A-Z

Elizabeth

Age at interview: 28
Age at diagnosis: 17
Brief Outline:

Elizabeth was a sensitive child. She was diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder when she was in high school. The worst period for her was as a teenager, but transitions into and out of schools or jobs were also hard. Her husband is tremendously supportive, and her career as a parent educator is a source of satisfaction. Depression now has a minimal impact on her life.

Background:

Elizabeth lives in a house with her husband. She works as a parent educator. She is White/Italian..

More about me...

Elizabeth was moody, quick to cry, and often “down” as a child. When she reached adolescence, these long-standing sensitivities combined with growing self-doubt and lack of good coping skills to create “a big fireball of depression.” Her high school years also included trouble with drugs and alcohol, a problematic group of peers, and struggles with eating. Her parents, both of whom are social workers, supported her as much as possible, but her late teenage years remained difficult ones. She saw a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with major depressive disorder and anxiety and prescribed anti-depressant medication - but that first medication did nothing or even made her “in some ways feel worse”.

An all-time low point for Elizabeth was when she took a bottle of pills at age 17, then immediately told her mother what she had done and went to the Emergency Department. Being in the hospital as an out-patient was frightening and “horribly embarrassing,” but it also led to a change in medications that put Elizabeth on a steady path to health and healing. The new medication changed her life profoundly, helping “calm down the noise” in her head and to “focus on working with a therapist, working on behavior, working on coping skills, and problem solving”. She stopped taking the medication after a few years, but continues with behavioral therapy which also “helps so much”, especially with learning about herself, other people, and relationships.

In college, Elizabeth developed a close relationship with a “very funny, sweet and down-to-earth” man whom she later married. That relationship, which includes a lot of acceptance and support as well as love, has been and remains crucially important. Transitions of various kinds -- for example, between school and work or between jobs -- are still challenging, but for the most part her mood is good. Moving out of college and into the work world was a “really positive” step because she loves what she does and knows she is good at is. Her current job is as a home visitor supporting at-risk families.

In order to maintain a steady good state, Elizabeth avoids drugs and alcohol entirely. She wants other young adults to know that “it’s up to you to work at it” to get better because “it’s not going to just happen by a magical potion, which I have hoped for many times…but if you put in time and effort and energy and you really really address and confront who you are and what depression is all about, it’s easier.” Reaching out for support was crucial for her, and she hopes others can also find a way to stop feeling trapped in “that really tight lonely bubble” and connect with others who can understand and help.

 
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For Elizabeth, being depressed is like being a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, which just doesn’t fit.

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You know when you’re trying to do like, a jigsaw puzzle and you think you have the right piece and it just doesn’t fit in. Something clicks that’s just wrong and you, I just feel wrong. I feel like I’m that piece that just really wants to fit and it just can’t no matter how hard you’re trying.
 
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Elizabeth describes wanting to protect her depression because it feels comfortable, and hiding it from professionals she saw after a suicide attempt who might force her to address it.

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So a psychiatrist brought me into a room which I was very happy about at that point and I remember her asking me you know, “Were you trying to hurt yourself?” And obviously the answer was yes, people don’t just take a bottle of pills to not hurt themselves, but I told her, “No.” Because I was really in a place at that point where I was trying to get help and I was trying to get better, but I was in a place where I was really trying to protect the depression, because depression is a disease where it really just completely envelops you and you want to fight against it and you want to get better and you want to feel good, but it’s comfortable in a way because you’re used to it and it’s safe and even though it’s horrible and painful, you know it very well. So I said no to protect myself and the depression and obviously she didn’t believe me because that was crazy. 
 
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Elizabeth describes how she rapidly lost a lot of weight.

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I was about 15 years old when I started having issues with food, I remember coming to the dinner table one night and I saw food on the table and something just hit me saying, “I, I can’t eat, I can’t eat this, I can never eat again. Oh my gosh, how have I ever eaten all of these years.” And it was something that I never really fully understood until I started going to therapy. I lost a lot of weight. I was probably, I probably lost about 20-30 pounds in about a month.
 

Elizabeth describes how her eating disorder both seemed to help and contribute to her mental health issues.

