PC: Sonia Señoráns
...Manifests in my room.
It's a mess.
Every other part of me is tidy and in place. Even when I feel sloppy in my attire, there is a decorum underlying everything.
My room, on the other hand, is chaos.
There's the table next to my bed. The top level is a mishmash of scribbled in journals, electronics, and books. Mixed in the fray of debris and my tax papers are beauty sponges from Sephora and tea tree serum. On the throne of this table rests two things: the plastic fishbowl where I save my tips and loose change, and a tarot deck that one of my best friends gifted me.
The second shelf has an empty cigar case, my high school yearbook, and travel sized body scrubs from the body shop. Various DVDs and a PSP are intermingled. I also have a copy of my college newspaper and old gift cards with only a few cents left to spend. I can’t bring myself to throw
them away. Underneath the table are boxes, like the one my tablet came in, and one for my portable charger. They're the things companies insist we keep for which we never find a place.
I have no fewer than three mugs in my room. They are never used for drinking, but rather hold all of my pens and markers. One of them has a men's razor in it that I contemplate using on occasion. I have small pencil sharpeners in miscellaneous locations, but I never write in pencil.
My floor is a landscape view of a mountainous range of clothing and paper. None of it is necessarily garbage—mostly old receipts and shipping logs from my online shopping habit. These are things that should be filed away neatly in to assorted regions of rationality. One should prepare for tax season year round. Clothing should be accessible and orderly.
The mountains extend to my bed where I've made a valley in the hills for myself to sleep. My bed is a haven with it's off-white sheets and pillows who can never stay in their cases. I have a duvet somewhere. It's been a few days since I last saw it. I face the wall in my sleep, curled in a way that would make claustrophobes sweat. I like feeling like someone is holding me, and since I sleep alone, the cramped space is the best I can do.
This is where I rest and wonder if I'm worth loving, if I'm actually doing okay as a person. I sit here and wonder if my grandfather would be happy to see me again. Sometimes, I want to visit him.
He's been dead since 2009.
My walls are lined with art though I own more than I display. I have posters up, three to be exact, and two paintings. My other art sits on top of my dresser, which I strategically hid in my closet in order to have more room for my clothes to settle on the floor. The rest of my walls are covered with fraternal twin bookshelves(one is shorter than the other) who are overburdened by my love of reading. The books are stacked with no order and are hosts to other knick knacks, which include but are not limited to: my shell collection, a pine cone, and a dulled mini katana that I purchased years ago.
My actual sword, which is also dull, leans against the shorter of the two bookshelves, entangled in the cord for my record player. I have a desk, but I do most of my writing in bed. I want to buy a sturdier desk, but I have
nowhere to put it. This desk is flimsy and is covered in all of my makeup. Cosmetics are an adulthood hobby on which I've spent thousands of dollars feeding. I want to feel shame when I look at my desk, but instead I feel excited. Makeup is fun.
If I were to allow myself to physically sink into my depression, I would be well-hidden by the piles and collections I've amassed over time. My room is raw. It holds all of me. All of my mess is manifested in my worldly possessions. Every now and then, I clean it and start with a fresh slate. I meticulously make sense of everything. It all has a place. But, then I forget to put a shirt away. Or, I buy a new book with no shelf space to spare.
Sometimes, I'll order an outfit that doesn't quite fit the image I had in my head, and leave it discarded on the floor. I'll look up one day to see that familiar mountainous landscape and I'll wonder how I got there.
Didn't I just clean my room?
About The Author: Rodjinae Brown
Rodjinae (Rodi) Brown is a college graduate and writer born and raised in Compton, CA. When she isn't reading, she's tweeting incessantly about her dog and working on her next personal essay. Most of her writing centers on social issues, as well as her method of dealing with her anxiety and depression.
PC: Frederic Agius
My Mental Health Awakening
My mental health story begins in 1993. I was a 14-year-old freshman in high school, who had no idea about mental health. All I knew is that something felt off inside and I did not feel comfortable in my own skin. Low and behold, a dark, relentless, persistent, sinking feeling crept in, that has followed me for almost 26 years. The symptoms of chronic sad days, which is not foreign to many other individuals, were hijacked by a group of glib people with letters behind their name, who created a mental health manifesto, calling it the DSM, in order to capitalize financially on my affliction and many others, by labeling a very common feeling of trying to adjust to change, 296.30, major depression, which is merely a billing code, that almost made me a lifelong consumer of a very sinister, poisonous mental health industry.
