Let’s Talk.

As summer nears an end and many students and teachers are gearing up for another school year, it’s important to recognize the symptoms of depression.

With the rise of social media incorporated into everyone’s daily lives (mine included) it can be easy to display a confident, happy façade. Instead of pretending that the world is full of butterflies and rainbows, let’s focus on having real conversations that matter.

I read stories about depression and suicide on a weekly basis, each one hitting close to home and reminding me of a time and place in my own life when these thoughts and feelings were all too familiar. Today I read a New York Times article shedding light on depression and suicide among students. It pains me to see that, since 2007, suicide rates among 15-24 year-olds have increased. I forget sometimes that, as willing as I am to talk about these subjects, they are still very much taboo, especially to our youth.

That’s why I love reading about non-profits like Active Minds or TWLOHA becoming more and more active on campuses across the U.S. I love reading articles like this one, a major newspaper, willing to tackle topics that are so important to talk about. We’re all aware that these topics make so many people uncomfortable and can be hard to open up about, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the conversation.

This article focused heavily on the use of social media and the effect it has on youth. Sure, a smiling selfie might look great, but do you really know what’s going on in that person’s mind? Instead of constantly posting on Facebook or Snapchatting, have a conversation with the person sitting next to you. Open up about your bad days with your roommate or close friends. I’m guilty of closing off others in light of having a difficult conversation, but maybe this is something we need to challenge ourselves with.

Talk about the things that hurt.

Share the things that upset you.

Ask for help when you need it.

And take the posts you see on social media with a grain of salt. Maybe we’re all just trying to put on a Face to make it seem like we’re not living in some dark, tortured world. Maybe our lives aren’t as happy and perfect as we make them appear on Instagram. And if that’s the case … it’s okay.

If you see someone shutting down, please speak up. If you don’t have a story of your own to share, then share Kathryn DeWitt’s story or share mine, but we need to keep talking about suicide and depression. We need to let the youth of this world know that there is a life possible outside of depression and suicide does not have to be the answer.

The darkness has to end & give way to light

What does depression feel like? I received an email and was asked this question the other day. That’s a loaded question and, for everyone, it’s different. For me, it has felt like the end of everything; being numb to anything and everything. Sometimes wanting to feel something, being aware that there are no emotions packed deep down inside, and worrying that it will stay this way forever.

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Have you ever walked through a dark tunnel or road at night all by yourself? It’s just you and the darkness pressing in all around you. When you speak out loud your voice echoes and, maybe, you can hear the faint sounds of someone in the distance, but you see no sign of anyone around you. You think that, if you can just get to the end of the road, you’ll see you’re not really alone. Eventually, you know the darkness has to end and give way to light, but the longer and further you walk, the more afraid you get that maybe you were wrong. Maybe darkness only gives way to darkness. That, to me, is what depression feels like.

When I was little I would go swimming, I would always try to swim the length of the pool completely underwater. The only problem is that I had terrible lung capacity, so I never made it that far. Most times, as I was swimming to the top, just seconds before my head would break the surface of the water, my lungs would feel like they were on fire. I’d go into a panic worried that, maybe, I wouldn’t make it to the surface in time. My heart would race and it would feel like pins and needles in my arms and legs while I broke into the world again, gasping for air. When I was at my lowest, there were days I would have begged to feel something so real again.

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Over the course of the past three years I’ve had the opportunity to talk with so many different people, ranging from people that I’ve known for years, to complete strangers. Hearing someone’s story about their life, their struggles, their success and frustration, that, for me, is one of the greatest things about this life. Listening to people who, maybe, wouldn’t have been heard otherwise. I have worried about people I’ve never met and sat shaking at my computer as I wrote down my own story. As I wrap up another year I am grateful for an outlet and for the opportunity to speak with so many amazing people. I hope 2015 brings everything you need, but mostly, I hope it brings you happiness.

We matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.

World Suicide Prevention Day.

Many people have no idea this day exists, while others, can’t get it off their mind. I fall into the latter category. My heart is so heavy today.

