My story starts around the age of six when I was in first grade. I remember having a lot of unexplained stomachaches and wanting to go to the nurse’s office frequently during first and second grade. I received numerous of comments on my report cards about frequent complaining from my teachers. I also remember sleeping on the floor on my mom’s side of the bed for many of nights during those early elementary years.
Fast forward to seventh and eighth grade. I chose not to go on any school trips that involved overnight stays (e.g., science camp). Most kids at this age thoroughly enjoy these trips and enjoy being away from school. In my case, the thought of being away from my mom for even a single night gave me so much anxiety that I would become nauseous. I would stay behind with the kids who got in trouble and the kids who couldn’t afford to go on the trips, but I would be much less anxious. Sleepovers were a struggle as well, again due to not wanting to be away from home and my mom. Are we sensing a pattern yet? Another memory that sticks out is constantly being sad. Not moody, as would be expected from a pre-pubescent girl, but just plain sad. It was like I was physically and mentally unable to see the good things in the day. I was constantly bogged down with sadness, and people noticed. Classmates would ask, ”What’s up?” and I would typically reply with something along the lines of, “I’m having a tough time today.” Except for one day, one day, a classmate responded with, “You’re always depressed.” This happened in eighth grade when I was thirteen years old. I recently turned twenty-six and hold a very vivid memory of this moment still to this day.
If I remember correctly, around fifth grade or so, my mom took me to see a counselor for my continued, yet unexplained stomachaches. I don’t really remember the sessions much, and my mom says that I didn’t see the counselor for very long. Other than that, I remember being in and out of the school counselor’s office a lot. I never felt that it was helpful, though. Honestly, I always felt like I was being a burden, which only made things worse. I already had low self-esteem from being chubby and having beyond terrible acne, and now my mental health was a burden to the school officials who were supposed to be there to help me. What a great way to prepare for high school.
I don’t remember having a terrible amount of anxiety in high school that wasn’t related to schoolwork. I was a very focused student, and to say that I put an extreme amount of pressure on myself to do well is an understatement. Unfortunately, I got the same sort of run around with the guidance counselors as I did in grade school. I can remember going into their office sobbing and being told that the counselors were only there to assist with class schedules. What kind of gimmick is that?! High school students are a part of the population that is at high risk for mental health issues, and our guidance counselors are only there to assist with adding/dropping classes?? Students this age are extremely vulnerable and impressionable, yet from personal experience I can tell you that resources are scarce during school hours.
The summer after I graduated high school I got myself into what turned out to be an extremely toxic relationship (it was also my very first relationship). I began college that fall and I was truly enjoying my new routine in Boston; however, as that relationship started to slowly and very painfully fall apart, so did I. I sought support through the college’s mental health center. It was in my first session that I was informed that I was limited to 8-10 sessions. While I was thankful for the sessions that I was “allowed,” I was fearful of opening up too much knowing that they would soon come to an end. I was able to talk a lot but I don’t feel like I really received any useful coping tips/mechanisms.
Through all of these years, and still to this day, I’ve had one constant when I’ve felt that I had no one else helping me or no one else I could turn to: my mom. My mom has always been there for me no matter what. Through thick and thin, happy and sad, silly problems and serious ones, I always did and still always can depend on her. My husband is slowly beginning to learn more about what anxiety is, what I go through, and how he can help me as well. Now, here’s where the real stuff starts.
Nineteen was a rough year for me. In February of that year, my uncle Dan passed away (he was my dad’s cousin, but to me, family is family). I had only met him a few times, but the members of my family who knew him well and were close to him were completely devastated. It was heartbreaking for me to see my family members suffering and grieving. At that time, my maternal grandmother was battling stage 4 breast cancer that had metastasized. My grandmother was my best friend and watching the inevitable slowly happen was mentally draining and exhausting. It was this, among a few other things that finally pushed me into getting real, professional help that summer.
It was the summer of 2009 when I met my first counselor, Larry. Larry was a Godsend. He talked me through many small situations and helped me prepare as much as possible and then grieve through my grandmother’s death. She passed away on February 24, 2010, and it was the worst day of my life. The first person I called was Larry and knowing that he was there for me made things that much easier. Larry also encouraged me to get on an antidepressant, as well as something for my anxiety. For the five years that I was a patient of Larry’s I had a lot of ups and a lot of downs. I worked through many issues, the biggest being grieving, though in my opinion this never really ends. It doesn’t necessarily get easier with time, either. You just learn to cope, and without Larry’s help there’s a good chance that I’d still be a wreck, five and a half years later.
