Monday, April 26, 2010

~Mental Health Monday Guest Blogger~ Depression and Anxiety

Today's guest blogger is Carrie who offered to share her story of depression and anxiety and how it has effected her and those around her. Thank you for sharing your story!

First of all, I want to thank Kristina for her time and devotion to spreading the word about mental illness. I would agree with her that this is a topic that gets pushed under the radar quite a bit. There are a lot of questions, myths and uncertainties that often come up when the topic is brought up. I decided to share my story because I am person who was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I want to share what it’s like for me and what I go through so that others have one picture of how mental illness can affect a person.

My name is Carrie. I am 25 and I currently live in Burnsville, Minnesota. I was born and raised in Bloomington, Minnesota. I grew up with my younger brother, father and mother. My mother, as well as hers, does suffer from depression. When I was younger I didn’t realize this, and others didn’t either. No one really said anything about depression anywhere. There weren’t commercials on TV for anti-depressants or anything like that. I never clearly understood why my mother would stay in bed for a whole week. My dad didn’t know what to do to help her. It wasn’t until I was older and in high school that I learned about what I witnessed when I was young. I also started to enjoy studying psychology in high school so I began to learn about this illness and how it affected my mother. I understood the role genetics played in depression, but I never really thought about depression affecting me.

In the fall of 2003, I started college at the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. I really wanted to move away from home and start doing my own thing. I figured Duluth was far enough away where I could be an adult, but still visit my family and friends in Bloomington. UMD also had a great medical school and I was very interested in human biology and medicine (I still am today). I planned on majoring in pre-medicine/biology. I was pumped and a little nervous since this was my first time living anywhere other than Bloomington.

On the day I drove up to Duluth to move in, I remember feeling absolutely sick to my stomach over the idea that I was staying here for quite a bit and not going back. I thought I was just nervous and that once I moved in and met my roommate, things would be fine and I would calm down. I did eventually calm down, but I felt out of my element. I was surrounded by strangers, living in a strange dorm room, and starting college schoolwork which was not easy. Luckily my roommate “Katie” (I’ve decided not to use her real name for privacy) and I got along great. I am still great friends with her today. She was also majoring in pre-med and is now actually a doctor. I’ve never met a more friendly, kind and fun person in my life. We hit it off and had a great year as roommates. That was one positive in my life there.

During the first week of school in Duluth, I caught a nasty cold and cough. I think it was from being in a new environment and around germs I wasn’t used to. I felt miserable and I only went to class, the rest of the time was spent in bed. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make new friends and participate in all the new-student events put on by the school. I missed out on a big social part of campus life and I took it really hard. By the time I felt well enough to get up and be social, everyone had their own little groups and friends they hung out with. It was like high school all over again and trust me, I was done with high school. That was the first major downer. Also, my first (and eventually last) semester of pre-med was very difficult. I was taking algebra, biology and chemistry. When my chemistry grades started to fall, my professor came right out and said I should drop the class. No encouragement there! I was also in the middle of a relationship that was starting to fall apart and I wanted out of it. Lastly, winter in Duluth comes quickly and with a vengeance; it snows a lot, it’s bitterly cold, and daylight is minimal. I began to feel very down, very anti-social, and homesick.

After winter break, which ended mid-January, I had some more clarity in my return to school. I changed my major to child psychology (which I eventually earned a B.A. in). I had broken off the relationship so I came back newly single. I thought things were going to turn around. Unfortunately the downward spiral came back. I began to get very irritable over nothing. I remember blowing up at my roommate’s boyfriend over a biology lab report that was only worth 10 points. It was so ridiculous I can’t even remember why I got mad in the first place (later I apologized to said boyfriend and things were fine). I would cry easily. For example, if I checked the mail and nothing came for me, I suddenly felt unloved and worthless and I’d cry. I’d cry at other couples holding hands. I’d cry and be angry at groups of people heading to the mall without me. I’d cry when potential relationship interests didn’t work out. During this time I completely lost my appetite too. It wasn’t that I chose not to eat, I didn’t physically feel hungry. My stomach never growled, and I never had any cravings for my favorite foods. “Katie”, my roommate, would bring me back bagels, apples and cookies from the dining center just so I could have something to eat, but I barely touched the food. I lost 15 pounds which is a lot for my 5’6 frame. I looked like a skeleton and it was even worse since I hadn’t been in sunlight in forever so I was very pale. My sleeping pattern was erratic. There would be nights where I was so anxious over a test or project that I would be up all night, not even feeling the least bit tired. I remember watching late night infomercials to try to fall asleep too, you know, some of those are pretty bad, haha! When I was up all night I tried to find anything and everything to keep me occupied because sleep was not going to come. I would shop for things online (which was bad for the finances) or I would paint my nails over and over again. And this pattern did take the opposite direction later on in which I would sleep too much. But I felt like sleep was my escape. As long as I was asleep nothing bad would happen that would make me upset. As long as I was asleep I wouldn’t have to deal with people. I used to sleep for 14 hours a night on the weekends, maybe 10 on weeknights. And when “Katie” went home for the weekends, I slept longer because I was alone. I would go to bed at 11 or 12 at night, and not wake up until 4pm the next day. I started to use over the counter, but non-habit forming, sleeping pills to put me to sleep so I could just shut out the world. I didn’t want to deal with people.

