Kirsten's Story

My panic attacks began around the age of eight. It would feel like the entire world was caving in on me. When you are only eight you don’t have the language skills to explain this. I would just sit in school and think, “Omigod, I’m going to die! They are going to pick on me, I can’t let anybody see”. I had no defense mechanisms.

That was only the beginning. I began to develop all sorts of phobias amongst them a severe fear of vomit. In elementary school, vomit is unavoidable. When someone got sick, there was no way I could get away from it, so I would panic. This rapidly turned into obsessive compulsive behavior. Lots of people think that OCD is just about being hyper organized. That is not what it is – it is about your brain telling you that things have to be a certain way OR ELSE!!! That’s the trick. So for me, if I was wearing a certain outfit, or eating a certain food and I got sick, or someone around me vomited, I would never be able to wear that outfit again, or eat that food.

It would replay in my head over and over again and I would not be able to stop that re-wind so I would obsessively run around and do my little rituals to avoid it, and then have another panic attack. But, once again, understand, when you are young you have no words to describe all of this. It comes out as “I can’t wear these clothes ever again”.

I learned to go eat with my mom so I could avoid it. It completely freaked me out to eat with other people because I was so afraid of the vomit. But it weirded other kids out that I was doing this, so the cycle got worse and began on new levels.

I got really sick. I wasn’t bulimic (obviously, given my phobia!) but I was very skinny. Puberty is hard for anyone, but especially someone with a mental illness. My mom would take me to the doctors and they would say I was just looking for attention. I can remember my mother screaming at them, “LOOK AT HER! She can barely stand up! DO SOMETHING!” I was out of school for months. One day I just saw myself in the mirror and thought, “Omigod, I am going to die. I am really going to die.” I had just turned 13. I was so thin everything hurt. Everything.

I wanted to live. I don’t know what I did at that point, but I did something to keep myself alive. I made it back into middle school, then into high school. But I was still having mood swings. It is hard to tell someone that hey, just right now I need to be alone – but I will be back in action next week!

After high school was harder still. I had a whole lot of self-destructive behaviors going on, and I was given meds for my depressive behavior. It did not help. I became agoraphobic and did not leave my house for two years. Then all my friends were gone, living their own lives and there I was, hiding in my parents’ house, buried in fear. Everyone starts asking me questions and I don’t know how to answer them. They seem big, huge, looking down on me.

I broke a tooth. I would not leave the house to have my tooth fixed. It was bad. My mother had had enough and said she would have me committed it I didn’t deal with the tooth. So she called mental health. If I was earning under poverty level, which I was, I could get help, both for the tooth and for my mental health.

Enter the manic depressive diagnosis.

I didn’t want to be the vampire sucking energy from all the people – I didn’t want to be like those people obsessed with religion who never stop talking and suck you dry and then, BAM you walk away depressed. I was depressed – I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to take a shower.

In my early twenties, it got very bad. I don’t remember much, actually. I remember sitting with a kitchen knife in my bed. I was so exhausted; I had a phone number to call. I had been in a hugely long manic phase which meant that my depressive stage was also huge (think pendulum). Everything was blackness at that point. I had been told I was fine, but I wasn’t anywhere close to fine. I called the number. I just wanted someone to talk to me. Tell me that I would be alright and tomorrow would be a better day; Instead they found me and put me in the hospital. That isn’t bad in theory, but it is bad in practice. Instead of getting a comfortable caring place with someone who has been there or is trained in this you get idiots – thing people say when they are trying to make you feel better like, “Oh, you are so pretty, talented… you need to smile more” Really? I was treated like a number. Just a number. Someone watching me. I caught on really fast - if I didn’t tow the line, I was going to be locked up. So when they came in with the piece of paper for me to sign agreeing that I would not hurt myself, I signed it and they let me go home. I would have said anything to get out of there.

What am I going to do? I can’t bring myself out of the house to work in order to pay for the help I need, I have nowhere to go, no money. I applied for SSI, thinking I could maybe get enough money to be able to pay for some help. But no. It was denied.
Ten years of that hell.

I am out now. I live in a little house, I work a bit, not enough, but I’m doing it. I have tried a lot of things to help me find happiness. I have a garden. I can still be something of a hermit, but when I finally got back into therapy, it has made a difference.

I hope that anyone who is going through something similar will try to find someone – not a relative, not just a friend – someone who knows about mental health and isn’t just there to say stupid things, but who sits and gives real suggestions, real help. It is so much easier with that. I wish it was more available to everyone, despite financial situations. I had to fight and fight to get back into the system that would let me see my therapist again. I have no insurance.

I have people come up and tell me that I am weak because they fear that depression may hit them too. This isn’t the flu, people; there is no shot for this. But weak? I called every day, everyone, every single day. I fought long and hard to get help. It takes strength to do that. Strength that most people don’t have. Depression is not a sign of weakness. It is simply depression. It does not make you a failure. Everyone should have a hotline they can call, a therapist they can go see. Being self-aware makes it easier to deal with. If I’m down for a week, so be it – I know I will get up again and feel like me again

I believe that people who are always anxious live in the future. People who are depressed tend to live in the past.

I try to live in the present and that makes me happy. In order to pay for the help I need, I have nowhere to go, no money. I applied for SSI, thinking I could maybe get enough money to be able to pay for some help. But no. It was denied.

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