In March of 2014, Larry referred me to a psychiatric nurse practitioner to assist with my medications. My PCP had been prescribing them but no longer felt comfortable as we kept having to make changes (medications not working well for me, adverse reactions, etc.). In April of 2014, I had one of the worst anxiety attacks I’ve ever had. I woke up anxious about going to work. I physically could not get out of bed. I was holding on to a bottle of Xanax, but instead of taking all of the pills I called my mom. She turned around from her way to work to come to my apartment. I called the nurse practitioner who told me to increase the dose of my Prozac and that she’d see me next week. I was so offended by the fact that I was explaining my suicidal thoughts to her and she was like, “Well, feel better!” I called Larry, who talked me down and stayed on the phone with me until my mom got to my apartment.
This “episode” turned into a medical leave that lasted through the end of July. During this time I experienced social anxiety and difficulty getting out of bed, and I was very withdrawn. I reluctantly went back to the first nurse practitioner, but that ended quickly. I saw her from March through May, and in that short period of time she added and took away medications left and right from my daily regimen. I was a complete mess. I moved on to a new nurse practitioner who straightened out my medications, but she told me not to be surprised if I got terminated when I started back at work if I didn’t perform to my full potential. How encouraging, right? (I am still at the same job and doing very well.)
At this point in time I had stopped seeing Larry on the mutual feeling that I was doing well on my own. I no longer felt like I was getting anything out of my sessions. This nurse practitioner, the same one who discouraged me about work but who would no longer write notes keeping me out of work, recommended counseling. She basically said that something obviously happened to trigger the initial panic attack and we need to dig. I declined, saying that I had already dug and I didn’t know why I had that panic attack that day. Since I didn’t want to go to counseling, she refused to continue treatment.
I went back to work at the end of July and lasted until the beginning of December. I felt myself slowly slipping into a dark place again, so on to nurse practitioner number three it was. Same story. He was smart with the medications and approved my medical leave, but when I refused to sit through counseling sessions being forced to dig through my child hood and uncover some tragic event that in reality never even happened, he refused to continue treating me.
So now I was on medical leave number two and without help. My mom came home from work one day with a book for me to read. The book was written by a friend of her boss who is an integrative doctor. He looks at depression and how it affects one’s entire body, rather than just the mind. The book changed my entire way of thinking, and essentially, my life. I was able to get an appointment with a nurse practitioner that worked under this doctor’s supervision, and after several lab tests, the addition of many supplements to my daily regimen, and minimal changes to my current medications, I began to make progress. For the first time in my entire life people were listening. Rather than throwing zillions of drugs in my face and saying get counseling, they listened and ran diagnostic tests to get to the bottom of things. After building trust with them I did go to one of their counselors, who I now don’t know what I’d do without her.
I’m certainly not cured. I don’t know if I’ll ever be cured, but I’m coping and moving forward with my life. As you can see it was a long and painful journey for me before I finally found the correct help, but it was completely worth it. I still struggle. In fact, just this past weekend I had a very bad anxiety attack, suicidal thoughts and all. I was able to see my counselor and the nurse practitioner this week, and I’m getting the help that I need. This bad wave will pass and I’ll get back on track — I’m sure of it.
The recovery process certainly has not been an easy one. It began as an uphill battle, as I was at rock bottom, and it’s still an uphill battle. If not for the motivation from my doctors, friends, and family, as well as my own willingness to fight, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Throughout recovery I have learned that it’s okay to ask for help. In fact, one of the most important things to do is ask for help. Your loved ones want to help you get better, but they can’t read your minds, and most of the time they’re willing to bend over backwards for you.
Recovery is also helping me with getting out what’s on my mind. I wear my heart and my emotions on my sleeve, so it is very easy for my counselor, my doctor, and my mom to know when I’m not saying something. I tend to keep things in because I don’t want to be a burden or I think that what I have to say is stupid. I’m learning that both of those though processes are false. I’m not a burden and I can’t be helped if I don’t say what I’m truly thinking or feeling. There are people in the world who have it way worse than me, but that doesn’t make my thoughts and feelings stupid or insignificant. The way they affect me is real, and I need help to work through and conquer them. I’m sure that my recovery process will teach me many more valuable lessons and provide me with more coping mechanisms, but this is where I am now.