While this was happening in Duluth, no one at home in Bloomington knew until I told my mother I wanted to transfer back to school in the Twin Cities. At that moment she knew something wasn’t right (moms always know don’t they?). My mother contacted one of our family friends named “Brian” (also not his real name for privacy). “Brian” had a difficult year in Duluth when he was a student there and became depressed up there. She asked him to call me and see what was going on. Of course when he called, I didn’t say much. I just said I was having a tough time with mid-terms, or I was tired, or I had a bad day is all. Still, both my mother and “Brian” kept in close contact with me. Around March, and around Easter, I went home for that weekend with a good friend of mine. My mom noticed I had lost weight, but she told me that she also hadn’t seen me for a few months so she probably forgot how skinny I was anyway. She never came out and said anything, but I think she knew something was wrong before I did.

As winter in Duluth was finally melting away, I hit my lowest point. I began thinking about ending my life. I couldn’t stand being at a school I didn’t like. I missed having my close friends and family around. I was annoyed with dorm life. I hated the fact I had no boyfriend. I felt unloved and unwanted. I cried all the time and was easily angered. I wanted to be done with it all. I came up with plans on how I was going to do it. I thought about going to a few dorm rooms and asking for some Tylenol or aspirin (most people were friendly about borrowing items to you, i.e. clothes, movies, soap, etc.). Once I had collected enough, I would take all the pills I got at once. My dorm was a 7 story building and I did in fact live on the 7th floor. There was a balcony that faced the woods, but the door to the balcony was locked after, ironically, a suicide took place. However the door to the balcony had a glass window in it. Nearby was a fire extinguisher. I so clearly saw myself taking that heavy extinguisher and smashing the glass in the door with it. Once the glass was broken, I could open the balcony door, and just jump. In my own dorm room, I would stare down to the ground from my 7th story window and wonder what it would be like to hit the ground. I had honestly hoped for it to be over on impact.

I was alone one night and I told myself that this was the night. I wrote a LiveJournal entry saying how frustrated I was and I wish it would all end. I guess you could call it a suicide note, but I never said in it that I had planned on suicide; I just wanted all the crap in my life to end. I remember this so clearly, but I walked over to my window and placed my face on the cool, mesh screen. I thought if I just kept pressing my face harder on the screen, it would fall out of the window frame and I would fall out.

But then the phone rang.

It was my mom, crying. “Brian” had seen my LiveJournal entry online (I had totally forgotten about who would have been able to read it). He immediately called my mom and told her to cal me. She was extremely worried and told me not to hurt myself. She told me to go to the nearest ER, but I didn’t think I had to, I wasn’t sick or hurt. I did feel bad that my mom was crying and she was so worried about me. I never realized what effect on other people my wanting to hurt myself might have. She and I talked for a while more, and then told me to call “Brian”. Talking to him seemed so much easier because he had gone though what I was going through at that moment. He told me to seek counseling and get help. He also said I should tell “Katie” what I was feeling since she lived with me, and I should have her be my first contact for help. When I did tell “Katie” I know I worried her greatly, but this worry never showed on her face. She couldn’t have been more supportive every time I needed a shoulder to cry on. I remember feeling so embarrassed about the suicidal thoughts and crying, but I know now that embarrassment is better than the alternative and I can learn to deal with that.

The next day I went to campus health services and sought the help of a counselor. By this time it was mid-March, so I only saw this particular counselor for about 2 and half months. In May I moved back home after the school year ended. But counseling helped immensely. I was able to open up about anything and everything and I began to learn how to deal with my emotions and change my way of thinking. She suggested medication, but I felt more comfortable seeing my family doctor in Bloomington for that. And I wasn’t too keen on the idea of anti-depressants. I felt like taking medication to function was a weakness.

