Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A sad story with a happy ending -- part I.

I guess I'll start this series of posts by freely admitting I have depression and anxiety. It is what it is. Lots of people suffer from varying types and degrees of mental disorders. I'm not going to pretend like mine are severe and I'm in any kind of peril. But it is a challenge I have dealt with for about 10 years now. It's something that makes me who I am and something I think we all need to talk about.

I want to tell you this story does have a happy ending. I have finally found a way to cope. I'm feeling well and loving life. However, it was a long, difficult road to get here, and the solution was one I never expected.

Some crucial background information: I am a naturally high-stress person. I always have been, since I was a little girl. One of my elementary school teachers lovingly called me "Crisis Queen" because literally every thing that went wrong, even minor things, sent me into a tizzy of epic proportions. I don't like surprises. I don't like change. I like the events of my life to go according to plan ALWAYS. Deviations from "the plan" make my blood pressure go up, give me a headache and send me into Chicken Little mode. It has been this way for as long as I can remember.

As a teenager, my anxiety and stress only got worse. I had a very full plate of honors and AP classes, musical extracurriculars, church leadership positions and an after-school job as a piano teacher. I always felt like I HAD to perform perfectly in everything I did because the rest of my life depended on it. I had to get perfect grades. I had to look perfect. I had to be a perfect friend and a perfect girlfriend, a perfect teacher and a perfect Mormon, sing perfectly, dance perfectly and never show weakness. EVER. If I could just be the paragon of humanity, I'd be a successful human being. If not, I'd be a complete failure.

As a result of this totally rational (NOT!) thought process, I developed a variety of side effects. I had frequent stomach aches, headaches and serious trouble sleeping. I remember one time, I spent an entire night alternately closing my eyes and opening them to look at my alarm clock. The glowing green numbers taunted me, hour after hour. Eventually, 5 o'clock rolled around and I surrendered, got out of bed and started getting ready for school. I hadn't slept a wink and I was perpetually dead-tired from that point onward.

Thankfully, Dill came into my life before the pressure of college had a chance to break me down. I have no doubt he was meant for me. Dill and I are exact opposites when it comes to stress. He doesn't experience it the way I do. He doesn't freak out. He only lets truly important things bother him and gives no thought to trivialities. Let me just say, it has been a HUGE blessing to be able to share my burdens with him during our relationship. I would be lost without him.

But for our first year, while we were at BYU, I was in super-freak-out mode. My anxiety became worse because my education was no longer free and my classes were exponentially harder than they'd ever been. I was a former A student suddenly getting Cs and even Ds. I was working part time, studying as much as I could and generally struggling to stay afloat. I had a scholarship I was about to lose because of my slipping grades. And of course, I wasn't sleeping at all.

That's when the depression overtook me.

See, when you struggle so long with compounding stress and anxiety, you eventually fall apart. You can't do it anymore. You become so exhausted from the sleepless nights, the headaches and the constant frantic inner dialogue that you just collapse. And I did. I stopped going to class. I called in sick at work more often than I should have. I wasn't making it to church on time because I couldn't wake up in the mornings. I started to fall far behind in my classes and I felt more hopeless every day. I cried. A lot.

Dill didn't know exactly what to do but he knew something was wrong with me. I was clearly depressed and needed to see a doctor. You have to know that for a perfectionist like myself, this realization -- I needed professional help -- felt like the ultimate failure. It rang in my head like an obnoxious bell tower stuck at 12 -- FAILURE ... FAILURE ... FAILURE.

But I knew I could not go on feeling the way I did. I was barely even living at that point. I was at the bottom of the deepest, darkest well and I had to admit I could not get out on my own.

So, in late 2006, I saw a doctor who gave me a psychiatric evaluation and determined I did indeed have depression and anxiety. He prescribed Zoloft, which I began taking right away. It seemed to help with my mental issues, but it gave me a new set of physical side effects to deal with: nausea, insomnia and sexual dysfunction to name a few. It felt like the medication was fixing my brain, but I could tell it was only temporary and I despised the side effects.

Along with the drugs, I started seeing a psychiatric counselor on campus. He talked me through my problems and set me up with the stress management lab, which was awesome. The plan was to treat my apparent chemical imbalance with an antidepressant while giving me tools (counseling and stress management) to overcome my mental hindrances. Once I was ready, I could wean off the Zoloft, fully prepared to take on the world.

I couldn't wait for that day -- the day I would finally feel normal.


  1. You are truly amazing. Thank you for sharing your story, can't wait to read more. I have a love one with depression, but they won't get help.

  2. Loved this! I wrote a similar post on my blog yesterday.....thanks for sharing. It's nice to know I'm not the only one or as crazy as I actually feel. ♥

  3. I did the same thing, help wise. I still continue to take medication, but I firmly believe you need both. Thanks for sharing. I know how hard it can be to open up.

  4. That sounds similar to my experience at BYU. I'm excited to see how you have learned to managed the depression. My management is sunshine, exercise, and creative outlets, namely photography.

  5. Jenna, you are amazing. Seriously, amazing. Thank you for sharing your story!

  6. A few members of my family have varying degrees of various mental illness so it has been a huge part of my life, even though I haven't struggled with it personally. Good for you for opening up about an issue that so many people misunderstand. And good for you for learning how to live a functional (successful!!!) happy life. You rock. I would never in a million years have guessed you struggle with depression.

  7. Heyyy this sounds a lot like me....interested to hear more about your journey. I'm currently untreated and exploring options.

  8. I can so relate. It's different things that cause my anxiety and depression but I imagine the effects are the same. Thank you for sharing and I really look forward to reading more. And on a shallow note, your picture at the top is so pretty. I love your hair! :)

  9. I know so many people who deal with anxiety and depression and it's sad that it is such a a hush-hush topic. I think if everyone were brave like you and shared that people would realize they're not alone and draw strength from each other. It's so common, and it's sad that it's not out in the open more. People need to be sensitive and realize that there isn't something "wrong" with them if they struggle from these things and it's OK to need help, medication or otherwise. Good for you!

  10. I was diagnosed with depression my junior year of high school. There was no "event", challenge, or stress that led to my depression, which happens sometimes. I have tried three times since to get off my meds, but each time I fall back into the depression. I fear I may just have a permanent chemical imbalance, but I want to get off meds. I am trying a different diet to see if that does anything. Thanks for sharing Jenna!

  11. Thank you for your courage. I think it's so hard to be a perfectionist and talk about this kind of stuff. I know it just about killed me to blog about how I'm not happy that I'm not married yet. It was so hard to admit that. God forbid someone judge me. You know?

    I'm so glad you were able to find help in college. From what a dear friend of mine told me, the counselors at BYU and the mental health dept are excellent at helping students. So great to hear.


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