In this commentary, Sapakshanama shares a deeply personal reflection on the financial and emotional fears that accompany seeking mental health support as an incoming college student.

This commentary is part of the Voices of Disability Economic Justice Project, a partnership with TCF’s Disability Economic Justice Collaborative. Voices of Disability Economic Justice showcases disabled writers’ first-person perspectives on the economic issues that matter most to them.

Content note: this piece mentions suicide. If you or someone you know are in need of support, please consider the following resources:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
En Español: 1-888-628-9454
For people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing: 1-800-799-4889
Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

Countless students and their guardians/supporters milled about the booths at my college’s open house. My parents bounced from canopy to canopy, trying to gain a glimpse into my next four years. I dodged my parents and waltzed around the courtyard. Among the tents, I spotted one for the college’s Disability Resource Center. It was shocking to see such a grounded and relatively dour tent among the plethora of “positivity” and “possibilities.” The idea of seeking support was terrifyingly inviting: should I stay or should I go…?

I didn’t realize I would be considered disabled until about a year ago, when I started reading works on trauma and realized the people on the page were me. I’ve gotten quite good at stifling my needs, eschewing them for what society demands, lest I be demeaned. So I’ve lived a life camouflaged, a social chameleon mingling with lizards. But now I have learnt that help is an option—but by no means a perfect one.

“Getting help” is a phrase long gone dull for me. Its luster—the joy in reveling in the idea that my fears and pains could be rested—lost from its overuse. “Get help,” people tell me, failing to acknowledge the financial and social consequences.

Therapy is expensive. According to Forbes, costs per session range from $100 to $200, which adds up to thousands of dollars per year for weekly sessions. Most of the licensed trauma therapists I’ve found in my area start at $150 for fifty minutes, and most explicitly state that they do not take insurance, so everything will be out of pocket. Look, I value my mental health a lot, but I don’t have that kind of money. I can’t ask my parents to pay because they won’t, and a broke-ass college kid surely isn’t going to shell out well over five thousand dollars for therapy when it could be used to purchase a lifetime supply of instant ramen instead. I am painfully aware that having that kind of money to drop on therapy is a luxury, not a right.

On top of the financial matter, there is the intense social stigma associated with mental health care, which is a cost all its own. My parents aren’t exactly proponents of mental health, and their stance is sadly one that I clearly see throughout my school and society as a whole. I see how my schoolmates treat mental health, how they degrade and deride those for whom living itself is an accomplishment. I see the intense distrust people place in those deemed “mentally ill,” how they fear and pity and hate them—us—me. Even now, undiagnosed and secretive, pretending to be pedestrian, I’ve been joked about. “Sapakshanama is the most likely to be a school shooter.” Such a misguided and hurtful connection. What if they knew that I am actually mentally ill? Every shred of normality I’ve fought for would be torn apart. I can’t stand being pitied. I can’t stand being hated. I can’t stand being me.

Something in the back of my head always nibbles at me though—what if I’m faking all of this? What if, because I don’t have access to an official diagnosis, I’m not actually disabled, not traumatized or depersonalized or suicidal or paranoid or autistic or the myriad other things which seem to describe my life so eloquently? I go in circles, arguing with “myself,” and that is when I desperately wish to have a diagnosis, to be able to go: look here, I am hurt. A diagnosis would be an impetus for support. However, I don’t want to be judged, infantilized, degraded. I worry that “officially being” autistic or someone with complex PTSD or whatever it is will surely change people’s perception of me, if they ever find out. I don’t know the right path, but college may be my chance to find it.

The Disability Resource Center’s tent seemed scarier up close, the kind, smiling staff not enough to allay my sense of deep dread. It felt wrong, coming here. The lady asked me how she could help, and I told her I had the same question. I learnt about some of the ways the college could aid me, got an email address for further questions, and went on my way.