In May I moved away from Duluth and back to Bloomington. My parents moved me out of my dorm so fast and wanted to get on the road right away. My dad said he wanted to avoid traffic, but it was noon, and I knew he wanted to get me home fast. I said goodbye to “Katie”, which was hard, and we took a picture together before I left. Like I said I still keep in touch with her today.

Once I got home, I saw my family doctor. I barely could get the word “depressed” out of my mouth before he started writing me a prescription for anti-depressants. I didn’t like it, but he knew with my family history I should be on them. I especially didn’t like getting used to them because they made me nauseous at first. But I was actually surprised how well they actually worked. I got my appetite back. I felt hungry again at mealtimes and whatnot. I started to gain my “freshman 15” back. I never gained the “freshman 15”, I lost it in Duluth. I also started to sleep in a more normal pattern. I was back to 8 or 9 hours a night and I didn’t need medication to sleep. I also felt tired, not wired like I had been before, so my body wanted me to sleep. The medication along with being at home and starting over was a major turnaround.

While things had definitely started to turn around in Spring/Summer 2004, there were still bad days. More good days were present, but there were still days when I felt down and moody. I would feel blah and just want to lie in bed. Or I would get anxious and panicky over small things. But the most important thing was I did not want to end my life. I had too much going for me and new things happening that I wanted to stick around for.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened since 2004 and on. I got a new job working at Savvi Formalwear thanks to my best friend. I’m still there today; I’m the assistant manager in fact. I made a new group of friends at work that I loved. I started focusing on psychology and child psychology for school and I loved that too. In 2005 I met Nate, my boyfriend, and since 2006 we’ve been together. We now live together. I graduated in December of 2007 with a B.A. in child psychology. Nate started school for dental assisting and graduated in May 2009. In this time I’ve been very happy and very lucky. Nate and I took a trip to Duluth in 2007 (I think, I’m not sure) and we revisited my dorm. I made closure with the pain I had in Duluth and I don’t even think about it much. Every now and then I have a flashback to the night I saw myself falling out of a 7th story window, but that’s only when I’m somewhere high up. I usually avoid heights now.

Nate is my rock; I don’t know what I’d do without his support. He understands me and my anxieties and my worries. Sometimes I wonder how he deals with me when I have really bad days. He says because he loves me and he wants me to happy, he’ll do anything. I love him so much. Sometimes I joke with him that he ended up with a lot more than he bargained for, but he doesn’t think it’s funny, he doesn’t see the depression and anxiety first, he sees me for who I am.

The year in Duluth was probably the first major depressive episode I had. I’ve continued the medication, but not the therapy. The medication helps me function. I feel that I can focus, and keep my physical health up with the medication. I don’t see them as a weakness anymore. I see the medication as a way to help me like any other medication. If you have high blood pressure, you take a pill to help. You have diabetes, you take insulin to help. If you have depression and anxiety, you take a pill to help your chemical balance. Some people hear anti-depressants and they think I’m sad all the time or I’m “crazy”. I don’t see myself as crazy; I think that word gets taken way out of context in regards to mental health. I’m not sad all the time, but there will be tough days.

Another reason why I wanted to tell my story is because I’ve had another major depressive episode, this time more serious. But I will say right now I am working on getting better, so there is no need for worry.

When Nate graduated from school in May 2009, we were optimistic that he would complete his internships and find a job quickly. Nate was working at Office Max at the time to pay the bills and he had planned on stepping down as a manager to focus on his internships for the months of June and July 2009. We knew there would be less pay, but we were able to manage with him working about 34 hours a week or so, and me working full-time. The internships were not paid. Unfortunately Office Max made a mistake in their scheduling and payroll system and Nate ended up continuing as a manager full-time. But he was able to manage the job and internships. Some of the other people in his class were hired right away during the internships, but Nate wasn’t. He had no offers. He felt inferior, like he wasn’t good enough. But he’s an excellent dental assistant and graduated with honors.

During this time I decided I wanted to get my master’s degree in social work. Nate fully supported me on this. Me getting my master’s would allow me to work with kids as a counselor and I could eventually leave Savvi Formalwear and retail. So we had a plan: once Nate got a job after July, I would still work full-time, but with Nate’s increased income, I could put more money away for school.

