My Mental Health Journey – Part 1

PSA: I am sharing my journey for me. Admitting what has been happening is one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I am still not at that level of admitting what’s happening to a lot of people I know. This is my first step forward. Mental health is serious and anyone struggling should always be treated with respect. If you aren’t sure if your words to someone in this situation are appropriate, always ask yourself “would I say this to someone who has a physical illness, like cancer?” Be respectful. Always. Plain and Simple.

My incomplete homage to such a lovely artist

My incomplete homage to such a lovely artist

My Story: There are two mental health issues that I have been living with – one has been a loyal companion for the better part of my life, while the other is a newer surprise. They are: anxiety and depression. While I accept all the challenges that anxiety has to offer, depression was something I was just not equipped to handle/comprehend.

When I was in university, I was convinced, like a larger majority of people my age, that I would get a job upon graduation and be a fully functioning adult – with no need, want, or desire to move back home. Unfortunately, an indecisive mind resulted in me doing just that. At the start of my senior year, I declared that I would become an actuary. It seemed like a sound, responsible job choice in that moment; I would have a well-paying job right from the start that would only continue to grow as I remained dedicated to the field. The additional bonus: it is one of the most in-demand jobs right now. So what went wrong (because you can clearly tell how enthusiastic I was about all of this)?

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To achieve this “actuarial” status, this so called path to a better life, I knew I would have to suck up my pride and move back home to commit to studying for my first level exam. With the need to be dedicated to my studies, I knew I would also have to just get any simple job in the mean time to pay off my >$100K in student loans (yes it happens – mine are federal and private, and I was not fortunate enough to have parents who were able to contribute to my education). For the first few months, life was actually working. Was I making enough money to really live life? No. But I was studying and, dare I say, actually understanding the material.

I’ll never forget the day I completed my actuarial textbook. I read every chapter, did every practice problem (yes – I was that committed to making this happen). It was then time to do the fine-tooth combing – the part of studying that we all hate: memorizing the nitty-gritty details and continuing to go over them until they are embedded in our minds (almost as if an extension of ourselves).

That was the moment. The single moment where I knew I couldn’t be an actuary. It was because I wasn’t capable – my practice problems begged to differ there. It was the commitment. I knew the moment  I had to really take-in this information as my own, that I had no interest in it. It was the last thing I wanted to be doing with my life. I had no interest, no passion, no want.

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So my new, unexpected journey began. Here I was, working a minimum wage job with no game plan. While the job surprisingly didn’t turn out to be the worst thing ever, it did open the window for a new friend to slowly begin to trickle in. At this point, depression and I were just dancing around each other. Translation: the start of me being in denial that I could ever have something like this. But as most people know, pushing things aside doesn’t make it better. While we might not have been in a full on Tango with one another yet, we were about to soon. What was the next trigger? The true thing that caused a snowballing effect on my life, when I got a new “big girl” job.

One would assume that pulling yourself out, of what you thought was a less than ideal situation, would bring you some happiness. We all do things in life that we don’t want or like to do, but we do them. And this shouldn’t have been any different. It’s all in the gut for me. It’s how I make so many choices in my life – if something doesn’t feel right, I don’t do it. I trust myself the make that decision. And for this job, I went against that for the betterment of my financial situation. While I am eternally grateful to be employed and have a job, I’m still not living the life I wanted. Out of nowhere, my life was not in a place where I wanted it to be.

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I firmly believed that once I switched jobs, my life would improve drastically. Don’t get me wrong, there is no better feeling in the world than being able to pay your bills and finally being able to save money. But I imagined my life different…and almost better. As this feeling began to consume my body, it was further pushed along by my loneliness. I have been in relationship for almost two years now, and yet somehow most of the time I feel so alone. When I moved back home, I was so set on not staying here. So when my life plans changed, I was not prepared. To this day, my closest friends are not even in the same state as me (which is complicated when you need a strong support network surrounding you). My best friend is a 3rd year med student currently knee-deep in rotations. This basically translates into 5am mornings until whenever hospitals/offices release her each day…and then combined that with my eastern, her central time. It’s just not the best mix.

Thankfully, due my best friend Alex’s med student status, she has access to some useful psychological questionnaires. Knowing this, I asked her if she could ask me the questions on gauging depression levels to see where I fell on the scale. At this point, I subconsciously knew I was depressed but I was in a simultaneous denial. I just kept telling myself that I was to just calling myself depressed to be more dramatic, and that I am really just sad. The truth is, I wasn’t. I ranked Moderate to Severe depression, landing right on the line between the two. As she asked me the questions to scale my depression, I never realised how much of my daily life was altered due to depression. You never think about all the layers of depression. And this is one of the saddest facts of society. We know depression can be serious, but we also are completely uneducated on what it means to be depressed, and how that translates into society. I remember the first time I told my mom about what was happening. Of course she is my mom and loves me and wants the best for me, but when I opened up to her about my depression, she doubted me. Telling me that I wasn’t depressed and that I being over dramatic. I don’t blame her for thinking that way because my mom and I only see each other a few times a month if we are lucky (and I’m usually in a better mood when I see my mom). I understood why she was in denial because it was similar reasons as to why I was. But unfortunately for me, when someone ever questions my emotions and tell me what I am “feeling”….I tend to snap a little. No one can tell me how I feel except me. So when that snap appeared in my voice, she knew I was serious.

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Depression hits us all uniquely – in different ways, at different points in our lives. I am by no means an expert…because honestly, I am still learning to accept that this is happening to me right now. But I thought I could at least share what depression is like for me:

My depression sucks away my motivation and almost creates a cloud of hopelessness around me. I know that they only person who can change my present and make a better future is me. But I’m finding it really difficult to overcome that given my current moods. It somehow takes all of my energy to explore outlets that I would be interested in. It’s hard to change your tomorrow when you don’t feel like doing anything today. A constant battle and fight – that’s depression. The goal is to come out the winner, and I know I will! It might take some time, some more bumpy roads, and long days and nights, but I can get there. I have to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel – that there is more to life than this!

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As time progresses, I’ll keep you posted on how my life is going- hopefully in the future I’ll become more open about how it has truly altered my life, but for now it’s a start. It’s one step forward and I couldn’t ask for more.

With love, Steph

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