To make a long story short, high school was rough. I’d cry a lot and especially at the sight of other students walking with one another, laughing, connecting, making plans for the weekend, and there I was, alone, feeling left out. I didn’t fit in anywhere and felt very lonely. I had a very difficult time connecting and now believe that it stemmed from not fitting in at home, either. My parents struggled with their own mental health care needs and because of those personal struggles with their own demons, I believe that I came up very empty handed in learning the tools, skills, strategies, and social savviness to navigate and find solutions to life’s inevitable challenges, that healthy, developed parents show and teach their children, which made me easy prey to be condemned as, “mentally ill.” Being socially awkward, uncomfortable, curious, intense, confused, sad, and lonely are not symptoms to medicate with poison nor are they prerequisites to be institutionalized, although that part did not come until a while later.
When I hear about the nightmare stories of children and teens being medicated for mental health care needs and sedated for “inappropriate” behavior, I know that I dodged a bullet, because thankfully, that isn’t part of my story. However, I do remember seeing a counselor during my sophomore year for a very brief duration, who was kind and attentive, but medication was never part of my treatment. I count myself lucky, because I think my life would have been much harder for me if I was being poisoned by medication so early in my brain development. I came to know the drug Zoloft in 2001, when I was in college. Like I said, that heavy feeling of not being good enough was around me constantly. I was encouraged to “talk with someone” about the way I was feeling. Like a blind warrior, I followed the instructions by making an appointment with a counselor, because I was trained to believe that professionals know more about my mind and body than I do. After the first session with the counselor, I was put on 50 mlg of Zoloft. I remember about two weeks into taking it, I not only stopped crying, I couldn’t cry. That sticks out like a sore thumb and at the time, I found it strange. Even though I lacked the awareness I have today around this, I knew medications weren’t for me. I wasn’t on Zoloft very long, however, my life changed forever, due to many years of being a test patient to see if different pills would work for my “symptoms” of sadness.
After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in 2002, I white knuckled it for four years without any help, but still couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I wasn’t enough. In 2006, I tried going back to school and ended up becoming overwhelmed again, in which I began frequenting the mental health department, where I started to see another therapist who wanted to start me on Prozac. I remember going home and researching Prozac articles to read about the horror stories and success stories in effort to make a sound decision as to whether or not go on it. I found one that really resonated with me that was against taking it due to the research showing how detrimental it is long term to the body and mind. I placed it in the therapist’s box and we discussed it during the next session. I remember him reporting that he read it but that it really didn’t have an effect on him, because he still encouraged me to take it. Basically, he said these medications are more helpful than hurtful, and that I might need to be on it for the rest of my life, “but, everyone is different.” Truth is, I started it and discontinued it after a year or so, still never feeling quite right about taking medication like that.
After a couple of years spinning my wheels on what career path to choose, working odd end jobs here and there, and beginning a long path of failed relationships that began passionately and ended just as fast and fervently, I attempted to end my life in January 2008. It was right after Heath Ledger took his own life. Hearing the news planted the seed and I found myself envious that he was able to take his life so successfully. During this time, I somehow ended up on three different types of medications (Zoloft, Trazadone, and Seroquel). In a rush to leave this world, I gulped all of them down and hoped I did not wake up. Well, I did wake up and the details are foggy, but I was then hospitalized and my life changed, when I discovered a gem during this time. The ah ha moment came to me when a particular social worker in that facility asked me how I was doing and we ended up talking about the work he did. I was immediately intrigued as if hope just knocked on my door, giving me something else to think about rather than my fantasy to end my life. I was impressed and when I discharged, I did feel hopeful by the knowledge, that I could use my struggle to help others, but I was still desperate and the brain chemist within had a very difficult time getting my mind back to stability and balance after taking all those pill, as I was still fixated on how to end my life. Two months later, I ended up swallowing a Costco sized bottle of Tylenol, since the other pills didn’t work.