This plan never happened. Once Nate finished his internships in July, and took his board exams in August, we hoped a job would come quickly. We knew it would be tough in the current economy, but there was nothing out there. No one was hiring at all. The dental industry seemed like it was full. Nate tried by dropping resumes off at clinics and applying online, but he wasn’t very aggressive about it. That’s not how he is in real life, he’s very laid back and easy going. When this was going on, Office Max suddenly dropped his hours and took him off the management team. This was what was supposed to happen BEFORE the internships. I did not like this one bit. Basically Nate was a part-time employee now, but with some of the same management responsibilities because Office Max never found a replacement for him. His district manager basically said oh well, too bad so sad, to Nate only because he was not making a career out of Office Max. Nate lost his health benefits and his hours dropped. I was very upset because our financial plans were screwed. But, after a while, I calmed down and I took on the finances that fall. Nate only split rent and car insurance with me. He paid for the groceries and I paid all the other bills. We knew he was on a lower income than before so we tried to live frugally. And for my job, everything in the wedding tuxedo industry slows down in the fall and winter. So that means reduced hours for me. I struggled to keep the bills paid and I ended up doing all the Christmas shopping out of my pocket. Usually Nate and I would do this together. I began to get very stressed out. Plus with the recession, the wedding industry took a hard hit, so I felt pressured by my work to perform well and keep wedding business coming in. If I lost my job, we were screwed. The financial stress was a lot to deal with. Nate and I constantly argued about money and where I would get money for graduate school.

I was also trying to apply to graduate school for Fall 2010 and the application itself was a lot of work. I wanted to do well on it so I took a lot of time for the application essays. That was another stressor.

2010 arrived and Nate still didn’t have a job. We still struggled to pay the bills. And Nate’s car was suffering; he would need a new one soon. I got mad at him for sitting around playing video games when he should have been looking for a job. He got mad at me for being nagging and selfish about my schooling. We argued a lot. We didn’t spend a lot of intimate time together. It was rough. I told people at work I had a boyfriend to support at home, they thought it was funny; I was just frustrated with the situation. Nate got upset on my lack of intimacy with him. With all the money, grad school, work, and his job search stress, I had no interest in anything remotely sexual. It hurt him a lot, and I feel terrible for it. I argued so much with him. I began to cry a lot more. Nate cried. And when he cried I cried. I let the relationship just slide along. I only cared about Nate getting a job. In late January when I submitted my grad school application, I told Nate he would need to find a job by March because that’s when I would find out if I got in. And if I got in, I would need to reduce some of my hours at work. That would mean we would need to find a cheaper apartment starting in March because our lease expired in May. I didn’t want to move though, moving is another hassle I didn’t want.

A few job leads had opened up for Nate, but they weren’t very promising. To help focus on his career and our relationship, Nate greatly reduced the video game playing, especially his online game. I was kind of like, eh okay, whatever. I was too worried and anxious about grad school and bills to care. I wasn’t sleeping well again. I stayed up until 3 or 4 in the morning worrying. All my worries overpowered my brain and I couldn’t concentrate on anything, especially Nate.

In early March I got a response from the U of M graduate school. I did not get into the social work program, nor was I going to be placed on the list of alternates. I took this very very hard. I cried immensely. I felt like I was stuck, that my life was going nowhere now. Mine and Nate’s life was going nowhere.

Also in early March, Nate’s brother Richie confessed to us about his recent drug use and the crowd of people he fell into. Richie was selling possessions for drugs, not working, not taking care of his home or daughter (but she was taken care of Nate’s parents right away). His house had been broken into multiple times by people looking for money that Richie owed them for drugs. His baby mama caused him problems and she sucked him dry of his money. Richie basically fled from Owatonna, MN to Burnsville to get away from it all, but because he couldn’t tell his parents, he told Nate this. Nate and I couldn’t believe it. And Nate took this very hard because he and Richie (who is younger) used to be very close. I began to worry about Nate and Richie. I was constantly asking Nate what his brother was up to and Nate barely responded. Nate said I should focus on us, not what Richie was doing. I got more stressed now that this family drama was already added onto no job for Nate, bad finances, my work stress, and no grad school for me. I was very angry at times. I felt like I could explode.

On March 4th, Richie stayed the night with us because he wasn’t ready to face his parents. I didn’t like the fact that Nate didn’t ask me first. And with Richie’s involvement in drugs, I was worried for my own safety now that he was at my apartment. Plus Nate had a job interview the next week and I wanted Nate to be prepared. When he left on March 5th, I was not in the mood to do anything. I wanted to go back to bed. Nate wanted to go out and do something and I pushed him away. He got upset, but he tried to do something. He took me into the bedroom and he pulled out the box of stuff he saved from our relationship. He tried to get me to see what the positives in the past were and that things will get better in the future. He showed me ticket stubs, cards, objects and photos of our relationship. I started to cry. I felt like the world’s worst girlfriend. Something was wrong with me where I couldn’t manage my life and life’s stresses to focus on my most important relationship. I felt broken. I cried harder despite Nate’s attempts to console me.

