To finish out Mental Health Awareness month, my daughter has bravely agreed to allow me to interview her. She is currently a few months shy of seventeen years old. She started experiencing severe anxiety at age twelve. We hope that her story informs and encourages anyone experiencing mental health challenges. She wants to share an honest and real perspective of her mental health journey.
1- When did you first start to feel overwhelming anxiety?
I’ve always felt some level of anxiety. It became more evident when we moved to Louisiana in 2016. I was about to start seventh grade. It was such a huge change, leaving my home in Virginia and all of my friends. I felt like I was mentally suffocating.
The first anxiety attack I remember was when I was sick for a week. I was well enough to return to school but refused to take my antibiotics. Mom took me to the school nurse with my meds and she had to help me take them. I was crying so much I didn’t want mom to leave me at school even though I liked my teachers and classes.
2- What was it like going to the psychologist/therapist for the first time?
I don’t remember feeling anything significant. I was ready to get help for whatever was going on. The therapist and I weren’t a good fit so it made it difficult to go.
Now it is much easier. I like my therapist and look forward to sharing what’s been going on. She helps me process my emotions.
3- What makes your current therapist a good fit for you?
She has a gentle and non-judgmental demeanor that helps me to open up and talk. She asks a lot of questions, then lets me talk. My past therapists were constantly talking and I would just zone out. She listens to me and I don’t feel judged for my feelings and problems.
4- How were you officially diagnosed with clinical depression and severe anxiety?
My first therapist labeled me with anxiety and OCD. Other therapists ruled that out. Finally, I went to get tested by a clinical psychologist to eliminate and clarify the diagnosis. I filled out a long questionnaire. So did my mom. The psychologist had me describe pictures and inkblots. He asked me a lot of questions. It was exhausting and mentally straining, but worth an official diagnosis so we knew what we were dealing with.
5- How did you know you needed to go to a psychiatrist?
We knew I needed medicine to calm my brain down to learn to cope with the anxiety. I was dealing with the physical pain of fibromyalgia, so we decided to tackle helping my body in any way we could. While a psychologist focuses on various therapies to give me tools to work through my anxious episodes and depression, the psychiatrist knows which medicines to prescribe and the science behind how the brain works with those meds. Our first psychiatrist was kind and sincere. She addressed my sleep issues that triggered anxiety and depression. At first, we tried techniques without meds like melatonin and sleep routines. Medicine wasn’t her first tactic. Eventually, we knew medicine was what I needed. I liked her a lot but still struggled with anxiety episodes and skin picking. After a while, she acknowledged that going to a psychiatrist at the children’s hospital may be more beneficial because they had more experience with teen anxiety.
Once we moved to a different psychiatrist, we changed my meds a bit and that has been helpful. They also got me connected with a new therapist who has been the best fit for me.
6- What does an anxiety attack feel like?
Everyone is different in how they experience anxiety attacks. For me, at first, everything is overwhelming. Sounds are louder. My skin is physically more sensitive. Emotionally, everything feels like it’s building up. Breathing gets harder. My chest feels tight.
I self harm like picking my skin, nails, and face. I pull my hair and eyebrows. I hit myself from time to time.
7- What helps you cope in a positive way to get through the attack?
Again, it’s different for every person. Headspace, meditation, and deep breathing do not help me.
I used to do grounding techniques like “Name 5 things that you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you Can smell, 1 thing you can taste.”
Currently, having my mom nearby helps the most. My anxiety is the worst at night and she will sit in my room, not talking, just nearby until I feel calm again. Listening to different types of music is also helpful.
8- What does depression feel like?
Again everyone is different. You may be surrounded by people but you feel lonely. I have experienced constant intrusive thoughts: voices in my head telling me to do harmful things, putting disturbing and graphic images in my head out of nowhere. Questioning “what’s the point of life?” There is nothing I want to do, no motivation. I can’t enjoy anything and tend to have bad hygiene.
People with depression can be all smiles and appear happy. I may look depressed with my mom because she is safe for me to be depressed around. With other people, I would force a smile and a happier attitude.
9- What are things you dislike when people say about anxiety and depression?
“What do you have to be sad/anxious about?”
“Why are you lonely, you have plenty of friends/people around you?”
“Anxiety and depression are made up.”
“You’re being lazy.”
“Why don’t you try harder?”
“Have you tried yoga? Meditating? Supplements? Vitamins? Exercising?”
“Stop being sad/depressed! Be happy!”
“Go outside more.”
Also, on social media, people use words like: “wrist reveal” “thigh reveal”. These are used to imply that if you are depressed then show how you are cutting yourself. The words are for trolling on social media or trying to be funny.
10- What are helpful responses for those who struggle with anxiety and depression?
Check on your depressed friend. Not intruding but express that you want to be there for them/hang out with them.
Say: “Is there anything I can do to help you feel better? Do you need to leave? Sit down? What do you need at this moment?”
Be open, let them know you are safe and can be trusted.
Be flexible with your plans. You don’t always have to cater to their needs, but be compassionate and flexible if plans need to change.
Don’t point out self-harm scars, pulled hair spots, etc. This is private and embarrassing.
Don’t react negatively. Trust is built when you can be relaxed about the situation.
Help distract them: music, a movie, crafts, memories, self-care, etc.
Sit with them and listen. My
11- Do you have any advice for anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression?
Depression and anxiety are not who you are. You are separate from that. You experience depression and anxiety, but it is not you.
Intrusive thoughts are not who you are either. Don’t let anyone sugarcoat them. They are real and scary, but they are not who you are.
You can find freedom from your mental health struggles. It takes time, the right counseling, and sometimes medication is necessary. It does not mean you lack faith. If you need help, reach out to someone who can help you.
While none of my daughter’s comments specifically discussed her faith, her healing reflects her faith. We are plugged into our local church. She hears God’s truth prayed over her regularly. She knows she is loved by her Creator. This lifestyle we have maintained since birth has given her a healthy foundation and sense of identity. I didn’t preach to her or make her feel less than because she didn’t trust God, read the Bible, or pray enough. She stopped attending church because the people and noise were too much for her. I didn’t get upset with her or make her feel guilty. Eventually, as her anxiety calmed a bit, she began attending youth group again. She has found a way to serve to help her focus her anxious energy.
Parents, don’t stop praying. Don’t stop speaking God’s truth over your child so they will never doubt who they are in Christ. Take care of yourself as you take care of your child. If you need therapy to help you process your child’s journey, do that. If you need a self-care day, do that. Listen to your needs as a parent.
Parents, don’t stop fighting for your child’s physical and mental health. Trust your gut. If you are not at peace with a diagnosis, keep searching and finding doctors to be on your team and help you. For a while, our first psychiatrist was the only doctor that listened and tried to help us find solutions. Keep trying. Keep checking off boxes. Get second opinions, don’t settle. Even if doctors look at you like you don’t know what you are talking about. You know your child better than anyone. Move on and find a doctor who hears you and wants to help you find answers.
I hope this series has been helpful. I can not tell you how proud I am of my daughter for allowing me to share her story. While we kept many private details to ourselves, sharing the journey with you has made us more thankful as we see how far God has brought us. We hope our story brings light and hope to your struggles.
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