20 years. That’s how long it took for me to be officially diagnosed with Depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. However, it started long before then. It started from before I can even remember.
My mom tells me that I displayed signs of anxiety from the young age of four years old. She would have to take me to my grandmother’s some days when she had to work, so I had to pick out which toys to bring. I couldn’t make a decision. I don’t remember this, but my mom says that I would start pacing and mumbling to myself. I would pick up one toy, put it back down, pick up another one, put it back, go back to the original toy, and so on. For some reason, it seems like the thought of having to make a decision was daunting to little me. When my parents would plan a weekend away or have to travel together for business, I became so distressed that I would cry until I threw up. As I got older, I displayed other signs and some of these, I can vividly remember.
I was six years old and in the first grade. We had caterpillars in our class that formed their cocoons and would soon become butterflies. Everyone, myself included, was so excited for the big reveal of our butterflies. I remember sitting on the grass in the school yard, watching my teacher with fascination as she opened up the special butterfly box. The butterflies flew out gracefully and amongst all the “oohs” and “ahhs” was little me, silent and counting how many butterflies came out. I got up to six and realized no more were coming out. But there were seven caterpillars. What happened to the seventh one? Where was it? Was it okay? I rushed up to my teacher and asked her. She told me that the seventh one didn’t make it and had passed away. I became hysterical. How could the death of a caterpillar set me off this way? I was taken to the school psychologist’s office, and don’t remember much after that.
As I got older, my anxiety revealed itself in different ways. These ways were much, much quieter in teen Elle than they were in child Elle. My anxiety manifested itself as negative self talk. My mind was always constantly running, my wheels always turning. I would jump from one topic to the next and then back to the previous one. Everything in my head was jumbled, and I became very sad because these anxious thoughts were causing my thinking to blur and my self esteem to plummet. My teen years were hard. I know that everyone struggles as a teenager, but I especially struggled because of the demons called Depression and Anxiety. I couldn’t keep friends around for long, because my moods were constantly changing without a moment’s notice. I was alone, unpredictable, volatile, and mean in an attempt to shield myself from the scary world. What I didn’t know was that the world wasn’t so scary – my mind was.
I got through high school – just barely – by confiding in my guidance counselor and English teacher. These two women empowered me, accepted me, and were brutally honest with me. I wasn’t officially diagnosed and I hadn’t seen a medical professional, but I knew that something was off. I couldn’t talk to my parents about it because I was embarrassed and ashamed. I didn’t want them to think they’d done anything wrong to cause these feelings. So I had my two confidants at school, and not much else.
Getting out of high school and out of the small town I lived in was a blessing. In college, I was free to reinvent myself, create a version of me that was better than high school me. I was ready to leave the past behind and I couldn’t wait to do that. I got through my first half of college much better than I got through all four years of high school. However, during my junior year, the demons returned, and this time they were even stronger from being repressed for so long. I’m not sure what triggered it. Perhaps it was the thought of becoming a senior and then graduating college and leaving the best years of my life behind. Maybe it was the thought of returning back to the hellish town I was unfortunate enough to call “home”. Maybe it was the abusive relationship I was trying so desperately to escape. I didn’t have an answer, but I had a solution. I was going to get help.
I remember going to my college’s counseling center. I was paired with a therapist who, after a few sessions, told me what I had already suspected. I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression. We worked through my feelings by talking, and eventually, he recommended a cocktail of pills to be taken daily and sent me on my merry way. I thought this was the answer, I mean, people take medicine when their throat hurts or when they have a headache. Why shouldn’t I take medicine for the imbalance in my brain? I was finally going to feel better.
Wrong. I got worse. The pills made me suicidal and I was in a place darker than the depths of hell. I was angry, discouraged, and frustrated. I lost all trust in this therapist. I was alone, again. And now, I shut down even more because I was convinced no one and nothing could help me.
Wrong, again. But this time, it’s a good thing I was wrong. One of my sorority sisters referred me to a therapist outside of the college. It took a lot of convincing, but I went. And I am so glad I did because this woman saved me. She showed me that there is an answer, there is a way to feel better, and the way to feel better isn’t always the same for every single person. She gained my trust. It was a slow process, but I was finally opening up to her and implementing her advice. Eventually, she also suggested medication, and I was so against it after being burned the first time. But I trusted her. So I allowed her to prescribe me what she thought was best and I let her monitor me as I took these pills.
And guess what? I wasn’t suicidal. I wasn’t surrounded by darkness. I was coming out of the darkness, squinting into the sunlight. All because this person listened, understood, and cared. And the reason she was able to do those things was because I chose to open up. I chose to trust her and I chose to listen. And now, I am treating my mental illness and I am able to live a happy, rich, and at times, emotional, life.
All because I didn’t give up.