I’m afraid that I am mentally unhealthy

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

First I guess I should give a little background information about myself. I’m 20. I grew up with my mother and sister. My mother has severe emotional issues and she took it out on my sister, who is older than me and left when she turned 18. When I got older, my mom began to take it out on me instead, by being extremely verbally abusive, cruel and sometimes physically abusive. I was very scared of her. My dad left when I was a baby, but I would see him occasionally throughout my childhood. Sometimes when I was a toddler he would come around for a few weeks at a time, and I had to witness him and my mother getting into fist fights. Over the past couple of years since I’ve been out on my own I’ve forgiven my dad and established a somewhat okay relationship with him. On the other hand, me and my mother have stopped talking.

My childhood wasn’t a good one in general, me and my mom were usually poor, I had a couple of stepdads and there was always drama with that. My mother and I moved around so much due to financial situations, and the fact that she just can’t get settled, that I never established any lasting friendships or hobbies/activities.
When I turned 18, I moved out of the place she was staying at the time, and moved in with a guy I had just met a couple of months before. For the next two years I was stuck in a physically/mentally/emotionally abusive relationship with him, because I had nowhere to turn. I couldn’t live with my mom again, she had moved already and even if I got the chance I wouldn’t stay with her anymore. My dad lives with a girlfriend in another state and she already said I couldn’t stay there.

Then I met a male friend at work (the only person I have ever been close friends with). My boyfriend dumped me in April of ’09 and left me stranded with a car I couldn’t drive, no job, and all the bills. I nearly had a nervous breakdown. I thought I was going to be homeless and at the same time I was suffering the depression of my relationship that just ended, plus ongoing depression I already had from other traumatic events earlier in my life.
Luckily a friend said he was moving back and asked if I wanted to go with him and be room mates.

Since I moved here I’ve gotten a job and started college, and I’m trying to straighten my life out. When I first got here, I was severely depressed. On my birthday only my sister called me and I sat in ym room and cried and drank all day. I often toyed with the thought of suicide. After I began to get over my depression, I went wild for a little while. Constant drinking, partying. I engaged in sexually promiscuous activity a couple of times even though I have ALWAYS had high moral standards for myself and others and have never acted like that before.

Recently I have stopped all of that and calmed down, right after I got an MIP for wrecking my car while drinking. It was sort of a wake up call. But the reason I’m writing this is because, granted, I am much happier now than I’ve ever been (finally not being abused by anyone anymore), I still feel like there’s something wrong with me.

I often feel depressed for no specific reason. I’m not sure if it’s chronic depression though, because other times I’ll seem to be happy and bursting with energy (also usually for no specific reason). Plus I do get enjoyment out of a few activities, although not as many as I used to (I play volleyball for instance, and that usually puts me in a good mood and I like it).I do have a happy medium mood that’s my constant a little less than half the time.

I have sleeping issues. I obsess over things. I have severe abandonment issues. After my last crappy traumatizing relationship, I find myself extremely confused when it comes to relationships. It’s hard for me to even let someone get close enough to me to get attached to them, but if they happen to get in or if for some reason I let them in, I get EXTREMELY attached. Not clingy outwardly, mind you, but inwardly they sort of become the center of my world and sometimes I’ll adopt their hobbies, sense of humor, ect. And it honestly scares me how quickly I do that, without even realizing it. I’m also very lonely, although that could be accounted for, since I don’t have any family here and the only person I was close with (my friend/room mate) is usually gone or too busy to hang out.

I also feel like my life has absolutely no direction, and I have no ties to ground me to any place.
I often feel confused about my identity and I often feel akward in social situations. I often either feel emotion much too strongly, or not strongly enough. I also frighten very easily.

I feel like I’m a good person with a lot to offer and a lot of potential, but that I’m emotionally and maybe mentally messed up. Do you think there’s something wrong with me?

A: First: Please give yourself lots and lots of credit for how far you’ve come. Despite an emotionally impoverished background and a period of being out of control, you’ve taken charge of your life, gotten yourself into college, and given yourself a shot at a future that is so much brighter and better than your past. I’m impressed!

At least some of what you report is very typical of people your age. It’s normal to feel awkward at times. It’s normal to not be entirely sure about who you are. It’s absolutely typical to be unsure about what you want to be and who you want to be with. This is your time to be figuring all that out. Sometimes that is confusing and painful. Other times, it’s exciting as you consider all the possibilities.

On the other hand, some of your troubles may well be related to your history. When a person has been traumatized, it isn’t at all unusual to have anxiety and depression, to have trouble sleeping, to frighten easily and to have abandonment and attachment issues that are beyond the usual.

For that reason, I do suggest you find a counselor to help you sort it all out. Most colleges have a behavioral health service that is at least partly paid for as part of your school fees. If you prefer, you might also see a school chaplain to help you out.

You’ve already done an incredible amount to help yourself heal and move forward. I think you will do an equally good job making use of therapy. Your therapist will help you finish your own good work so you can look forward to a healthy and happy future.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Mar 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). I’m afraid that I am mentally unhealthy. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/03/01/im-afraid-that-i-am-mentally-unhealthy/