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I think a lot of the eating issues came from anxiety and depression. I think that something chemically was not well that even produced those thoughts, I mean most people don’t look at a plate of food and say, “Oh my gosh I can’t eat this and I can never eat again,” And that’s a pretty serious thought. So I think the anxiety really played into that in a way too where I felt like it was a way for me to control my emotions in myself. Not in a way where I needed control but it was a way where I figured out how to kind of punish myself and control my behavior and my emotions and dictate my emotions and it worked for me for a while. And truthfully I think that a lot of the issues I had with food contributed to the depression in a lot of ways. When your brain and your body aren’t getting really any kind of nutrition, that’s not going to help your thinking at all it’s not going to help your health, your sleep, which I actually did sleep pretty well despite all that but yeah the anxiety, the depression, and the eating disorder really all went hand in hand. 
 
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Elizabeth talks about her experiences with anxiety as a child.

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My anxiety really manifested was in a lot of worrying and I think, I was really anxious as a kid and I think a lot of that came from just being very sensitive, like I said, not having many coping skills and always just being worried all the time. I remember being like three years old and worrying about like, is my mom having a good day at work, but something that a three year old doesn’t need to think about, but it’s something that happened. And I think that the uncertainty that I, that kind of came out of the anxiety fueled the depression in a way that made me feel like I was out of control, that I didn’t have a say in what was happening.
 

Elizabeth hid her dark thoughts very well, until they became overwhelming.

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Yeah I think that I was in such a dark place that and this might sound strange but and maybe I’m, maybe I was naive to think this but I felt like I was almost hiding it really well. Just because my, my thoughts were just so dark and so negative that I thought, “Maybe if I just act ok, maybe if I go out with my friends, maybe if I get an A on this test, it will seem like I’m ok.” And I clearly was not at all and I think my parents did know that, being the professionals that they are. But I will say that I did a decent job of hiding it for a while.
 

Elizabeth feels drastically different than her earlier, depressed self.

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I’ve often struggled with knowing who I am in relation to that. I feel like the person that I was then is absolutely nowhere near who I am now. And sometimes I even look back and I can’t believe that that’s been my life just because it’s so drastically different than where I am today. that I don’t really know if I feel like I’ll be known better or understood better because I feel like I don’t even really want to know who that person was, I dealt with it, I went through it and I kind of just wanted it to stay in the past sometimes… 

… I don’t feel like it has made me who I am it has definitely contributed greatly to who I am, it has made me thankful, it has made me proud and I feel very accomplished having gone through something as life threatening as that and making it to now but yeah I definitely go back and forth with that because she feels so different than who she is now.
 

Elizabeth found that her adolescent depression caused lasting damage to her family ties.

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The depression had an unbelievably deep and strong impact on every single relationship in my life. My relationship with my mother at the time was awful, embarrassing, terrible. We would scream at each other constantly she would say black I would say white, it was one of those relationships. And she was going through some of her own issues at the time, she was going through menopause at the time too so I was dealing with some hormonal issues and so was she, so we didn’t get along that great. Yeah it was actually really terrible.
 

Elizabeth worried about losing her friends if she revealed her depression.

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Many of my friends at the time didn’t have a clear grasp on what I was going through, they definitely knew that something was not quite right, but I never really talked about it or opened up about it because I was embarrassed and thought I would lose them as friends so I didn’t really speak about it much. 
 

Elizabeth says the relationship she had when most depressed suffered greatly because at the time she could not talk about her depression.

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A big, big factor in that relationship ending was the fact that I was so depressed and I couldn’t talk about it at all. And I remember one day going to his house and laying on the bed and I was just sobbing, uncontrollably crying, and I remember him rubbing my back and like, begging me to tell him what was wrong and I just couldn’t talk and you don’t get too far in life when you don’t talk about things, so that was difficult because I felt like it was my fault like I ruined the relationship, like I pushed him away. 
 

Elizabeth’s depression returned after a five-year gap. When she finished college and applied for jobs every rejected application made her feel like a failure.

