I get a lot of emails asking for advice about dealing with emotional issues. I am honored that you would want my opinion, but I am not a doctor or therapist. All the answers below are based on my own personal experiences. Be sure to check out the professional advice in the links.

I am dealing with anxiety or another mental illness. Can you give me some advice? 
I am not a doctor or therapist. The only advice I can impart is based on my own experiences with panic disorder. I started by going to my general doctor to get checked out. Once it was clear that I didn’t have any physical problems, I began therapy and then medication. I think a commitment to both those things is what has made the most difference for me. 
Also, getting into a healthy routine is always good. That means sleeping enough, eating right, doing some sort of exercise. You’d be surprised how much getting into a healthy routine can help. Also, consider taking an art class or dance class or starting to write in a journal. Anything you can do to help get out your feelings is great. The important thing to remember is that you DESERVE to feel better and you need to do whatever necessary to get there. 

Does dealing with mental illness ever get easier? 

That’s a hard question. For me, dealing with panic disorder has been series of ups and downs. I was first diagnosed about fifteen years ago. The first few years were hard (with some long spans in between when things were good). The last few years have been so much better. I rarely have panic attacks and can go MANY months without one. I can attribute that to many things. One of which is that my life is more stable than when I was eighteen. When I was eighteen, like many teens, I left for college and that meant a lot of changes in my life. I left home, lived on my own, had to make new friends, etc. I also moved so many times (each year into the dorm and then back home to my parents’). And now, fifteen years later, I see that my anxiety returns when I go through big changes. For instance, I recently moved and that made me fairly anxious. So I’ve learned to me more vigilant around times of big change. 

Am I the only person going through this? 
NO! Since the publication of my memoir, I Don’t Want to Be Crazy, I have had the privilege of getting letters from people of all ages. These letters are about fears, struggles, isolation...but also about hope and recovery. The most common phrase in all the emails is: “Your story made me feel less alone.” The repetition of this phrase is not surprising since one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year—that translates into nearly 58 million people (NIMH). Of those disorders, anxiety disorders are the most common, affecting 40 million adults (ADAA). 

How can I find the strength to deal with this illness for my entire life? 
That’s a really overwhelming question to think about. I would suggest focusing on today. In my experience, thinking about huge things like a “lifetime of anxiety” has only stressed me out more. Like if you have ten different things to do in one day, it can make you crazy and stressed out to think about all ten at once. But if you start by taking care of one thing and then go from there, it seems so much more manageable. 

Should I tell my friends and family what I am going through? 
That’s for you to decide. If you feel like you have people in your life who love and support you, I would recommend sharing how you are feeling. This is a lot to deal with on your own. And keeping it to yourself can only add to the burden. 

I am a teen and my parents don’t understand what I am going through. They don’t think it’s a big deal. What can I do? 
It must be really hard to feel like an important person in your life doesn’t understand you. You could try giving that person my book, printing out articles from the internet, taking them to a local support group, etc. But if you find you can’t get the support you need from your family, think about someone else you can go to. Is there a friend, another family member, teacher, or guidance counselor you could talk to? You deserve to feel better and if someone is preventing you from doing that, you need to seek other outlets. 

FYI: If you are in college, there is a good chance that there is a free counseling center on campus. Call your college’s Health Services Department to find out. 

Should I see a therapist? 
There is a helpful and comprehensive answer here.

What can I do if I can’t afford a therapist? 
Sometimes therapists will take a reduced fee. You just have to ask. There may also be free or low cost services in your area. You can start by calling LIFENET at 1-800-543-3638, or visiting their website.
You can also check here.

FYI: If you are in college, there is a good chance that there is a free counseling center on campus. Call your college’s Health Services Department to find out. 

Should I go on medication? 
I am not a doctor. I can’t give you advice about that. I can only tell you about my experiences. In the beginning, I really struggled with the idea of going on meds. But one therapist asked me if I would question taking meds if I had diabetes. I answered, “Of course I would take meds for that.” She wanted to know how that was different from taking meds for anxiety. That had a big impact on me! Over the years I have taken several different medications. Some had side effects. Some didn’t. Some worked well. Some didn’t. For some people it can be a process of trial and error, but I think it’s worth it. 

I am feeling suicidal or like I might hurt myself or someone else. What should I do? 
You MUST immediately call 911 or a friend that can help you. For more information go to http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/