Well, that didn’t work either and I found myself at a different psychiatric hospital with a list of diagnoses, ranging from, Bipolar I, to Borderline Personality disorder, to Generalized Anxiety and Dysthymia. I began believing I was a lost cause and was very scared, but still, in the back of my mind, the inner voice that was still alive was nudging me to wake up to my divinity. It was during that second hospitalization that I allowed myself to meet others who were also struggling. Not only that, I went to groups on how to cope with depression, tools to manage anxiety, anger management, cognitive behavioral therapy, and partook in art classes, all the while taking note of the mental health workers leading these groups. There is was again, that gem, the light, the way out of this mess and it was through discovering my purpose in going through all this and realizing that nothing that I have gone through was accidental. I left the hospital believing that I was to become a beacon of light for others, by intertwining my lived experience with mental health care needs and my newly found path to become a social worker. I came to learn that many people called this kind of a person, The Wounded Healer and they are the best kind of professional in the mental health field, because they are relatable and understand the conundrum one faces as they struggle to make sense of their mental health.
I decided in 2008 after the second suicide attempt to never go back on any medications, as the nudge within to go a different route was very clear to me. After the second hospitalization, I moved home with my parents and struggled a lot. All those feelings of inadequacy, which plagued me for years, reared their ugly heads again. I still had health insurance from my job at the time, so I began an intensive outpatient program as I took some time off from work. I was encouraged to try medications again, from well-meaning but programed mental health professionals, but I continued to refuse. Per usual, the drug based paradigm was putting the pressure on me, as it made me feel that I could not do it on my own. Because I wouldn’t go on medications, the therapist from the program made me verbally commit every day before I left to doing no harm to myself and had me sign a contract to hopefully keep me safe. I persisted medication free and graduated from the program feeling, empowered, renewed, and a bit more equipped to handle the dark night of my soul and life’s setbacks.
Fast forward to January 2009, I began getting my feet wet in the field of social work and started a master’s degree program in the field of Mental Health Rehabilitation. I knew change was always difficult for me, but the challenges hit me like a ton of bricks and within the first week of school, I completely stopped sleeping and for four weeks I tried to beat it and became very paranoid, due to the lack of sleep. My mind raced with worst case scenarios and fears, and sadly I became so desperate, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist who convinced me to go on an antidepressant called Remeron, that also helped with sleep. I began taking it right away and initially, albeit due to the placebo affect and because I was convinced by the doctor that I would be able to get off of it at any time, I began sleeping right away. Little did the psychiatrist know about the hellish experience I was going to encounter years later, while trying to get off it, or maybe he did know the truth, but prescribed it anyway. The Hippocratic Oath of doing no harm does not apply in the mental health field.
During the two years while earning my degree, I was still experiencing relational struggles with others and internal problems accepting who I was and who I wasn’t. However, I began employment working as a substance abuse counselor at a detox facility and was so excited, because I was finally in the field ready to share my personal experience and the knowledge learned in school, so I could help others. I was in complete shock during the first few weeks on the job, as I became face to face with the reality that legal drugs, such as benzos, antidepressants, pain killers, etc., were the most difficult for others to withdrawal from. This reality was so perplexing to me, because I was in support of them at this time and had no idea they were so addicting and excruciating to discontinue. I was under the illusion that I was taking a magic pill of my very own, because I was sleeping, even though I used many other varieties to take my life and also vowed to never get on another one again.
I ended up quitting the job at the detox facility and began a position at a community mental health agency as a mental health counselor. I was the group leader and was doing what I dreamed of doing and I also graduated with a master degree at the top of my class in 2011. I was excited about the future and was really good at helping others struggling with addiction and mental health. Yet, I also saw once again the devastating consequences from long term use of tranquilizers, SSRI’s, antidepressants, benzos, etc. Most of the people I worked with started out just like me…sad, that’s it. Disappointed with life, traumatized by neglect and unfortunate events, who went for help and ended up on disability, because of the affects from the psychotropic medications they were put on to treat their symptoms. The reality hit me hard, because I was also taking a medication like that and fear set in regarding what that drug was doing to me. This moment was the catalyst to my mental health awaking.
At that time there was also a dream of mine that resurfaced to work as a social worker and live in the San Francisco Bay Area. After graduation, I ended up taking a job in that area doing very similar work, where I completely became desensitized, burnt out, and on a crusade to speak out against what I witnessed, while also trying to get off Remeron. In early 2015, I visited a psychiatrist to discuss a safe way to wean off Remeron. After the psychiatrist stopped trying to convince me to continue the medication, I was told it was easy to wean off and would be able to within two to three weeks. Oh, how wrong she was. After six years of being on that drug, I found that I couldn’t get off without experiencing insomnia, intense depression and anxiety, panic attacks that were accompanied by suicidal thoughts. I was scared to say the least.
