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Real Stories

Meeting Me

Content Warning: This piece contains references to mental health, depression, anxiety and suicide, which may be triggering to some.

Hi, I’m Bree. That girl up there with the big smile, is me at the happiest point in life…that I can remember. This was the summer of 2018.

My downhill battle began later that fall and I realized I didn’t have the strength to stand back up.

The Beginning of the Struggle

The fall of 2018 started my “victory lap” fifth year at Ashland University. I was taking on so many new roles within my major and continuing old ones as well. Being a journalism major gave me so many opportunities to hold leadership positions within our newspaper, radio and television stations. I was coming back as the sports director so I was in charge of all things sports that came out of TV-20. Plus, I was starting a new role as the managing editor of our newspaper, The Collegian. Through the journalism program, I was able to take advantage of my passion for sports by working closely with different sports teams through interviewing coaches, athletes and those who worked for the athletic department as well as sideline reporting.

I started noticing a difference in my stress levels about a month after school started. I would start getting super agitated and easily frustrated, which then turned into panic attacks. I didn’t think the panic attacks were a big deal until I started having multiple per day. I would sit in class and start to feel anxious that I was around people and would have to ask to leave class or wait until a panic attack kicked in that forced me out of class.

I knew with the panic attacks that something was wrong but I ignored them and kept going. I had to pretend I was fine so people wouldn’t ask me what was wrong. I would pretend to be happy and put on a fake smile and that in itself was so exhausting. Pretending to be happy and normal was so mentally and physically draining but as long as I didn’t have to be in touch with my actual emotions and feelings, I was fine. So, I pretended to be fine.

The Hard but Real Times

Around Christmas time, I had a really hard time being happy because of the season. Celebrating Christmas and Jesus was so hard because everyone around me was focused on faith, fellowship and happiness while I was struggling to put on a happy and brave face. Inside, I was in so much pain. Pain that I didn’t want to be in or even feel for another day. In silence and in private, I had hit that rock bottom place and felt all efforts to continue leave my body. I wanted to end it all. I saw no point in letting the anxiety and depression control me. They had won.

The real side of depression and anxiety is that sometimes it gets to be too much. It fully engulfs a person until there is nothing left to take over. The pain becomes not only mental but physical. I’ve heard suicide stories, plans and thoughts from friends who have made the attempts. I never fully understood what they were going through, but I knew it had to be a hard decision. The decision to end your life is not a decision that comes lightly or without much thought. It’s not selfish or meant to hurt anyone. It’s a relief of pain and discomfort for those that have felt it. From the outside looking in, it is hard to understand. I never had thought I would be a person that would sit in those same shoes and contemplate ending my life.

I want to be 100% honest and open about everything I write. There are some things that I will tell you about that I have never told anyone. This is one of them: I had bits and pieces of my end planned out. From how I was going to do it and what I was going to put in my letter. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to continue but I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to give in.

My sister had come home to visit and we sat down in my room together talking about life and what was going on. She was struggling financially and mentally with her life choices. We sat there and talked and I gave her advice like I always do. Once we went to bed, I laid there and thought what would happen if she found me. What if I leave and she has no one to go to about her struggles? I have so much to look for in my friends and family but she was the only one I was concerned about that would be affected by my decision. It was the worst day of my life and in that moment I knew I needed help.

Getting the Help I Deserved

It wasn’t until my revelation that I started to focus on helping myself. A friend had suggested that I try the counseling services offered on campus. So I went and was so disappointed with what I got. I had a male therapist that was overly happy and had a super loud laugh. My first session, I walked in and he shook my hand and told me I looked too sad. The more we got to talking about why I was feeling the way I was, he started saying things like “Wow! You really are anxious.” I started to feel so shameful about the way I was feeling.

He hooked me up to this machine that recorded my heart rate while he showed me things on his computer that were meant to stimulate or de-stimulate anxiety. The scale went from 0-100 and I ranked in the high 90s. He looked at me and said, “That is the highest number I have ever seen in all the years I have done this test. You are anxious for sure.” Besides a few more jokes and non-helpful tips, that was the extent of my therapy with him. I had left the session, almost in tears, and knew I was not going to go through that again.

My friend then suggested that I try the other therapist. After my first try, I was super hesitant but didn’t want to shut down the idea all together. I went and met with the other therapist who was a woman and liked her from the minute I sat down. She asked about me, my life and what I was struggling with. I saw her for a majority of the rest of the school year and was happy I did because I learned so much from her. She taught me how to live with and avoid triggers, how to calm myself down from attacks, breathing exercises and how to set boundaries.

Once I graduated in May, my depression and anxiety got much worse so I decided to get help from a medical professional. After talking with her and doing some tests, she diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder and severe anxiety. She put me on medication and suggested I go see a therapist. As much as I didn’t want to do that, I went. I am a person that hates being vulnerable and sharing my feelings so opening up to a complete stranger was not something that seemed helpful.

Once I started medication and therapy, I told my family and felt the worst of it all. I got things like “What do you have to be depressed about?” or “Like you have anything to be anxious about!” Those who didn’t know about it would see that I was having a bad day and say things like, “Why are you so cranky today?” Comments like that made me feel small, angry and ashamed because I didn’t choose this. No one who deals with it would. Eventually my family learned more about my diagnosis and started to come around and are now so supportive.

The Happiness of Today

I have been on medication and in therapy for almost three months now and the improvement I can see in myself is amazing. I am starting to enjoy all the things I used to before everything hit. I am hanging out with my friends on a more regular basis and I know how to properly set boundaries with them when it comes to my mental health. For the first time in my life, I am practicing self love and it is amazing. I’m not 100% myself now but I like to think that I am at least 70% there. I laugh a lot more, smile a lot more and just overall enjoy life now.

My point in all this is to be an advocate for those that deal with mental illnesses just like me. To advocate for those that don’t have anyone in their corner, for those that lost their hard fought battle and for those that don’t have any idea what to do with what they are feeling. The stigma behind mental illness makes it seem like its it’s not a big deal and it’s “all in your head,” but it’s not. Its a real disease and people are affected by it every day.

It’s okay to not be okay, and I admire the courage some have to seek help–even when they hear all the negative that surrounds it. I wouldn’t be where I am in this journey without the support and love from my friends and family. Be nice and considerate to everyone you come across because you never know what they are dealing with internally and how your words affect them.

This is me today, happier than I ever have been because I’m taking time to focus on myself. So here we are, a year later from the picture at the top, and I’m a different person experiencing a whole new level of happy. Don’t forget that moving forward, it’s okay to not be okay. To myself and others who are affected by mental illness, you are not your illness and what is coming is going to be so much better than what has passed. Keep fighting.

 

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out Keeping the Calm

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by Bree Gannon

I am a 23-year-old who is fresh out of college and living with Major Depressive Disorder and severe anxiety. I enjoy being around my friends, watching baseball and writing for my
blog.

I want to be a voice for those who are too scared or unable to talk about their fears or struggles. No one should go through this fight alone. You are not alone, I am here for you.


Website

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