A-Z

Shayne

Age at interview: 27
Age at diagnosis: 13
Brief Outline: Shayne, age 27, began to experience depression in high school. Other mental health issues have also played a role in her life, and she has an additional diagnosis of PTSD. Things got more difficult for her when she left a supportive home for college, but in recent years she has developed many effective ways of addressing depression including medication, therapy, exercise, and art. Friends, family and roommates are strong sources of support; cats are sources of humor and joy.
Background: Shayne lives in a house with two roommates and three cats. She works in research, exercises regularly, and does art. She is White.

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Shayne’s experiences with depression began in high school. Her mom is a mental health professional who quickly recognized that Shayne was crying and sad a lot, had low energy, and had stopped hanging out with friends. Shayne’s mom found her a therapist, and also a psychiatrist who prescribed medication. Shayne describes her time in high school as “the best depression I ever had” because she was living in a loving and supportive environment, and got the professional help she needed. 

When Shayne moved away from home and went to college and then graduate school, things became much harder. She went off her medication for a while, which resulted in a downward spiral. Her depression worsened some as she got older, and she developed additional symptoms. In early adulthood Shayne also experienced some trauma, and its difficult aftermath. The environment at school and living on her own didn’t support her as well as her family at home had done, and she did not yet have good coping skills. Looking back, Shayne says “I wish I had known that it was going to get harder as you… move away from really strong support systems and become an adult.”

Shayne completed her college degree and a master’s degree in chemistry – accomplishments she describes as “fucking impressive.” Struggles with mental illness made it hard for her to continue with a doctoral degree in her earlier twenties, but she plans to complete this in the future. After she finished school, she moved to a part of the country far away from difficult parts of her past, and where she feels a healthy lifestyle is possible. She works as a researcher teaches at a community college, and volunteers as an educator. 

Shayne understands that her depression is not her fault. She is a “big proponent of medication and therapy”, and wants others to know that “therapy only helps if you want the therapy and you like your therapist. That’s the only way therapy works. Medicine works whether or not you want it to work.” She has supportive friends and roommates, and two amazing “therapy cats.” She takes care of herself and copes with depression in lots of ways including exercising, doing art, and knowing she may feel more depressed at some times than at others. She devotes a lot of energy to being a “stigma buster” for mental illness, and says “depression has made me want to share, it’s made me want to be a teacher in a lot of ways”.
 

Shayne sees her two cats as representing different sides of her: the outgoing, friendly side and the depressed, anxious one.

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It’s funny because they represent me so much in a certain way. Walter always wants to be pet, petted and he always wants you to give him all the pets and he’s super outgoing and super loving. He’ll just sit on someone’s lap, like brand new person, never been in the house before. He’ll just sit on their lap and get hair all over them, you know. He loves it. Richard is more standoffish. He doesn’t like being picked up. He’s not the friendliest cat. He’ll let you pet him if he feels like it. So it’s funny because I think they’re both like parts of me. They both, they both reflect parts of my personality which is really cute, I feel. Because Walter always wants attention and I’m super outgoing and I always want to make new friends, and then parts of me are like, when I get depressed or when I’m like feeling anxious, I don’t want to talk to anyone right now, like. I just want to do my own thing, you know, put my headphones in and zone out, you know, like. It’s like cats.

Yeah, it’s. And then you’re more like Richard?

Yeah, and then I’m more like Richard. So, I like my cats. They’re, they’re super funny. They remind me of me, that’s why I like them. They’re like my little babies that are fuzzy and walk on four legs [laughter]. So, yeah. 
 

Shayne works to address stigma head on, and finds a lot of fellow travelers as she does so.

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I want to break, I want to break the stigma. I want to show people, you know, like, I am for the most part a very well-functioning adult in society. I feel, I don’t know. Right now I feel that way [laughter]. Yeah I want people to know because I want to show people that there’s someone in their life that has a mental illness and that it affects everyone. I mean, it affects me on a daily level. But you know, it’s important that people know, that people know that these people exist. That they’re everywhere, you know. I meet. It’s funny because I come out about my mental illness pretty frequently, and a lot of, I’ve met a lot of people that tell back at me that they have a mental illness. So I know a lot of people with mental illness because I’ve been so open about it, which is really cool. I really, it’s really nice to have a series, like. It’s good to have people who understand, you know. It’s really good to have people who understand. And it’s cool that there are, I mean it’s not cool that so many people have mental illness, but it’s also cool that there’s such a support system, you know, that can exist if you’re open about it. 
 

Shane sees versions of herself with and without depression in her cats’ personalities.