After many attempts to get off Remeron during that year, two things happened. I was hospitalized again at the same place where I decided to become a social worker and I began another master’s degree program, but this time in social work. This is where my life took a pivotal turn. During this hospitalization, I was faced with a psychiatrist that was as burnt out as I felt. As I sat waiting for him to look up from reading my chart, he asked me, “Have you ever been on Lithium?” I remember the goosebumps that flooded my body and I asked myself, “Lithium, really, that is straight poison.” I asked him, “Isn’t that the drug that one has to regularly get blood work done to check on the kidney.” He said, “Yes, but you obviously have Bipolar and this is your third hospitalization,” while still not looking at me. I took a big, deep cleansing breath and said, “Ok,” because I knew the game. If I argued or challenged him, he would keep me there, locked, like a criminal. I began it only to get out of that hospital, so I could continue school and on the inner workings of me and acknowledge the dark shadowy corners of my psyche. Right then, sitting in that dank, dreary, heartless office, I knew I had to do this life without synthetic medications.
A day later, I was released with a prescription for Lithium. My parents were very worried for me and pleaded with me to stay on the medication and every time I took it, I cried and that lasted for one more week. I never touched another medication again and it’s been almost four years. Not only am I medication free, but I am also a bona fide Social Worker with a Master’s degree in Social Work. A celebration is in order, because I have never felt more alive and because I make up a very colorful, complex mural of all the many battles I have won throughout my life, this truth makes me a walking art piece. Think about it, I am sitting here today with a 100% track record of getting through really tough days. These days, I feel less afraid, less alone, and less desire to end my precious life. Although it’s taken me a while to acknowledge my right to be in this world, I know that I am here for a reason and part of this reason is discontinuing the use of all psychotropic medications from my life, in order to share this knowledge with others. I know now, that I had to go into the depths of a very dark cave in order to see the light.
Starr in California
About The Author - Starr R. Stoddard
An almost 40 year old female, who is a deeply spiritual, curious, ambitious truth seeker. These are just a few of the things I am: First and foremost, I am spiritual being who is continuing to wake up to my divine nature. I am also a passionate advocate for the marginalized and disenfranchised populations. I am a daughter, a sister, an Aunt, a loyal friend, a Social Worker, a deep thinker, a believer in holistic practices, and a partaker of natural ways to heal my mind, body, and spirit. I am a believer in indigenous healing practices that have been around for eons. I trust that deep within I can come to the answers that I seek and trusting myself first is a top priority, before going to someone else for help. I also know that nutrition plays a vital role in my mental health and I do everything I can to be conscious about what goes in my body. I also have a major responsibility in what I choose to listen to, talk about, where my attention goes, and how much energy I put into things, because of how sensitive I am to energy, frequency, and vibrations, which is what our world is made up of. I write poetry and enjoy spoken word. I know how powerful words are and I work very hard to exercise my insight and awareness around the influence and power that comes from my mouth, as I know we create our realities, so I try to go in the direction of truth and love. Thank you for taking the time to read my story. Here is my email: email@example.com
How can depression be defined? How does it feel to live with? How can it be cured?
a project by Anne Puhlmann
Depression is not something that occurs out of nowhere.
Somehow it has always been there.
Is it normal that I sometimes feel bad or that I feel depressed?
For me it is quite difficult to be able to analyse this myself.
Especially because I don‘t want to label it as just being black and white.
There as various shades to it, as everyone experiences depression differently.
I have always tried to follow all of the rules, to make everyone happy.
But when you reach the point where you notice that you will never make every single one happy – this is when depression starts.
There are events that shaped me and that triggered my depression.
Of course it always depends on how a child deals with traumatic events, how resilient it is. This way one life story can make one person sick, whereas another one not.
It started in my childhood, for starters in elementary school. I was a knowit-all, we did not have much money, always wore cheap clothes, for which I was constantly teased. Because of this I thought I was less worth than the others. I did not feel cool in any way and was very influenced by my classmates. Constantly comparing myself to others was something that shaped me in a major way. Another period were my teen years, where I hated myself and thought that I was the ugliest person on the planet. My mindset was: ‚I cannot do that‘. That was something that I could apply to everything in my life.
I was so convinced that I wasn‘t able to do anything. And that was how I started to see and live my life.
For me these were stages of a total lack of motivation and listlessness, during which I noticed that I cannot cope with my everyday life, that I was too weak.
During theses times the energy was just not there and I felt as if I was held captive within myself.