Three years ago I knew very little about this day, if I was even aware at all that it existed. I knew about depression and suicide, I’ve had my very own struggles with both, but I never stopped to think about a day or a week dedicated to this subject.

What I also didn’t realize was how much of a stigma is tied to mental illness. Sure, I wasn’t willing to open up about my own past or share my own story, but I never stopped to think that others were feeling the same. I thought that I had made the subject taboo in my own life, but I’ve come to understand in the past couple of years that it wasn’t just me, it’s the society that we live in that makes this subject so unmentionable.

Depression. Suicide. Anxiety. PTSD. Why can’t we talk about these?

I’ve heard these called the “invisible disease” because at first glance, you have no idea that the other person is enduring a daily battle inside. But the same can be said for cancer, right? When my mom was first diagnosed with melanoma, you couldn’t tell by looking at her. We talk about cancer, why can’t we talk about mental health? We have telethons and months designated to bring awareness to cancer and other diseases that are widely known and shared, so why isn’t a day like today shared just as openly? Because it makes people uncomfortable? That’s not an answer I’m okay with.

Battling with a mental illness doesn’t make you less of a person. As I was reading through stories of survivors and those who have lost their battle I came across a post that read, “we matter as much as the oxygen we breathe.”

I don’t know if reading that has much power for you as it did for me, but it was enough to make me stop and really take in that statement.

We matter.

You are here for a reason. And so is the person sitting next to you. We’re alive and that’s something we should be proud of. Unfortunately, many people battling with mental illness aren’t able to see that. I was once one of those people. I was convinced that my scars told my story, but the truth I’ve come to realize is, that I have the opportunity to change that story. I had to come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to change my past. There are things I would have done differently, or not at all, but I can’t go back. What I can do, though, is change my future.

Maybe no one needed to hear my story. Or maybe just one person did. It’s worth it, though, because if I could have an impact on that one person, then my job is done.

I’ve loved someone who lost their battle. And that is a weight that I carry around with my every day. The what ifs, the what-could-have-beens, those are questions that, if I give them the power, will easily crush me. But I know there is a purpose to this life and to his. Maybe his story isn’t mine to share, but I’m willing to share mine.

 

Tonight, at 8pm, light a candle next to a window for all the people who couldn’t fight any longer and for those who continue to battle their illness every single day.

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The Chemistry Behind Depression and Mental Illness

Last month I received a phone call from my sister out of the blue. We often catch up weekly, but on this particular week, I had already spoken to her. When I answered the phone, the voice on the other line was full of passion and frustration.

My sister is a chemist who has only a few short months until she receives her PhD. While doing her research, she came across data supporting and explaining the chemical imbalance that someone suffering from depression or a mental illness faces. Although my sister has been a major part of my support system, it wasn’t until last month that I realized just how supportive she really is. She went on to tell me of the frustration she feels when people believe that medications are a “crutch” for someone dealing with a mental illness and the stigma that surrounds this topic.

The comparison was brought about that if you had cancer or diabetes, that medication would be the first step in overcoming and working through those diseases.

“Why, then, wouldn’t someone with a mental illness want to get that same help and treatment?”


My point exactly.

It is in these out-of-the-blue moments and side conversations that I remember why I fight for this cause.

Below is a post from the (almost) Dr. Hoover:

As a scientist, I like to look at problems in a critical manner. When I think of depression or any mental illness, I think of these from a chemical imbalance perspective. If you can inhibit the production of a certain chemical (dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine) and induce depression, how can one argue there is not a need for medication to restore a better balance of these “feel good molecules”?
Major depression affects 5% of people globally. While we refer to it as a chemical imbalance, it’s truly not that simple. Many chemicals are involved in the process, working both inside and outside of nerve cells. Millions, even billions, of chemical reactions are responsible for controlling a person’s mood and how they experience life. Scientists understand the brain better than they ever have, but we have a long way to go to truly understand how depression works at the molecular level. For now, I will choose to focus on dropping the stigma of taking medication that may help a person live a happier, fuller life.

