What is the story related to mental health, suicide, and/or resilience that you’d like to share?
My story is long, winding, painful, but hopeful. I have struggled with depression, anxiety, and anorexia for more than half of my life. Being forced to face life with these struggles and after the loss of several family members forced me to ask for help even when I didn’t want to keep living and felt I couldn’t be helped.
When I was a freshman in high school, I had moved to a much bigger school and was struggling to make friends. I was always a very anxious adolescent with perfectionistic tendencies and was competitive in dance and figure skating. I remember someone pointing out calories on a box of candy and stating, “That’s a lot of calories,” and suddenly, I became really obsessive about different diets, calories, and exercise and began restricting my food intake. I was isolating and solely focused on what I ate and the numbers on the scale. I knew I was losing weight, but I didn’t understand how unhealthy I had become and how dangerously underweight I was. I was constantly having crying spells and anger outbursts at my family and knew something was wrong but didn’t want to admit to it. My dance instructor and girls in my class were commenting on how I looked “sick” and I also had some family members express their concern. I remember finally looking in a mirror one night and couldn’t recognize the girl looking back at me. I finally broke down one night and said I needed help and my parents took me to a doctor the next day and we were then referred to a therapist. I began going to therapy once a week and began a “refeeding” process to put weight back on. I was extremely resistant to all of it at first, but I knew I needed to face my fears if I wanted to live but honestly there were several times that I didn’t want to. I labeled myself as sick, weird, messed up, crazy, weak, etc. for having “problems.”
Therapy not only saved my life but changed it for the better. I learned there were a lot of items I needed to address besides just my eating disorder, and as I began to get physically healthier, my mental health improved as well. I was considered “in recovery” a couple years later but continued to struggle with disordered eating, which also exacerbated the depression and anxiety. After taking psychology classes in high school, I decided that one day I would like to become a therapist or a social worker in order to help others. I realized that life is not meant to be lived alone, and you don’t always have the answers. Everyone needs a team behind them, and I wanted to be a part of a team as a positive influence.
Several years went by, and I was feeling pretty good overall but still struggled from time to time. Before my senior year of college, in June of 2010, my younger brother was diagnosed with leukemia. He passed away in May of 2012. I ended up withdrawing from school in order to spend time with him and my family. After he passed, I was completely numb to life. I had never experienced grief before and was trying to navigate through it in healthy ways. Five months after my brother passed away, my father passed away suddenly from a heart attack. I spent several months isolating, crying, and angry at the world. Eventually, I reached out to my therapist and began seeing her regularly again. I went to therapy for over a year and still was struggling with severe symptoms of depression and anxiety and decided to add medication as part of my treatment. I wrestled with the concept of being on medication for a long time, but honestly it has helped me tremendously. Hopefully there will come a day where I can manage my symptoms without it, but until then I take medication and go to therapy.
I gave myself some time in between undergrad and applying to graduate school because I knew that I wasn’t in a very good place emotionally to take on a master’s program. But in 2014 I knew I was ready to pursue my goal of becoming a therapist. In 2017 I graduated with a master’s in clinical Mental Health Counseling and was offered a position at an agency in Sioux Falls, S.D. It was here that I experienced a lot of growth personally and professionally. I was able to work with individuals, couples, families, and groups. With supervision and support from co-workers, friends, and family, I obtained my licenses in both mental health and addictions. I now have my own private practice where I work with adults with a variety of diagnoses and am honored that people share their stories of hardship and triumph with me.
Remembering that there is always hope and living for the people who can’t has helped me live each day with greater purpose. Life truly is what you make of it. One of the bravest things I have ever done was to keep living.
What resources have helped you to address this challenge?
Therapy. Education. Friends.
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?
Education and supportive conversations. Nature and nurture play a role in one’s ability “to roll with the punches.” With support, we can help those more vulnerable or struggling to adapt to adversity and learn healthy coping mechanisms.
What is one thing related to mental health, suicide, or resilience that you wish everyone could understand?
Individuals struggling with their mental health are hurting. They are not choosing to be sick. We are all people trying to get through life. We are no greater than or less than anyone standing beside us. The strongest people I know are the clients that I see for therapy. It is a privilege to be able to help others.