Monday, January 6, 2014

Finding Happiness: My Story

Samantha Stein, Marketing Intern

Imagine waking up in the morning with no desire to get out of bed. You actively avoid all social interaction, and when someone tries to communicate with you, you’re full of anxiety. Every time you move, your body aches. When you force yourself out of the house, you spend the entire day wishing you were alone, back in bed, with the curtains drawn. Each time the phone rings you make no move to answer it and spend the whole day criticizing yourself. When you try to tell someone how you are feeling, they say, “Well, stop being sad. Be happy!” And no matter how hard you want to feel like yourself again, you just can’t gather enough energy to do something about it.

I know firsthand what all of this feels like. In high school, I began to feel all of these symptoms and more. I was depressed and anxious all of the time. I would keep to myself, not talk to any of my friends, and lock myself in my room for days at a time. I didn’t have any strength to get out of bed, much less go to the doctor. I would never do my homework or study for my exams, and my grades severely reflected my change of personality. All throughout my schooling, I never got lower than a B+, but now I was struggling to maintain passing grades. Everything I had worked for, and wanted to achieve, was falling apart. Yet, somehow, what used to matter didn’t have the same appeal it once had.

I had always dreamed of going to college, making lots of friends and memories, and living a social life with lots of responsibility. I wanted a career where I could express my creativity and become a leader. But with my new depressed mindset, all of this didn’t seem as important. I chose to stay home when all my friends went to the movies and I would only talk to someone if they asked me a specific question. All that mattered to me now was how much I hated myself and didn’t deserve to be happy.

My friends and family knew something was wrong, but they assumed it was a phase and I would snap out of it soon. I knew what I was experiencing wasn’t who I actually was, but I didn’t have the energy to change it. It took about one year for me to realize the person I had become wasn’t who I wanted to be. There wasn’t a single event that made me realize I needed to get better; I just decided I needed to help myself because I was the only one who could. I wanted to feel better, with more liveliness, and to have my friendships back. I went to my doctor, told him how I was feeling, and approached my family. Once I was honest about how I was feeling, all of my friends and family came rushing to my side. Talking to my friends and family was pretty easy, once I had decided on what I would say. They all knew that I hadn’t been myself, and really just wanted to know how they could help me. They made me realize who I was before the depression set in and who I wanted to become.

When I went to the doctor, I just told him everything I was feeling and thinking. I was nervous to go into the appointment, but once he asked me what’s wrong, it all came spilling out. I had been going to this doctor since I was born, and now I was telling him I wanted to commit suicide. He was instantly concerned, wanted to bring my parents in to talk with them right away and gave me numbers to a suicide hotline and psychologists. There wasn’t much he could do for me, but he led me to the people I really needed. My parents called around to the psychologists in our town, picked out their favorite, and I went to my first therapy session. I hated that doctor. I tried a different therapist, I didn’t like him either. Then, I tried my third therapist. She was warm and inviting, she had a cozy couch and an emergency number I could call whenever I needed her. She quickly learned all of my secrets, and I completely trusted her.

Even with her help, I wasn’t back to normal yet. I went to a psychiatrist who helped me decide on the right medication and the right dosage. It took four years to figure out the right combination of the five different medications, but I was finally feeling better about myself. Between the therapy sessions twice a week, large doses of medication and being completely open about how I was feeling to my friends and family, I slowly turned back into the person I had once been.  I became lively, energetic, passionate, and active.

Now that I was feeling better, I had to keep feeling this way. Even with my newly found energy, it was still hard to make it to every appointment, take my pills three times a day, make sure my prescriptions were filled, and keep up with my grades. I didn’t want to slip back into my depression but it was a lot of work keeping everything balanced. I had to weigh the positives and negatives of each situation, and stay committed to my health and to my future.  Now I’m a senior in college, I’m successful at my internship, I’m proud of my grades, and I’m the happiest I have ever been. When I look back at everything I have been through, I cannot believe I have made it so far. The person I am today has almost nothing in common with the person I was six years ago. But I became stronger and proved that I am capable of getting through anything. As much pain as I went through, I’m glad I did. Who I am today greatly reflects my past, and gives me an eagerness to see what lies ahead.

Everyone is bound to have a bad day sometimes and, for many people, a bad mood can last for a few days. But if you ever experience any symptom listed above, or want to speak to someone about how you are feeling, there is always someone who will listen. The University of Kentucky Counseling Center, Disabilities Resource Center, and Behavioral Health Clinic are just a few of the services that are available to you. These services are free and are confidential sources to help you start feeling better.

No matter what your symptoms are, if you are concerned about your health or safety, seek help. The varieties of depression all vary in symptoms so be aware of what you are feeling and when you start feeling that way. One variety that is often more common during the winter is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. SAD is one type of depression that affects some people during the same season each year. It typically occurs between October and April, but can happen at any time of the year, and is the most common alternate form of depressive disorder.

If you don’t feel like yourself, talk to your doctor. The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t hurt to ask. When consulting a doctor, be as forthcoming as possible. Pay attention to when you start feeling different, what is going on in your personal life, and what symptoms you are experiencing. Any insight you have for the doctor can help more than you think.

In addition to seeing a doctor, there are some small changes that can help keep depression and anxiety at bay. Because heavy class schedules and large amounts of schoolwork are hard to balance, most students find it hard to not daydream of warmer weather, graduation, or their next holiday. Remember to try not to get too overwhelmed by your schedule and to take time for yourself to relax and unwind. Here are a few preventative measures that helped me stay calm and motivated:
  • Make a playlist of your favorite (not super sad!) music. Listen to this playlist anytime you start feeling unhappy or lazy.
  • Spend as much time as you can in the daylight: Do your homework outside, go on a long walk, discover a new part of Lexington, or even sit near a window in class.
  • Call or email someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Not only can it improve your mood, but it might just make their day.
  • Try a new yoga class, a deep-breathing technique, or meditation. 
  •  Find a daily vitamin that has a lot of B vitamins and take it every day! The benefits of B vitamins include stress relief, increased memory, and relief from anxiety and depression.
  • Make a to-do list for the day, or the week. It can help give you the satisfaction of crossing things off as you complete tasks, and put into perspective how much you have to do. Just make sure that the list is reasonable—don’t put so much on your plate that making the list stresses you out more. 
  • Find a new hobby that gives you freedom to express your inner creativity. Homework and studying might feel like they are taking all of your time, but you can always find 30 minutes in your day to do something you love.
  • Set up a workout buddy that will keep you accountable and make going to the gym more fun. Having someone to go with will help you stay at the gym longer and workout harder, which will decrease your stress and give you more energy. Try finding a fun, alternative workout if the gym isn’t for you.

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