For those who don’t know someone with a mental illness, it can be hard to imagine what people really go through. Many people have a black and white view on the mentally ill but there are many shades of grey that are never spoken about. I recently got in touch with Casey Wilson through Tumblr, and she agreed to an interview. Casey is a college student suffering from anxiety and depression, and her story presents an inside look into what it’s really like to living with a mental illness.
SWH: What was the turning point for you when you decided that you had a serious problem?
Casey: The depression was something I kind of knew I’ve had without doing anything about it for many years but when the anxiety presented itself I realized I needed medical/psychological help. I actually remember sitting in the library unable to write my paper because “it wasn’t good enough” and realized even though I wasn’t good at writing, I’d never deleted half written papers because “they weren’t good enough” I was kind of easy-going when it came to homework and didn’t worry about writing a mediocre paper because its not one of my strengths. I was having anxiety attacks. It took me another 2 months to actually get help.
SWH: How was it for you upon hearing your diagnosis and how did you accept it?
Casey: It was actually a relief, I was living in this “hell” and it was going to be dealt with finally. I’m pretty sure I had been depressed (mild to moderate depending on the time) since I was 13, and diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder at 20. Now of course I know it’s a long journey and that this is probably going to be something I will struggle with my entire life, but I was crying and shaking when I went into the doctor’s office, and it all stopped when we were done. It was almost like I didn’t feel like I had a “problem” I was sick, and the doctors were helping me feel and be better.
SWH: What has been the most helpful coping mechanism for your mental illness?
Casey: Tumblr, though it has its triggers, gives me a place to vent, read other’s stories, and know that I’m not alone. There are people around the world who struggle with mental illnesses. For myself, I’ve started knitting and painting more to relax myself since my anxiety makes me very tense and stressed.
SWH: Those with mental illness often face the negative externalities of the stigma. Did you experience stigma from your family members or friends?
Casey: Yea, that has actually been one of the more difficult things to deal with. The minute I got home from the doctor and told her my diagnosis and my new medications (Effexor and Xanax) she had me sit down and explained how I couldn’t tell anyone about my meds, my diagnosis, anything. I was perplexed because after the doctor told me and explained my illness/disorder I felt like it wasn’t that bad anymore, it wasn’t embarrassing, not that I’m going to proclaim to the world I’m depressed or have anxiety (until now), but I didn’t understand why it was this big secret.
I was diagnosed about 9 months ago and to this day my mom reminds me every time she sees me I can’t tell anyone of my problems. It’s difficult because she also has issues that according to my dad, she didn’t tell him about until 3 years into marriage. It’s easier though to just pretend to agree with her since she will never give in so its tough dealing with her, she makes me feel like I’m the problem, and I need to get over my sickness. A month into taking my meds, my mom found out about Xanax (she knew I had it, not that I was taking it as prescribed, at night as needed) she tried to get me off the medication, telling me I didn’t need it, the doctor was wrong, and that I just needed to “get more sleep” and my anxiety would go away. Obviously this isn’t the case, but its difficult to go between a doctors expertise and my mom. I still struggle with her today, but I know that she cares she just grew up in a different time when her sickness was probably made fun of and stigmatized more than it is now.
With my friends, I’ve had a couple be more cautious with me with how they act around me, but other than that most of them treat me the same and support me through my struggles.
SWH: What do you want people to know about the stigma on mental illness?
Casey: That there are many people out there who will think you’re crazy if you tell them you’re depressed, but know that 1 in 4 people have some kind of mental disorder. I’m also a psychology major and a lot of the research I do for class on depression and anxiety depicts these disorders/illnesses to be genetically heritable. You can’t help being prone to depression or a mental illness. It’s not all in your head if you are diagnosed with depression or anxiety or any mental/emotional disorder. Willing yourself to not be depressed or have anxiety usually won’t work, you probably need help, sometimes medication is the way to go, sometimes therapy is the better way to go. Do your research, listen to yourself, if you have a problem its likely you think you do, and it’s not your fault. And never is someone’s depression/anxiety determined by how bad your life is, people handle things in many different ways, have different coping mechanisms; people are unique.
SWH: Living with a mental illness can bring about many life changes. How has your life changed?
Casey: I’ve gained a lot of weight, which sucks but I’m trying to get back to a healthier lifestyle. College became easier; I ended up getting better grades and doing better at work after I started taking medication. Many of my friends have changed overtime with my depression and anxiety, I don’t have many friends that “stick around” because It’s hard for me to express how I feel and the friendship doesn’t go past a certain point. One life change I didn’t like was that I became more promiscuous, having sex more often, with guys I barely knew. Without the anxiety about hooking up it was something I could do, but I’m also working on this. My relationship with my dad has gotten stronger, but the relationship with my mom is weaker.
SWH: What piece of advice would you offer someone who is going through a rough time right now?
Casey: Relax, think about what’s going on, get it all out, feel what you need to feel, and then do something that makes you happy and don’t dwell on what’s tough. If you don’t know what makes you happy, try to remember what did make you happy, or keep thinking. Find someone to talk to, even if it’s not about the difficult things, being with someone always helps no matter what. Also, did you know that cuddling can cure depression, not indefinitely, but for the while you’re being cuddled, it helps.