be left alone with your worries. You will find various bodies, which offer help to students and young people in various challenges in life, by category on our website.

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