You can rarely be happy about anything, you reach your limit, hide from live, feel no hunger and you have the feeling that you have seen and experienced everything already. Life just goes on, you live, but you don‘t feel that way. You are numb and just think of yourself like a wheel on a clockwork, that turns, because it just has to. This is possibly the worst kind of state to be in.
These stages mostly came without a warning. There suddenly were just there and you could only hope that you survived them. At times it could take weeks, even months until they passed. When you lived through such a episode nothing makes sense, everything breaks down. You only function, but don‘t really live. On the one hand you don‘t want to die, but on the other hand you don‘t want to live either. There are moments, when you cannot imagine to survive everything. You think that you simply will fall apart eventually – though that never happened.
Psychological pain has no boundaries. When it is as its worst I wish any other form of pain upon me. Any other physical pain, so the pain inside me stops.
Even though I am in therapy for five years now, I only recently was able to admit to myself that I am depressed. This is also due to the fact that I feel that way longer than I can remember. Because of that I saw it as being or feeling normal and thought that I am just simply different, weird, fucked up. For six months now I am also going to body therapy and I feel as if this connection between body and mind is really helpful. At some point during discussion therapy I had the feeling to not be able to move forward anymore. There were many things that I came to understand and realize, but nothing really changed for me. At some point the mind just comes to its boundaries. The body on the other hand is more intelligent then we give it credit for. It stores and remembers all our experiences, even though we might not have been aware of them in the first place.
Today I am in therapy for almost eight years. At the moment it is discussion therapy. I cannot say jet if this will work for me. For now I do not think so. I have learned, that to wait for better times is one way to not be buried too much in suicidal thoughts.
After I tried to kill myself, my mother bought me a puppy off of Craigslist. I was a senior at Sarah Lawrence College, home in LA on a medical leave that coincided with winter break. She dumped the squirming puppy in my bed on Christmas morning like she were emptying a bucket of water she intended to wake me up with. Her logic was that if tasked with keeping something else alive, I’d have to do the same for myself.
Evolutionarily, baby animals illicit endorphins. Their helplessness and over-sized heads cause prolactin and oxytocin to flood the brain, reminding us of human children. No dormant nurturing tendencies awakened in me when given the puppy who was dressed in a red Adidas sweatshirt. I felt disassociated from all living things, even looking in the mirror was an unfamiliar experiences, a wan figure, like Giacometti sculpture, looking back.
Since I was having trouble attaching to it, I didn’t name the dog for a couple of weeks. We obviously were not on the same page. It woke up at dawn and wined to go outside, while I was still having trouble getting out of bed before 3pm. I saw my mother’s plan unfolding. Eventually I named it Oslo, while watching a documentary about Norwegian Black Metal. It was funny to imagine the dog dressed in the demonic drag of Darkthrone and Burzum, screaming at me to get up.
After about a month I noted a change in Oslo’s behavior. She showed little enthusiasm for food, slept in, shook violently when I tried to take her outside and paced neurotic figure-8s around my stacks of books. I took her to the vet but nothing was physically wrong. The next week, I brought her with me to my shrink.
“I think my dog is depressed.” I told the doctor.
“Do you think there is a possibility that you are projecting onto the animal a little bit?”
I rejected this patronizing diagnosis. I already knew I was depressed. Had I somehow passed it on to my pet? Was it airborne? On the internet, I quickly found a K-9 psychiatrist in Echo Park. She had coke-bottle spectacles and long acrylic nails. Her waiting room had framed portraits of Dogs Playing Poker.
I told the doctor about Oslo’s behavior. She offered Oslo a treat which was rejected apathetically.
“Just as I suspected,” she said. “PTSD. We can’t know what her life was like before she came into yours, but psychosomatic symptoms are arising from memories she’s repressed.”
I’d always envied animals for their privilege of moment-to-moment consciousness. I thought dogs were like goldfish or pylons: history-less, blank slates who don’t retain anything for more than a few hours. I’d never considered that my Schnauzer, like a Vietnam vet, could have flashbacks to a dramatic past that kept her up at night. The doctor jotted on her script, bordered with blue paw prints, “15 mgs of Prozac.”
After failing to sneak Oslo into Harry Potter World, I got her registered as an Emotional Support Animal. It was surprisingly simple. $75 got my dog into all restaurants, airports and a particularly lenient Korean spa. I dreaded returning to the New York winter, feeling no less anxious since my medical leave. Oslo cried when the cabin pressure changed as we left LAX and burrowed into my turtleneck.
