It’s really hard to put such a broad topic into writing. Because, I’m going to be really honest, even though I am open about my anxiety and depression if people ask me about it, I’ve never been quite this open and I’ve never been able to tell my whole story. Something inside of me still believes that there is something inherently, completely wrong with me. But over the years, my anxiety and depression have become a part of my identity and existence, and to go about life without talking about them would be wrong.
My First Encounter With Anxiety
The first time I had an anxiety attack was when I was 10. My parents always wondered why I never excelled in math classes when I was rising above in every other subject. It took a few years to realize that I was having anxiety attacks every time I had to take a test. Timed tests were the worst, but it honestly didn’t matter. Whereas I completely understand that nervousness is a common symptom of test taking, this was much worse. As soon as a test would get handed out, my body would shut down. My vision would start to go to shit, I would start counting the seconds and minutes in my head, even when it wasn’t a timed exam, my body would itch and sweat uncontrollably and my brain would just stop functioning. I mean that could be a total exaggeration, but to anyone who knows test anxiety, it’s not really something easy to describe OR understand. Following these early instances of anxiety attacks, I started seeing a neurologist, every once in a while, to see what we could do to help resolve some of my anxiety, and to see what I could do personally when I found myself in the midst of an anxiety attack. These visits helped greatly, and although I’ve never actually verbally thanked my parents for their help, I could not be more grateful.
I’ve tried for years to think of a better way to describe it to the people I love, but there’s no better word than emptiness.
My First Encounter With Depression
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for anxiety and depression to go hand in hand. With a family history of depression, I shouldn’t have been quite as shocked as I was when I first started battling depression. But I was. I thought I could be the exception in our family: the positive, life-loving, cheery, upbeat exception. Unfortunately, as I’ve come to see, outwards portrayal of happiness and positivity has absolutely no reflection of a person’s everyday internal struggle.
I first experienced depression when I was in high school. There is no other way to describe the way I feel depression than by saying that I feel empty. I’ve tried for years to think of a better way to describe it to the people I love, but there’s no better word than emptiness. During my first encounter with depression, I blamed it on a book I was reading at the time (and to be totally fair, the second book in the Twilight series IS very sad and emotional), but there was something more. I broke down in fits of tears one night when I was alone in my bedroom, completely baffled and perplexed by this feeling. Luckily, it was a few years before this feeling returned. Unfortunately, the time my depression returned, it hit hard, and it was there to stay for good.
Life In College
For some ridiculously crazy (but absolutely brilliant) reason, I decided to go out-of-state for college. Anyone who reads this who goes/went out-of-state for college, you understand. It’s hard to be far away in a new city, a new state, a new environment without your home or family to run to every weekend. Anyone who reads this who was able to settle in with absolute ease while attending college out-of-state, I commend you. That is no easy feat. But while others seemed to fit in their freshman year, my transition was not so pleasant.
I found that I couldn’t listen to certain songs or say certain things because the empty pit inside my stomach would numb my entire body.
My depression hit almost immediately after moving to Wisconsin for school. At first, I thought my depression resulted from the cloudier weather and change of location, but there were so many factors that could’ve contributed to this onset, including distance from my parents, growing apart from some of the friends I once thought I would grow old with, learning to live on my own, surviving an unfortunate roommate situation (twice in one year) and finding my balance as a full-time dance student wanting to pursue journalism instead. The first semester I lost 15 pounds (and grew an inch). Although it’s funny to joke about, I was so sick to my stomach 80% of the time from feeling depressed, I couldn’t do much more than eat a Cliff Bar and drink a Gatorade whenever I started to shake. Anytime I thought about my parents being 1,000 miles away, I would lose my appetite and resort to just drinking coffee and hiding in my room. I knew it wasn’t healthy, but my body couldn’t do much more.
I started seeing a counselor, therapist if you will. But I only went a few times. Each time, if she even uttered the word “mom” or “mother,” I would burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably, taking minutes for me to even speak. I missed my mom more than anything in the world, and I still do to this day. Because being away from your best friend is tough. And knowing I couldn’t just pack my bags and go home killed me. So there I was: depressed, refusing to go to counseling or use antidepressant medication (because at the time, I refused to believe it would help). I was completely lost. I had a lot of unresolved internal qualms that plagued me every single day. It took a lot to keep me from running away from my problems. It got to the point when I would have anxiety attacks, losing my ability to breath, because of an abusive friendship I was in. I found that I couldn’t listen to certain songs or say certain things because the empty pit inside my stomach would numb my entire body. And I didn’t enjoy doing the things I loved much anymore, like dancing or writing. I still find this a problem when my depression gets bad in present time.
