Several Weeks ago a friend of mine, Maya, reached out to me and asked if she could share her story and battle with Anxiety and Depression with me. I was absolutely blown away. I have known Maya for years (since I was in middle school) and I never knew my friend was going through so much. She is so strong and so brave to be willing to share her heart, her story, and her battle with you. These are her words and I hope you are encouraged to share your struggles, get help, and know you are not alone if you are struggling with any of these feelings!
“Today is a day of reflection, as I think about Kate Spade I think of all of the beauty she put out to share with the world. She created beauty, maybe from pain; I do not know her journey with mental illness. A few short weeks ago our level of connectedness stopped at eyeglasses, a planner, and a pair of earrings. Now I know that our connection is much more intricate, deep, and meaningful.
How I felt:
First, I was tired all the time, I was constantly taking naps. I would go to school, come home, and nap from 1:30pm until around 5pm. I would only wake up after my mom came home. It was the only thing I could do to feel “better”. Secondly, I absolutely dreaded going to school. This was odd because unlike most teenagers, I loved my high school. I was always involved in school leadership and I was good student, but I just did not want to be there anymore. I tried to alienate myself because I never felt happy or joy even with my amazing group of friends. I remember actively trying to avoid them, trying not hurt their feelings. I imagine that I was doing the opposite. My friends were supportive, understanding, happy, and hysterical. Had they known they would have helped me. But we didn’t talk about my depression because I didn’t share it with them. I also could not understand how my friend’s lives seemed so easy, they did not have to try to be happy, they were just easily cheerful. I had to try hard to put on a happy face, to act happy. There is literally nothing more sad in the world than trying “act happy”.
When it started:
Around my junior year my mother was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. My mother and I did not have a typical teenage daughter/mother relationship, we were extremely close, friends even. We didn’t agree all the time, but for the most part some of my favorite memories during this time were with my mom. My mom did not buy into not being friends with her children. She was and is still one of my closest friends. I have always been able to talk to her about literally anything, to laugh endlessly, and to trust her with helping me with any of my problems. The thought of not having my mother, scared me. It made me feel alone. I was always worried that something was going to happen to her. I would go with her to her evening ESL class that she taught because I feared being away from her. Because I associated the word cancer with death. I started to fear death and become obsessive about thinking about it. Once I finally realized that my mother’s death was all that I could think about, I told my doctor. I told my doctor first because I couldn’t bear to tell my mother that I was afraid of her, specifically her death. My doctor scared me a little when she started to ask me questions more directly about what I thought about. I didn’t have thoughts about self-harm or hurting others. I just felt scared to die and scared that my mother would. I would worry about not being picked up by her after school, I would worry about her going anywhere. I would worry about her when I was with my friends. I worried myself sick. I worried to sleep. My doctor wasn’t my favorite person. She kind of made me feel bad for being joyless and tired all the time. She also made me worry for worrying. She also was a little too eager to have me try different medicines to “help”. She made me feel as if it was my fault. My mom on the other hand always told me that it was a imbalance and we had to work a little harder to find a good balance for me, to be happy. I started taking depression medicine. It was the worst decision I had ever made, instead of feeling emotion like a normal person, it completely numbed me. I was numb to joy, sadness, pain and even clear thought. I would be so concerned about feeling bad that I would worry about what excuse I could make to get myself out of any situation.
When one medicine didn’t work, I tried another and another. I tried Lexapro, I tried wellbutrin, I tried Celexa and others. I felt nothing, I didn’t feel joy. I couldn’t find my happy.
My Happy Place: The summer after high school my sister was getting married. I wasn’t a huge fan of the groom but I remember wanting to feel happy and like myself. My sisters best friend planned a bachelorette party at a country bar where people line danced. I learned a couple dances and minutes in, I felt complete and utter joy. I went back with them after the wedding, and then kept going. It was the place that gave me back my happy. I remember my friends not wanting to go there, I lost a few because they didn’t understand that it wasn’t just a bar for me, it was truly my happy place. The only place I would feel joy, just dancing my little heart away. I loved the loud music, I loved how polite the people where, I loved the experience. My sister used to laugh because I never went to meet any guys, all I did was dance. It brought me the joy that I was lacking every other day of the week. I would go religiously, I even joked that it was my version of church. I went Friday and Saturday nights every week…for a long while.