By the time we got back to school, Oslo was acting almost as obsessive-compulsive as me. She scratched proportioned holes in the dry-wall like she were trying to hang a painting. She gnawed at a spot on her flank until you could see through her soft puppy coat to the abraded pink flesh underneath. I counted out our pills together each morning: her Fluoxetine, my Wellbutrin, her Clomicalm, my Efexor. I ground hers up with peanut butter and swallowed mine with a black coffee.
When I first suspected I might be depressed, I spoke to my mom’s psychiatrist in Beverly Hills, Dr. Hanson, who she called Dr. Handsome, on the phone for 15 minutes and was prescribed two SSRIs and three Benzos to use “as needed.” I walked home from the Bronxville CVS, pill bottles shaking like maracas in the pocket of my coat, and obediently took the proper dosage. After 6 weeks, I didn’t notice a change—I actually had been spending more time in isolation and had used up my allotted sick days for the semester—so I called Dr. Handsome back and asked for an increased dosage. While I’d been taking my Zoloft, I had been squirreling away the Xanax and Chlonopin and Ativan as though I were starting a macabre collection of anti-anxiety medication.
One night in December, triggered by nothing in particular, I decided to take my Benzos collection one by one, each chased by a swallow of drug-store wine.
Both of us afraid of the frigid outside world, Oslo and I spent hours in my dorm room. Though all of the literature I’d read on the subject recommended the best way to housebreak an animal was a firm regimen of crate training, I couldn’t bare to listen to her whimper across the room and usually brought her into my bed. I’d give her a baby Benadryl for her insomnia and she’d fall limp next to me in a dreamless drug-induced slumber. Sometimes I had to rush her to the Bronxville veterinarian when she ate the cartridges for the electronic cigarette I had bought to avoid going outside. My housemates said that Oslo and my reclusiveness was bordering on Grey Gardens. They said that we enabled each other’s mentally-ill proclivities. I said we were healing.
We stayed cloistered in my room for most of the winter. I taught her a trick where I stuck out my index and middle fingers like a gun and said “bang bang” to which she would respond by falling to the ground, pretending to be dead.
After my incident with the Benzodiazepines, I was transferred from the ER to a hospital in Westchester for a 72-hour holding evaluation. Apparently my friends had found me neatly tucked into bed surrounded by orange canisters like discarded candy wrappers. I was glad the medicine had wiped my memory of the night. It wasn’t so much the stigma surrounding mental illness that brought me shame, but what I had put my loved ones through. What I would have put them through had they come in an hour or two later.
The Westchester psychiatric ward took away everything that had the potential to be dangerous: my shoe laces and hair bands, the underwire from my bras, even my retainer which felt a bit excessive. Stripped of my technology and with no books to read, I laid on the arthritic mattress, imagining ways I could kill myself with a retainer. Each coast personified my inner turmoil with a natural disaster. New York City was stricken with a blizzard that left the streets looking like a post-apocalyptic ice age and million dollar mansions were burning down in Los Angeles. I felt like the world was ending outside my sterile prison.
Oslo’s recovery began in April, the first day of spring. I started getting the sense that she wanted to go outside. She’d pace at the window and, if that didn't get my attention, shit in front of the door. I felt betrayed, like she’d forgotten our pact to be miserable together. But I obliged and both of us emerged from my room pale and skittish after almost 4 months of our self-inflicted house arrest.
We started going on runs. I stopped calling Dr. Handsome and started seeing a woman named Robin in Bronxville whose living room reminded me of the apartment on Frasier. She talked to me for at least an hour before prescribing anything. The chemistry of my brain was settling back into some semblance of normal. Oslo strutted around campus like she was the popular girl in school.
Though at that point I was emotionally fettered to the dog, I knew that a college campus was no place to raise Oslo. I’d often catch her rummaging through the trash for used tampons or lapping up an abandoned bottle of peach-flavored Svedka. She was getting larger and took up the majority of my twin bed. She was often my excuse for not going to my classes— the proverbial dog who ate my homework—so that I could spend the day watching her catch mice in the old music hall. We were a couple in a toxic relationship whose passionate love affair would inevitably lead to our mutual demise.