Depression in New Moms

Baby season is in full swing. With the arrival of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s Royal Baby and with other babies popping up all over the radar, both in the news and in personal lives around me, I thought it was important to address the topic of depression in new moms.

Though stories of depression in new parents will not be the stories that make the headlines in the newspapers (apparently not as interesting as Kate and William’s baby name, which is George, by the way), but this is still an important topic to discuss.

One of the main misconceptions people have of pregnant women and new moms are that they should be overjoyed with the arrival of the new baby, but sometimes, this isn’t the case. Not only can depression occur after the baby is born, but depression can occur during the pregnancy stages and can come about long after the baby arrives.

Having a baby, whether it is your very first child or your fifth, can be an overwhelming experience to adjust to. Not only does the new mom have to now deal with the changes of her body and the change of dynamics in the relationship with her significant other, but now a crying infant is thrown into the mix who needs constant love and attention. Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed?

It’s important to take a second to stop and ask yourself if what you’re feeling is short-term, and is just a part of the adjustment period, or if this is more long-term and needs some attention.

Though I’m not a parent, I do know enough about parenting to know that the last thing a mom is going to do is think about herself, but in the end, this can be the most beneficial thing a new mom can do; if not for her own health but for the well-being of her child.

Depression greatly affects the person who is suffering, but it can also begin to affect those closest to that person; especially an infant who is completely dependent on them.

If you think you, or someone you know, may need help, there are online screening tests that can be found online in order to begin to take that first step.

Whether you’re following the Royal Baby, watching Snooki lose her baby weight, or just having conversations with a friend who is beginning the new journey of being a parent, there are important questions to ask and signs to look for.

Cory Monteith’s Death

I woke up with a heavy heart on Sunday morning. As I was going to silence the alarm on my phone I read an update from USA Today that “Glee” star, Cory Monteith, had died the previous day in his Vancouver hotel.

I’m not all that interested in celebrity news, I watch the occasional Entertainment Tonight episode, a few reality shows, and browse the headlines of gossip magazines while in line at the grocery store, but many times when I hear news like this I’m not that affected. This time was different.

I remember hearing back in March that the actor had voluntarily admitted himself into rehab. Given the history of people I care about, I was interested in this news. My own boyfriend had been through a bit of the same thing, so I thought it was a great step for Monteith to take and was even better that his girlfriend, co-star Lea Michele, was standing by his side as well.

So when I heard the news that he died, my mind immediately went to his girlfriend. Granted, I didn’t know the cause behind his death, but being as he had admitted to being a previous addict and his rehab history, I had my speculations.

The news of his death hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know these actors, nor what may go on behind the scenes in their own lives, but I do know what it’s like to love someone who is struggling and I know the heartache that follows losing someone you love so much.

It’s times like these that I wish we could talk openly about mental health, addiction, depression, and substance abuse in our society today. We tend to look down on people involved in any of these, we criticize them for the mistakes they make, comment on their trip(s) to rehab, and then just sit back and hear the news of their death. This isn’t something that we as a society should just accept.

Whether it’s a celebrity, co-worker, or your best friend, we need to open our eyes to the struggles that people we see every day are enduring. We can’t wait until it’s too late to speak up or ask someone if they’re okay.

Daily Reminders

This past Monday I was approached by a friend at the end of, what seemed to be, a very long day.

“Tell me one thing about your day that you really enjoyed.”

For a person who gets the Monday Blues pretty regularly, this was a hard question for me to answer. After thinking for a little bit of one thing that happened that day that made me happy, I responded.

“My drive to and from work…I rolled my windows down and turned my country music up. And for a little bit, it felt as though I didn’t have a care in the world.”

Something as simple as that was the one thing I looked forward to that day. And still do most days. That little time I took out of the day for me, made some of the unbearable days, seem a little more bearable.

