Story No. 4 | Real People, Real Stories Series
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Balancing Mental Health and Societal Expectations as an Anxious and Depressed Young Adult
by Louie Mackie
Every once in a while, there’s a moment in your life and you instantly realize you’ll remember it forever. For some of us it’s related to national or global events. For me though? I’ll never forget sitting in my therapist’s home office during my sophomore year of college and being told for the first time that I’m incredibly anxious and depressed… and not everyone else feels that way.
Reflecting on the Beginning of my Mental Health Challenges
I mean, I always knew I was kind of sad.
I remember a conversation with my dad from before I first experienced therapy. During our ride to school I took a risk and commented on a statement he made about taking things one day at a time. I opened up and told him I couldn’t continue to do what we were doing every day and I felt as though something needed to change. My father mistook the conversation for a discussion about our financial struggles and told me I would just have to deal with the situation as there wasn’t anything he could do.
That night when he returned from work, I clarified that my earlier comment was about my emotions, which eventually set the wheels in motion for me to begin therapy. That experience is rather blurry, and I don’t recall ever getting much closure. I didn’t feel better by talking about my mother’s passing from cancer, and the medications didn’t really help either.
One of the medications was an antidepressant I began taking about a year or two after my mom passed. I was regularly having what I now know to be panic attacks on my way to school and hoped the medicine would provide relief. My mental health struggles were so potent my father and I would tense up as we reached the rear parking lot, and I had to be dropped off at the school’s back entrance. This transition usually involved varying amounts of crying and often I was too overwhelmed to even step foot in the building. I knew this emotional turmoil wasn’t sustainable and was determined to improve my general well-being.
College Life and About a Dozen Different Medications
The next few years play out as a confusing coming of age story, culminating back in my therapist’s basement where I’ve just taken the first of many screenings as a young adult for depression.
As I’m experiencing my mental health struggles, I’m still doing what I can in college. I was attending the University of Connecticut and working toward a bachelor’s in psychology, as spending most of my life as a helper made me want to continue helping people professionally.
I led an active social life. I played Magic: The Gathering every Friday (at least) down at a local store on campus, enjoyed video games, and had plenty of friends to chat with. I often went back to my hometown of Orange, CT and connected with friends I’ve kept since high school. I was actively drawing, pursuing a passion of making webcomics and posting them on my social medias. Despite all of this structure and the life that I was living, I didn’t reach out to my family or any of my friends when I first experienced a real desire to follow through on a suicidal thought. A friend who didn’t even go to my school happened to text me, and I found myself immediately accessing the school’s counseling services around my suicidal ideations.
I began a complicated, at times agonizing, series of medication trials. I was prescribed a pill that gave me such extreme tremors it was difficult to eat in the dining hall as food would fall off my fork before it reached my mouth. I switched my medication but still have a mild tremor to this day. I suffered from the Lamictal rash, lockjaw, continuous E.D. issues, and other distressing side effects I wish I was able to avoid. At times I would find myself feeling more angry than relieved and constantly annoyed at the required maintenance of doses and medications.
You’d think that with such extreme reactions, my 19-year-old self would have taken steps to document which medications I took, how they made me feel, and why I stopped taking them, right?
That whole experience was me hoping that something, ANYTHING, would change me for the better without any detrimental side effects. Eventually, my time in the healthcare field made me averse to certain medications and I began to focus more on myself through practices such as self-care and mindfulness. While I never quite got to the point I wanted, my mental health has definitely improved. I have medicine to keep the panic attacks at bay, and just take the rest day by day.
A Few Parting Words of Resilience
Fast forward to me at 28.
I’m not going to sugarcoat my story and claim that I figured it all out or that I arrived at a true realization of myself- that’s not how most people’s stories go. I have my good and bad days, just like everybody else. Though I still struggle with my anxiety and depression, I’m able to have a fulfilling career, an enjoyable social life, and plenty more I forget to be grateful for. Time has taught me to balance my struggles with my goals, and to do my best to remain resilient. I still fail, of course, but I know that I’m a survivor and I’ll continue to find ways to persevere.