Suddenly I saw myself, in my mind, running to the kitchen, grabbing a knife from my knife block and just cutting my arms over and over. What?! This was my first suicidal thought since 2004! What is wrong with me? I cried harder and started to shake a bit. I told Nate what I had just thought and I started to hyperventilate. I told him to get rid of the knives and pills in our apartment. I didn’t care what he did with them, I just wanted them gone. I was afraid I was going to hurt myself. I didn’t want to hurt myself, but I also didn’t know what to do to make all this pain and stress and anxiety go away. He held me close and tried to calm me down. It wasn’t working. I was still hyperventilating and I couldn’t breathe. I told him over and over I didn’t want to hurt myself and get rid of the knives and pills (he got rid of them, he put them in our garage storage space). I couldn’t calm down. I felt dizzy from hyperventilating. Nate looked me straight in the eye and said, “Do you want me to take you to the ER?”. I think at this point he realized it was time for help. I said yes and he got me in the car and straight to the hospital. I was still bawling and hyperventilating. I had to get out of the apartment or I was going to keep freaking out.

We arrived at the ER and I was still crying and hyperventilating so bad that Nate had to explain to the nurse what was going on. The nurse said it was good that Nate brought me and it was good that I realized I needed help. I was sent back into the ER, and got settled in a bed by a nurse. By this time I had calmed down to where I could breathe normally again. A nurse took my vital signs and my blood pressure and heart rate were pretty high. I was surprised, I didn’t think I had been that worked up. Soon I was seen by a Dr. Lyng, and by this time I was able to tell him what I was feeling and what was going on. He did an examination to make sure I was okay physically. He suggested I be seen by their on-call social worker. By this time it was about 2am on March 6th, so I had to wait until the social worker arrived. Nate and I sat there in silence most of the time. I told him that the next time I wanted to be in a hospital with him is when I’m having our babies. Nate agreed.

I talked to the social worker, her name was Mary. She asked me tons of questions and asked if I wanted to be admitted into an in-patient facility, or continue with out-patient therapy. After thinking about it, and feeling much better since I had been in the ER for about 4 hours, I said I wanted to continue with out-patient help. I think if she had her way, she would have admitted me, but I told her I wasn’t going to hurt myself and Nate said he wouldn’t let me hurt myself either. She gave me a referral sheet for therapists and clinics in my area. I knew I definitely needed continued care for my mental health. Nate and I left the ER around 4:00am. I had to work on March 6th, a Saturday at 1pm, so I definitely went to work pretty tired. All my colleagues were complaining that they were tired too, and I kept thinking, “But you didn’t spend the night in an ER. You’re not as tired as I am”.

Since then I had been taking care of myself carefully. I avoided alcohol as to not make my depression worse (I’m not supposed to drink it anyway with being on anti-depressants). I started a journal to write down everything I was feeling. And Nate would read it and we would talk about anything that may have been bothering me. I made the appointment to meet with the therapist. I also talked to my 2 managers at work and told them what had happened with me going to the ER and that I was going to need help in managing stress at work as to keep myself healthy. But I asked them not to tell anyone else at my job. When I’m ready, I’ll tell my other colleagues.

I’ve had one session with my therapist and I feel like she’s going to be very good. She believes in cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness which basically means that changing the way of thinking can change the way I do things and how I feel about things in my life. As someone who studied psychology, I agree with this type of treatment for me. Unfortunately I won’t see her again until May as she is very busy, but she was adamant that I come back weekly in May. And I will. I will see her for as long as I feel I need to.

Again, there are still bad days, but also good days. It’s a daily battle because sometimes you never know what could set you off or how your emotions will be. An event could happen in one day that can change your entire mood for a long time. But doing therapy and taking medication is what I need to function in life. And with continued support from friends and family, I think everything for me will be okay. You would never know really by looking at me if I was depressed or anxious, in fact, you can’t tell that by looking at people. But it is important that if your family member or loved ones show signs of depression that you speak up and help them. If I didn’t have the help I don’t know where I would be today. I try not to think negatively, I think that I can work on living my life for the better.

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