What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?

I was 24, fresh out of a series of unhealthy relationships, including what I would later recognize as a sexual assault the previous winter. I was a USD grad student at the time and living alone. The assault happened in my apartment, and it was hard to avoid triggers in a small town—especially when, at the time, I was trying to maintain a friendship with the person who hurt me. I fell behind on course work, struggled with under eating and over-indulging in alcohol. I started self-harming, partly to offset some of my internal pain by bringing some of it to the surface, but also as a sort of test. If I ever did decide I couldn’t live anymore, did I have what it took to “do it.”

I’d started an internship with South Dakota Public Broadcasting—where I now work as a host and producer—and would often find myself on the verge of tears sitting at my desk. I had a panic attack after seeing my perpetrator on social media moments before I went live with the noon newscast. I managed to hold it together for the four-minute news report (a colleague even told me I did a fantastic job), then went to the bathroom to cry. Most people didn’t know how badly I was suffering, and I did that on purpose. I was hurting, but I also hated myself a bit for hurting so much when I’d had such a privileged life. I worked in the news, and understood there were so many bigger problems in the world. How dare I feel so bad? What am I doing to help the world?

I recognized early on that I was in a dangerous mindset, so I started making use of the free counseling services for students on campus. I told my counselor in our first meeting that, “I don’t have time to be this sad,” which felt true as pressure mounted with school and other responsibilities, but I also worried I couldn’t get through this rough patch on my own. That service, and a determination not to hurt my parents by dying, saved my life.

It took about eight months of counseling, journaling, and work before I managed to see the other side of that dark chapter. A couple years later, I decided to finally seek medication to help manage my depression. During the pandemic, I started counseling again to deal specifically with the sexual assault that triggered that depression in 2017. I look back on that time now with love and gratitude for myself for surviving.

 

 

What resources have helped you to address this challenge?

Journaling, talk therapy, Sertraline, USD’s student counseling services

 

Based on your experience, how can we work to build resilience in ourselves, our loved ones, and in our communities to better face life’s challenges?

The more we can make counseling and management resources available the better, but recognizing symptoms of mental health in ourselves is critical. I only sought help because I recognized I might have a symptom of something bigger, and that helped save my life. That’s part of why sharing a wide variety of stories like these can help break stigma and help ensure people who need help are able to recognize themselves in someone else’s story and know it’s OK to ask for what they need and deserve.

 

What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?

I think of my depressive episodes as a “flare up.” My mom has rheumatoid arthritis—some days her symptoms are more manageable than others. She deals with them through a medication regimen, taking care of her health in other ways, and going easy on herself on days when her symptoms flare. I try to think of my depression in a similar way.