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It’s funny because they represent me so much in a certain way. Walter always wants to be pet, petted and he always wants you to give him all the pets and he’s super outgoing and super loving. He’ll just sit on someone’s lap, like brand new person, never been in the house before. He’ll just sit on their lap and get hair everywhere all over them, you know. He loves it. Richard is more standoffish. He doesn’t like being picked up. He’s not the friendliest cat. He’ll let you pet him if he feels like it. So it’s funny because I think they’re both like parts of me. They both, they both reflect parts of my personality which is really cute, I feel. Because Walter always wants attention and I’m super outgoing and I always want to make new friends, and then parts of me are like, when I get depressed or when I’m like feeling anxious, I’m like I don’t want to talk to anyone right now, like. I just want to do my own thing, you know, put my headphones in and zone out, you know, like. It’s like cats. 
 

For Shayne, depression is both a blessing and a curse.

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…it’s like a blessing and a curse, you know. And it makes my life really shitty, but it makes me really kind and giving and caring and have a lot of friends and a like really interesting person. I’m super creative, you know, like. I do, like, I’m really smart and that’s also because of the illness, so you know, it sucks a lot of the time, but I wouldn’t be as, you know, musically talented or artistically inclined I feel if I didn’t have it, you know. I wouldn’t be as sensitive a person or as kind of a person, that much I know for sure.
 

Shayne compares finding a therapist to a first date and emphasizes the importance of liking your therapist and wanting therapy.

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It’s exactly like a first date. You want to have chemistry. You want to be able to laugh with them and you also want to be able to cry. It might not be on the first date or the first meeting with your mental health provider, but it’s important to feel comfortable. If you don’t feel comfortable, then you can’t share with them the problems that you’re having that are personal. So you’re surrounded by stigma. And it’s, you know, their job to approach you without that stigma. They understand, you know, they get it. They’re not going to judge you. Or they’re going to judge you but with, you know, a knowledge base of information surrounding your illness, you know, so they can best help you. You know, that’s their job. So I guess like comfortableness. Looking, you know, chemistry. If you would respect what they have to say to you. You have to be able to look up to them to a certain extent, where you’ll respect what they tell you. Because if you can’t respect what they have to say to you, then you’re not going to learn anything from them and their insights are useless. So yeah, comfortableness and being, yeah, being able to share. That’s the most important thing with a therapist.

Maybe, maybe you’ll be lucky. But therapy doesn’t work unless you like your therapist.

Yeah.

So, it, you have to want to look for one that’s worth it. And that takes a lot of effort that a lot of people who are depressed or have a mental illness don’t want to put in. Especially if it’s, you know, you’re admitting that there’s something wrong with your brain. That’s a really personal statement because of the stigma surrounding it. So, you know, it’s, I think everyone should have a therapist at some point in their life. Maybe not all the time, but at least some point in your life, everyone should have a therapist. Because to have someone whose job it is to take into account all possible explanations to your feelings given your environment, given your upbringing, given your medical history. Like, to have a professional that can take all of that into account and say, “Hey, I know why you’re feeling like, sort of upset or angry.” Or you know, it doesn’t just have to be depressed. It can be any number of emotions that need to be regulated that are affecting how you live, you know. I think therapy is amazing and I’m a big proponent of medication and therapy. Because, I mean, it helps. It really does. But the therapy only helps if you want the therapy and you like your therapist. That’s the only way therapy works. 
 
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Shayne talks about the ideal age for her therapist at different stages of her life.

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I was in therapy when I was in high school and I hated it. I didn’t want to talk to somebody who looked like my mom about my problems [laughter]. I wish I had had a younger therapist at that point in time. When I was in college, I had a therapist who was almost my age. And at that point I was like, I don’t need to listen to you. 

You’re not that much older than I am?

Yeah. They were, they were psychology resident in grad school and I was in undergrad. I was like, whatever. You know. And then, and then I met someone who was my mom’s age when I was in grad school. So I was like, young twenties, twenties. And she was perfect. She was the best therapist I’ve ever had. 
 

Shayne made the decision to go back on medication after experiencing another depressive episode.

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When I got to college, I stopped. I went off of my medication for, you know, good reasons. I thought by the end of my senior year of school, I was feeling better. I didn’t think I needed medication and my parents were ok with me going off of it. It took me a long time to take it seriously at first because I thought it meant there was something wrong with me. And it’s not, it wasn’t anything wrong with me, it was just a neurochemical imbalance. It’s like having a cold-nose, like a stuffy nose, except it’s in your brain. And it was just hard to realize that it wasn’t me personally. And, you know after, after experiencing severe depression in college, having gone off my medications, I realized what a big difference it makes to be on them. Because I can’t, can’t be myself, like who I want to be without my medications at this point and time. If I don’t take my medications, I’m just not functional at all. Not functional, like couldn’t go to work if I didn’t take my medication now so I’m really happy that I do take medication.
 

Shayne says she doesn’t need someone else to know what she is going through; she just needs support.