Change has always been hard for me, but high school ending, not seeing my friends anymore, and being away from mom was just way to much too soon.
I found myself not knowing what to do. I moved to my dorm and I remember feeling completely alone. I would go to class, feeling groggy from my depression medicine, get to class and like clockwork, the second my class was over I would cry, I would cry until my next class or work. I would cry constantly. I would cry when my best friend Marissa called me and I chose to ignore her calls because I didn’t want to bring her down with my problem. I felt terrible, I didn’t feel worthy of her friendship. I remember when I cried before and after work. I would cry during my break, I couldn’t stop. I was exhausted from it. I remember seeing a friend from high school, she asked me how I was doing and I started crying. I couldn’t handle people asking me how I was doing. I wasn’t well, I wasn’t close to it. I work at my Alma mater, there are specific places on campus that I would nearly run to, just to cry. I avoid these places because of how terrible I felt there. I couldn’t stop crying. My only stop button was my mom. If she answered my phone call while crying she would calm me down, enough to get thru the day or at least a few hours of class.
My mom suggested that I stop taking medicine and going to talk to someone. It completely changed my life. I nervously went and cried my way thru a few years of how my depression started, how I was dealing with my classes by crying, and how I couldn’t story worrying. My psychologist, was caring, kind and thoughtful. He let me cry as long as I talked through it. It took some time getting used to telling a complete stranger that I felt like a complete crying mess, but he was so kind and patient. He always kept very calm, it was like how people talk at a spa. It was like a light bulb went off in his office. He made me realize of the control and power I had in my thoughts. He gave me homework, “Start answering your what-it’s ” he told me. When you worry and have a what if this happens scenario, choose to answer with what your possibilities could be. I started to answer some of them in front of him. Then I tried it once I left his office, and again in my dorm, and then in class or at work. Every time I answered my what-if questions, my crying stopped and soon it faded away. I stopped crying completely. I was dried up, tired of crying and ready to find my joy again. It seemed weird to be that positive thinking and a very simple process would change my life, but it really did.
Between going to my happy place and finding a psychologist that helped me with new coping mechanisms, I felt human again. I felt worthy of love, I felt worthy of putting myself first and getting the help that I needed. I wouldn’t have made it thru the dark place that I was in without my support system. In my work I have spoken to a lot of teenagers, college students, and adults about my struggle with depression, it is hard to talk about – which I think is why most people don’t. It takes me back to a place where I couldn’t function without crying, I couldn’t feel joy or experience happiness. Now, I can say with certainty that I am happy, I choose to be happy every day. Living with depression is not easy but it is worth the effort every day. I am often looked at or talked about as the always positive happy one, but it is my choice to be happy every single day. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw my psychologist, but he changed my life. I built my friendships back, I started a new routine in college and met some pretty amazing people. I truly started enjoying college and enjoying what I was learning.
I now work at my Alma Mater, I have for the past nearly 8 years. Without experiencing the dark side of depression, I wouldn’t have started seeing the beauty of my life and enjoying it. My advice for anyone struggling with mental illness is to seek out resources to help you, try to find one positive moment in your day (even if it is I woke up and that is a gift!), and always to know that you are not alone in your feelings. There are a lot of people out there that feel the same as you, worse than you – but we are a quiet group. You are worthy of love and help. My advice for the family or friends of someone that is struggling is, be there. Be there when you are ready to give up. Be there when your friend god-willing, gets through their fight and is ready to accept your friendship. I can tell you with certainty that they need you, they need to rebuild your friendship and that they want to. Call or Text your friends, get them to the help they need. Call and text your friends family and get there for them to support them. Be a light, be their happy. Continue living your best life and help those that might not be. Help can be a hug, a smile, a phone number to call, a cup of coffee – hell mine was a dusty ol’ country bar – you never know.
Lastly, if you ever have a thought of hurting yourself or others – make the call and speak to someone, 1-800-273-8255. There is a beautiful world around you to enjoy, even if you can’t see it at this moment.”