Title: By day, I’m the digital communications manager for a large, progressive nonprofit; in my spare time, I blog at GreatestEscapist.com and freelance for Cleveland Magazine.
I survived (and lovingly battle): depression and suicidal ideations.
My favorite mantra: “Press on, regardless.” This was my dad’s mantra; he died in 1995 after a valiant fight against lung cancer – and I’m hoping to get these words tattooed on my body soon, written in his handwriting.
When did you first realize you were struggling with your Mental Health? What was your first line of action when it came to getting better?
I think I’ve struggled with my mental health, in some form or another, since childhood; I was always a shy kid who struggled with self-esteem issues and struggled to make or keep close friendships.
Those issues came to the surface when I left for college at a large state school a few hours away from home, a notorious party school where I joined a sorority and befriended girls who would never have been friends with me in high school. I struggled so hard to keep up that facade – to fit in, to be cool enough, to maintain appearances, to get them to keep liking me – and it was all so exhausting that I basically fell apart.
I started planning my suicide sometime during my sophomore year, after my friends finally ditched me and shattered what little self-esteem I still had – but I was too scared to follow through with it, so I mostly suffered in silence.
As I recently shared in Cleveland Magazine, it was only the death of my high school boyfriend, who hung himself in his garage in February of my junior year, that I recognized I had to make changes and seek help for my own issues. His death jolted me into the realization that I wanted to survive.
What does your struggle look and feel like to you?
When I am struggling, it can come in the form of depression (not wanting to get out of bed, canceling plans, feelings of worthlessness, crying for no reason, and snapping at the people I love) or anxiety (an overall panicky feeling, hyperventilating, actual panic attacks, bodily pain for clenching my muscles while hunched over computers trying to meet deadlines). The list goes on and on…
These days, my “mental health issues” are much vaguer and more undefined than they once were; I don’t always struggle daily, or even weekly or monthly. Still, I know that I am prone to depression and anxiety, so I take steps to manage those concerns the best I can, all in the hopes that they won’t arise often or badly.
I believe that, having experienced severe depression and anxiety, I am now better equipped to realize the signs of that depression and/or anxiety as they start to creep back into my life, so that I can head them off at the pass before they get bad again.
How do you prioritize your mental-health? What are a few wellness tools or practices you use to manage your mental-health?
For me, just recognizing my own versions of “healthy” versus “unhealthy” is vital. To do that, I have to take time to check in with myself on a regular basis: to assess how I’m feeling; to get in touch with my feelings and my physical reactions; and then to react appropriately, like by taking a mental health day, speaking with my therapist, getting a massage, or even just taking a nap.
It also means being proactive, primarily by taking antidepressants and knowing my triggers so that I can avoid or manage them when possible. For example, I know that my anxiety flares up if I pack in too many plans or deadlines; I can manage this trigger by saying “no” to things, by scheduling me-time, and by being honest with my husband, my mom, or my friends if I need to cancel plans to maintain my own mental health.
How did or do your loved ones react to your mental-health?
My mom, at least, has always been a little wary of how much of my mental health journey I share online. She’s concerned that it will impact the way people see me, or the reputation I could otherwise build, or my employment opportunities. She’s my mom, you know? She worries about me. But she’s also been very supportive, trying her best to be there for me. She supported me when I decided to start therapy, soothed me when I was upset about going on antidepressants, and has shared some of her own mental health journey with me in solidarity and support.
My husband, too, has been very supportive, although, frankly, because he never knew the version of me that suffered in that dark place, I sometimes worry what it would be like for him – for us – if I got sick again. You can’t really know how your loved ones will react until you’re in that situation, and I never want to be there again. Luckily, he’s very supportive when it comes to my being open about my mental health, including talking about how I’m feeling, telling him what I need from him when I’m having a hard time, and just generally being open and loving.
Share one piece of advice for someone in the thick of their mental-health journey:
Press on, regardless. Seriously. Just keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other, and know that even if it doesn’t feel better today, or tomorrow, or the next day, you are moving forward, and forward is the only way through. You’ve just got to press on in order to get there.