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But to have someone who can be there and say, I know what you’re going through is ok and even if I don’t understand the pain that you’re feeling, just know that I’m here for you anyways to recognize that you are going through something and that I’m going to be supportive by being here with you. Unless you want me to go sit over in the other room, then I’ll go sit in the other room and you can be by yourself and I’ll be supportive from you wherever you want me to be supportive from basically. Because like sometimes you want to be alone, you’re like, “No I need to cry for ten minutes in my room. Leave me alone.” You know, or you know, sometimes you just want them to sit with you and when you cry. You know it just, it varies, it depends. You know, it’s how your feeling which can be so many different things and all the things all at once. So it’s, it can be overwhelming in so many ways.
 

Shayne says managing depression is like managing diabetes: she has to constantly monitor multiple factors in order to keep on an even keel.

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It means I have to constantly analyze my behavior and my self and my motivations and where they’re coming from and why I’m thinking this way. I, it’s like diabetes. You have to watch what you eat. I have to watch what I eat too, but I also have to watch all of these other factors, like how much I’m sleeping, how much I’m exercising. You know, what am I eating. Like is it, is it good food, is it going to make me happy, is it healthy enough. Like, all these things. Even what you eat affects your happiness. I am so sensitive that I have to watch all of these factors because they all play into my mental health. So like, if I skip a meal, I’m inordinately cranky, you know. I shouldn’t, I just don’t want to be misbalanced in any way. I’m just, I’m so fragile at this point. So I have to, I have to take into account really closely everything in my life that is a factor into how I’m feeling. It’s a lot of work and I didn’t realize it was going to be that big of a deal when I was first diagnosed with it, I guess.
 

Shayne says that in order to heal she had to stop being resigned to her sadness.

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Becoming complacent with your sadness is one of the most dangerous things because then you’re not willing to, you know, accept that there are better parts of your life. You’re basically giving up on the better parts of your life if you’re willing to be sad and you have to want to get better and you have to be willing to take those steps. And it’s a lot of steps and it really fucking sucks. It’s a lot of steps and it can be really painful and sometimes they’re backwards steps and you know, it’s just, it’s a process but it’s your life. You have to take it seriously. It’s not like, oh I don’t need to take my medication. It’s not like ibuprofen for your twisted ankle, it’s your life. It’s how you interact with other human beings, it’s how you interact with yourself, how you think about yourself, how you feel about yourself, how you feel about other people, how you interact with other people…
 

Shayne says she doesn’t want someone else to understand what she is going through; she just needs support.

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I mean like, in all honesty, I don’t want someone to understand because that sucks to know what that feels like. I just want them to be supportive, which is different than understanding. Being supportive is not even the willingness to understand, it’s the willingness to never understand and to still be there. 

But to have someone who can be there and say, I know what you’re going through is ok and even if I don’t understand the pain that you’re feeling, just know that I’m here for you anyways to recognize that you are going through something and that I’m going to be supportive by being here with you. Unless you want me to go sit over in the other room, then I’ll go sit over in the other room and you can be over here by yourself and I’ll be supportive from you wherever you want me to be supportive from basically. Because sometimes you want to be alone, you’re like, “No I need to cry for ten minutes in my room. Leave me alone.” You know, or you know, sometimes you want them to sit with you while when you cry. It just varies, it depends. You know, it’s how your feeling which can be so many different things and all the things all at once. So it can be overwhelming in so many ways.
 

Shayne describes as “presumptuous” her friend’s advice on how to heal her depression.

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And then I had a friend tell me, you know [name] what you really need to do is just go on a climbing trip. And I’m like, first off, spending eight hours in the car with my self sounds awful, you know, like that sounds like a nightmare to me, so I don’t need to go on a climbing trip. I want, you know, my therapy program and my medication. That’s the treatment I need. I don’t need to go on a climbing trip. So, it’s like, you know, she’s just trying to be helpful, like trying to cheer me up. 
 
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Shayne attributes her depression to a neurochemical imbalance, which is a less stigmatizing descriptor than “mental health.”

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It took me a long time to take it seriously at first because I thought it meant there was something wrong with me. And it’s not, it wasn’t anything wrong with me, it was just a neurochemical imbalance. It’s like having a cold-nose, like a stuffy nose, except it’s in your brain. And it was just hard to realize that it wasn’t me personally.

… it’s a neurochemical imbalance. It would be so much better if they just called it a neurochemical imbalance instead of mental health. You know, it makes it sound so stigmatized I guess. 
 
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Shayne describes how her preferences for the age of her therapist shifted over time.

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I was in therapy when I was in high school and I hated it. I didn’t want to talk to somebody who looked like my mom about my problems. I wish I had had a younger therapist at that point in time. When I was in college. I had a therapist who was almost my age. And at that point I was like, “I don’t need to listen to you.” 

… They were a psychology resident in grad school and I was in undergrad. I was like, “whatever.” You know. And then, and then I met someone who was my mom’s age when I was in grad school. So I was like, young twenties, twenties. And she was perfect. She was the best therapist I’ve ever had. …  It took me two years to find a therapist in [LOCATION]. Finding that therapist that’s really good; …, it’s more important than getting along with your psychiatrist or your nurse practitioner.
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