It took a long time for me to get a hold of what needed to happen. It took me a long time to find a friend group with my peers who supported me and lifted me up, rather than tearing me down. I was able to come to the terms with the fact that not all my friendships from home would survive my early adult life, and that it was a natural part of growing up. But this process took a long time. And if you think I’m trying to tell you I don’t stalk the hell out of my friends from high school, you’d be so wrong. I do (don’t we all, though?).
When I finally agreed to start medication for my depression, I was in a better place in my life. I knew the medication wasn’t just because I was homesick, having troubles with friends and adjusting to college. It took many doctors appointments, and, finally, I got a low dosage of an antidepressant. After a few months, I felt normal again. It’s hard to describe the feeling that anti-depressants give you. Because they don’t make you happy per-se. They just make you feel normal. I no longer had spontaneous crying fits anymore or an empty pit in my stomach. I just felt normal.
Life In New York City & Beyond
All was fine and dandy with my antidepressants (when I remembered to take them) until I graduated and moved to New York. For those of you still reading, wow, congrats, you’re actually awesome. I can’t believe you made it this far. But now you’re almost up to speed.
When I moved to New York this past May, I had completely romanticized the city. Thank you, SATC. For the record, I wasn’t one of those people who thinks that the city is “magical” and “dreamy” and that 5th Ave is the most wonderful place on earth (because, let’s be honest, midtown is rubbish). But in a way, I had definitely romanticized the city. I thought that when I moved, I’d make fabulous friends at work, I would spend my weekends wandering around the city, hopping from cafes to bars and shops in between. But the glass completely shattered. And even though I do blame SATC for my romantic feelings for New York, there really is no better quote than when Carrie says “In New York, they say, you’re always looking for a job, a boyfriend or an apartment.” Although I’ve got a tight grasp on the boyfriend situation, my first few months in the city were a prime example of the job and apartment hunt fiasco.
You see, when you start a new job (and when you start your very first job in a big city after graduating from college), you expect to receive some sort of respect from your employer. Unfortunately, my first job out of college did not seem to be that way at all. The months that followed my move to New York are what I like to consider my “Devil Wears Prada” months, and not in the glamorous way at all. During these few months, the empty pit in my stomach returned, and anxiety attacks occurred, uncontrollably, at least two or three times a week.
I felt disrespected as a human being, tossed around, overworked and abused.
This time, instead of the running away from my feelings and going home to see my parents, I felt like I didn’t have a home. I no longer lived in Madison, where it felt most like home. My home in Colorado was now 2,000 miles away instead of just 1,000 miles away, and the closest thing I had to a “home” at the time was a subletted room in the middle of a neighborhood that felt completely foreign to me. No matter what I did, the feeling wouldn’t go away.
It’s important to note that I will always be incredibly thankful for my first job. It’s the reason I moved to New York City (although I do believe I would’ve moved here anyways). It’s also the reason for learning so many valuable life lessons. And I will always be so grateful for having learned what I did in those short four months. But the unfortunate thing is: your personality doesn’t always fit the personality of a company. And because of this mismatched personality, I went to work every morning, counting down the hours, the minutes and the seconds until I could leave. I felt disrespected as a human being, tossed around, overworked and abused. These sentiments combined with my lack of home during those first few months made me feel completely lost.
One day, I was out at lunch at a nearby cafe, when I called my mother. I was in the middle of an anxiety attack. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was pounding, I felt sick to my stomach and no matter how hard I tried, I had a feeling deep inside me that I couldn’t go on with my life the way it was — or even at all. Suicidal thoughts had never consumed me prior to these few months. And looking back on that day when everything broke, I can’t even fathom why the thoughts could ever cross my mind. My mother, on the other end of the line, tried to console me, but it took my well over my 40 minute lunch time (and a visit from Jorge during his lunch break) to calm me down. It was in that moment when I realized that although my job search had been so far unsuccessful, I needed to do what would be best for my mental health. After the anxiety attack came and went that day, I made the executive decision to quit my job without any outstanding job offer in the works, and live off of my savings.
Obviously things worked out fine (and honestly quicker than I could have even imagined), but that’s a story for another day. What I hope to accomplish with this essay is to shine a light on mental health and explain that things aren’t always the way they seem. During the past five years of my life, my smiling profile pictures on Facebook, every #coffeegram and every single sassy tweet have portrayed a life that’s VERY different from what I was really experiencing. Those of you who thought I was living out my dreams in New York City might be very shocked to know that I had an extremely rocky start to my adult life. But here it is. I’m not perfect (and nor should anyone strive to be). I’ve struggled, a lot. And I know there are a lot of us out there who have had bumpy rides. I’m here to tell you, you are not alone.
If you should ever find yourself in a situation similar to the one I experienced last fall, or if you know of someone currently struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
And if you want to hear more of this story, or discuss your own with me, I am all ears. Please don’t feel afraid to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org