A few days after that conversation, my sister sent me a link to a site that displayed over 20 photos and stories of people with depression who found strength and comfort in their tattoos they chose as daily reminders of how far they had come. By the time I came to the end of the slideshow, I could feel the sense of loss and defeat that these people had been through, but I could also see the strength and empowerment they felt from overcoming their daily battles, even if it was only for a moment.

It was then that I looked down at my wrist and realized I was one of those people, too. The simple tattoo I have on my write says Breathe. I got it after my mom had been hospitalized from her cancer and saw how hard it was for her to take a simple breath or to walk a flight of stairs.

I realized how much I had been taking my life for granted. I spent most of my days feeling sorry for myself or questioning why I was put in the situations that I had been. I was blaming the world for all of my problems but not doing anything to change my life. Don’t get me wrong, I still have plenty of those days where I just want to wallow, but now when I do I look down at my wrist. I see the reminder for me to take a breath. Slow my life down and, instead of getting overwhelmed at the big picture, live in the moment. I wrote this the day before I got the tattoo:

One word. It’s a part of every second of every day. It’s supposed to be one of the most simple things a human can do. But sometimes life and events can get in the way. And what was once simple, is now more difficult than ever. It’s in these moments that you have to remember you’re stronger than you believe. Just breathe.

Some days are harder than others, that’s no surprise. And having a reminder or something to look forward to each day isn’t always going to change the hard days. But some days it helps.
Even in our darkest moments, we need to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Because, no matter how far away that light may be, it is there.

Just Breathe

“Is it worth it?”

Is it worth it? Those four words can have so much power behind them.

Is it worth it to travel across country, just because you want to? Is it worth it to go to college? To fall in love? To get a divorce? There are endless possibilities as to what could be worth it.

Last week, I met a woman who quickly turned into a friend and it was as though I’d known her for months instead of days. This woman was going through a major tribulation in her personal life and was at a loss as to what she was supposed to do now. This woman also happened to struggle with her diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia.

I was with this woman for six and a half days straight and we talked about everything we could think of. She told me about her husband and three girls, we talked about college, work, love, and the inevitable heartbreak that we’ve both had to endure in our lives. Of course, that brought up the death of my boyfriend and my mom and the highs and lows I’ve experienced because of the events life has thrown my way.

On the last day together, an hour before I was supposed to leave, this woman called me into her room. She sat down and with tears in her eyes she looked at me and asked those four words.

“Is it worth it?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that question. And even though I knew what she was talking about, I clarified.

“Life?” I responded. And after a few seconds passed, I added, “It really is.”

There have been many times in my life that I have asked myself that exact question. Is life worth the disappointment the heartbreak, the grieving? Is it worth giving up all of the highs for some of the lows?
I don’t think so.

Everyone is going to respond to this question differently, and honestly, I wasn’t sure how I would respond to it until I had no other choice but to reply.

There’s going to be many trials and difficulties in life, but trading all of the good for some of the bad isn’t worth it, either.

After the question was asked, I sat there talking to this woman about being on the other side of suicide and being on the other side of not having a mom. I explained the difficulties I have every day dealing with both of these.

Not every day is going to be perfect, and you’re going to have days that are much more trying than others. But you’re also going to have days that you stand in the sunshine and are so thankful to be alive. Life isn’t going to be easy, but I think that it is worth it.

Depression and Suicide Know No Age Limit

I was reading the TWLOHA blog the other day and came across a story that made me stop in the middle of my day to take a second to think of all the people out there who are, or have, been suffering.
The blog post was written by one of the interns about the depression and suicide attempt that his grandma had gone through. I’m not sure about you, but many times when I think of depression or suicide, I am guilty of thinking mainly of younger people struggling with these issues; rarely do I think that someone my parent’s age, or even older than that, would struggle with such hardships. But it makes sense, doesn’t it? The people in that generation have lived much longer, and faced more struggles in their life than any of us may ever have to endure.
This post broadened my horizons a lot and left me wanting to go hug my grandparents and be willing to listen to their stories – both good and bad.
I hope this post finds you well and has as much impact on your day as it had on mine.