Wednesday, January 04, 2012

I was 16 the first time I ever made myself vomit after a meal.

I admire people who are willing to take chances. And no person takes more of a risk than when they admit they are not perfect. Just before Christmas, one of my current students, Joe Buckel, allowed me to re-post a very personal story about his depression that almost led him to take his own life. The response he has received has been amazing (and I've not seen nor read every one of them) -- people in their teens and into their 40s have written to tell Joe that he's inspired them in ways big and small.

I again today am being given the chance to share a personal story. One of my former students, Brittany Hammerberg, has shown the same humility, strength and confidence that Joe did, by telling her story. She has given me the okay to re-post what she wrote.

Please read her words carefully.
I was 16 the first time I ever made myself vomit after a meal. I will never forget the agony and exhilaration of pushing pizza slices back up my throat and out of my body. Toilet water splashed me in the face. I was the epitome of disgrace but yet I felt so at peace.
I was 19 the first time I ever experienced full-fledged depression. The kind of depression that eats at the lining of your stomach until you can’t eat, can’t sleep and all interaction with friends comes to a stop.
These actions and feelings are awful enough but the shame of not knowing where they are are coming from is worse.
Why am I so sad? There is nothing wrong. Look at all the bad things going on in the world and you are a blessed college freshman. You have a family that loves you. Suck it up you big baby. You are a disgrace. You are a bad person. You deserve nothing.
With no where to turn I return to my two old friends Binge and Purge. They are constant and reassuring, telling me, “Hey you can’t control your emotions but you can control what you put in your body and what you take out of it!”
Binge, Purge and I become a team until one night I pack my bags up in the middle of the night and return home. I am no longer functioning and I’m failing all my classes. My parents, who had been worried about me, are still shocked by my arrival. My Mom asks me what is wrong. I keep telling her I don’t know. She sends me to a counselor.
The counselor makes me finally admit that I am depressed and using food to fix my problems. I tell her I shouldn’t be and that nothing is wrong. Yeah, college was a little overwhelming. Yeah, I couldn’t decide on a major. Yeah, I was broke but nothing horrible. I bring up the victims of Hurricane Katrina. They should be depressed. Those are real problems.
The counselor tells me that genetically I’m at risk for depression (while no one in my immediate family suffers from depression, many members of my extended family members do) and that sometimes nothing has to be ‘wrong’ for these feelings to arise. She recommends I take an anti-depressant which helps me get back on track.
Two years go by and I’m re-enrolled at another college and thriving. I tell a few people about my past but mostly I keep my struggles to myself. When topics such as depression, eating disorders or anxiety come up, I remain quiet as people say things like, “therapy is for the weak” or “anti-depressants are an embarrassment.” I stop taking my medicine out of shame. I allow the naysayers to be right. I am weak.
It takes less than 4 months before the depression returns. I’m missing work and again failing my classes. I am still ashamed that I need a pill to keep me sane. I lay awake at night and while I don’t ever physically hurt myself…I sometimes wish I could just fall asleep and never wake.
Why can’t I be normal?  What is so wrong with me?
I feverishly count my blessings but it doesn’t bring me comfort. It just makes me feel more ashamed.
Look at all you have you ungrateful girl. You can’t get out of bed? Maybe you belong there.
I go to another counselor. A hippie woman who sprays vitamins in my mouth and plays the sounds of crashing waves in the background as we talk. She tells me that I’m one of 15 million Americans that experience depression. She tells me to not feel ashamed. Something in me clicks and I realize that I have to stop playing the stupid game of denial.
It has been 9 months since my revelation with the hippie counselor and I feel better than ever. Since I moved, I have a new counselor now, a serious Jewish man who doesn’t play a sound machine during our sessions. I sit in his waiting room with people of all ages. We sheepishly use our magazines to avoid eye contact but I take comfort in knowing that we are all waiting for guidance together.
I don’t see these fellow patients as weak. I see them as strong. I see them as people who want better for themselves and for their lives. If I am one of them I must also see myself in the same light.
I now know that depression and anxiety are two things I will have to fight my entire life. With help, they are fully manageable.
I also know that I have an obligation. A obligation to use my voice to tell others who have ever felt the way I felt that there is help. There is no shame. There is only hope. There are many more days to enjoy the sun’s warmth on your skin.
We must erase some of stigma associated with depression. This blog is my little way of doing so. I am above all else a young woman who loves her family, loves to sing Beyonce with her girlfriends and loves wearing her favorite tan high heels. I love stupid youtube videos and I love making my young nieces and nephews laugh. This makes up who I am. Depression does not.
Yeah, I  have struggled with depression. Yeah, I see a therapist. But mostly I’m just a girl who found her way out of darkness to completely, fully, utterly enjoy her life.
In my eyes, Brittany already was an amazing young woman. But if it's possible, I respect and like her even more because of how she is handling this situation.

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