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By the time that I had got the job that I am currently at I applied to 76 jobs. And again I felt like a failure, I felt like, “Oh my gosh I just spent five years in school busting my hump for something I thought I would never have accomplished and I can’t even get a job.” And something just chemically goes wrong at those moments and I stopped eating, I didn’t shower much, I didn’t really talk to many people and I just really shut down. And I remember calling my therapist and saying you know, “I know we are not scheduled for a week, but I would really like to see you.” And I literally just sat in her office and stared at the floor and cried for most of the 50 minutes. And that’s a woman that I had been seeing for about five years at that point and I really couldn’t say a word. So something you know, that’s one of those moments, where I was doing well and great and something just happens and it brings you back…
 

Elizabeth talks about how behavioral therapy has taught her to think positively

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A lot of the therapy that I have been through, the cognitive behavioral therapy that I have been to, really helps to change that thinking and the thing that’s incredible about it is that I’m to the point now in my life where the thinking is automatic. I don’t have to think the negative and remind myself to think the positive, it’s automatically positive. So the persistence is one thing, but that automatic positive thinking is another that, “It’s going to be ok. I’m going to get through it. I have to work hard. I have to try and I’ll be ok.” And there’s something chemically that works well with that too and they work together to help me get through what’s going on. 
 
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Elizabeth discusses wanting to use medication only if she feels there is nothing else that can help her.

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I really recognized that what I was feeling was depression probably about a year before I was really treated properly and effectively. And I just remember thinking to myself, “If I start taking medication and it doesn’t work what am I going to do,” Because I felt like there was nothing else that could really help me. So I always kind of felt like I wanted to keep that as a last resort for fear of nothing else really working and I don’t really think I have that mindset now but I kind of feel like I don’t want to be on something unless I really really really need it. and like I said I know it’s there if I do need it but it’s not something that I want to just jump to and you know I think that there are points in my life where, of course at that time, when I did need something to chemically help me and I don’t really feel like I’m there. 
 

Elizabeth says her husband supports her without enabling her, and her relationship with him provides a comforting sense of security.

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I wouldn’t have married him if he wasn’t like this, but he’s just always really been there to hold my hand and support me without doing something for me and I think that’s what I really needed in a relationship. Someone to be supportive and loving and be kind of a coach in some ways to remind me, but not enabling in any kind of way… 

So you know, the depression definitely has impacted every romantic relationship that I’ve had, the difference with him though is that the love is unconditional. I can be depressed and we’re still going to be married and he’s still going to love me. He can have a bad day and I still feel the same way. And I think that just generally acceptance that I feel and the security that I feel helps ward off the depression in a lot of ways. I, you know, it’s not his responsibility to ward it off, but it helps with that, definitely, because if I feel loved and secure and safe and happy and we’re having a good time and laughing and everything is good then that really helps.
 

During a tough period of unemployment, Elizabeth felt severe depression threatening to descend. She headed it off by drawing on coping skills such as taking decisive action, persisting, and speaking positively to herself.

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At that point, I did really know that it was going to be ok, but there was something that just stopped me in that moment and really getting through was with support and help and reminders and really using the skills that I had worked on for so long. Igniting those coping skills and the problem solving skills to think, ok, instead of you know thinking negatively or crying I can just go apply to another job and see if that works out. So the persistence really got me through as well.

Are the primary coping and problem solving skills around persistence, are there other aspects of those?

A lot of them are around persistence. A lot of it too, as simple as this sounds, is just trying to speak positively to myself. When I was very deeply depressed a lot of my thinking was negative, “I’m never going to amount to anything. I’m never going to be happy. Who would want to be with me? Who wants to be around me?” 
 

Elizabeth relied on her faith to help her tackle each day, even when depression left her feeling frail.

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Ultimately my upbringing with the religion did really help me get through my depression because even when I struggled a lot, I always got out of bed, I always went to school, I always went to work, I never hid from life and I think that a lot of that was what I was taught through my faith. You know, you still try, you still get up, you still do it and it gave me persistence. I think it made me work hard and I think that ultimately it gave me courage to face some of the things that I was going through and it gave me the strength to feel like I could do it. 
 

Elizabeth says her husband coaches but does not enable her.

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I wouldn’t have married him if he wasn’t like this, but he’s just always really been there to hold my hand and support me without doing something for me and I think that’s what I really needed in a relationship. Someone to be supportive and loving and be kind of a coach in some ways to remind me, but not enabling in any kind of way. 
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