We flew home for spring break and I agreed to meet with some friends of my mother, a gay couple who had a large fenced-in backyard in Altadena. They were freelance writers who had time to properly train a dog, who’d have time to brush the matts from her fur and pull extension chords out of her mouth. They probably already knew not to leave electrical wires around a teething puppy. When we arrived, Oslo torpedoed into the sunlit yard. It was her first time off leash, the first grass she’d rolled in without a layer of ice glazing it. After a walk in New York, I usually had to blow dry Oslo to make sure she wasn’t frost bitten. My mother said it was better to go while she was distracted, like when dropping a child off at school. But she must have sensed I was leaving and ran to my heals. My eyes filled with tears. Our paths were splitting directions: I had to go graduate from college, she had to go torture the squirrels of California. I stuck my fingers out at her. “Bang bang,” and she collapsed at my feet like a marionette with cut strings.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Madeline Cash is a nonfiction writer from Sarah Lawrence College.
I first saw a psychiatrist for my anxiety and depression as a junior in high school. During her evaluation, she asked about my classes and grades. I told her that I had a 4.0 GPA and had filled my schedule with Pre-AP and AP classes. A puzzled look crossed her face. She asked about my involvement in extracurricular activities. As I rattled off the long list of groups and organizations I was a part of, her frown creased further.
Finally, she set down her pen and looked at me, saying something along the lines of, “You seem to be pretty high-functioning, but your anxiety and depression seem pretty severe. Actually, it’s teens like you who scare me a lot.”
Now I was confused. What was scary about my condition? From the outside, I was functioning like a perfectly “normal” teenager. In fact, I was somewhat of an overachiever. I was working through my mental illnesses and succeeding, so what was the problem?
I left that appointment with a prescription for Lexapro and a question that I would continue to think about for years. The answer didn’t hit me all at once; rather, it came to me every time I heard a suicide story on the news saying, “by all accounts, they were living the perfect life.” It came to me as I crumbled under pressure over and over again, doing the bare minimum I could to still meet my definition of success. It came to me as I began to share my story and my illness with others, and I was met with reactions of “I had no idea” and “I never would have known.”
It’s easy to put depression into a box of symptoms, and though we as a society are constantly told mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, we are stuck with a mental health stock image in our heads that many people don’t match. When we see depression and anxiety in adolescents, we see teens struggling to get by in their day-to-day lives. We see grades dropping. We see involvement replaced by isolation. People slip through the cracks.
We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group. No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.
Recognizing that danger is what helped me find the answer to my question. Watching person after person, myself included, slip under the radar of the “depression detector” made me realize where that fear comes from. My psychiatrist knew the list of symptoms, and she knew I didn’t necessarily fit them. She understood it was the reason that, though my struggles with mental illness began at age 12, I didn’t come to see her until I was 16. Four years is a long time to deal with mental illness alone, and secondary school is a dangerous time to deal with it.
If we keep allowing our perception of what mental illness looks like to dictate how we go about recognizing and treating it, we will continue to overlook those who don’t fit the mold. We cannot keep forgetting that there are people out there who, though they may not be able to check off every symptom on the list, are heavily and negatively affected by their mental illness. If we forget, we allow their struggle to continue unnoticed, and that is pretty scary.
Are you struggling with depression? Are you willing to share your story with us? Send us an email! We'd love to hear it.
Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
There is hope.
"Depression is a mood disorder that affects the way an individual thinks, feels and conducts their daily activities. Many people with depression experience a sad or “empty” mood, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities that ordinarily give them a sense of pleasure, and/or decreased energy and fatigue.
There are many different causes of depression. Some individuals may develop depression due to stressful life events or genetic vulnerability while others may develop it for no identifiable reason.
Approximately 1 in 6 people will experience depression at some point in their lives. Though depression is most common in adults, it often first emerges during an individual’s late teen years to their mid-20s.
There are various treatment options that range from clinical approaches like medication and counseling to lifestyle changes like regular exercise and a healthy diet. Many people with depression have also found that being open to receiving support and communicating about their illness can provide some degree of relief.
Depression varies widely in form and severity and affects every individual differently. It can cause changes in appetite, sleep behaviors, bodily aches and pains and increase thoughts of death or suicide. Many describe depression as feeling stuck in a “fog” where movements become slow and uncoordinated and thoughts become incoherent and fuzzy, making it difficult to concentrate or remember things. Others experience more restlessness or irritability."
Depression on The Mighty here & here
Are you struggling with depression? Are you willing to share your story with us? Send us an email! We'd love to hear it.