Author’s note: The following story is a piece in a series I am writing about other people’s experiences with mental illness. Anna Bradshaw gives a wonderful perspective on childhood depression, and the sad reality it creates for little ones. I so appreciate Anna’s brave heart and willingness to share her story. If you’d like to set up an interview with me, you can email email@example.com.
It was a typical day of running errands with her mom, when suddenly they were pulling into a health clinic.
“Anna, your dad and I have been concerned about your mental health, and we’re hoping to get you some help,” her mom said, the tone of the afternoon swiftly changing. “Now you can choose to wait in the car while we talk to the doctor, or you can come in. It’s your choice.”
Blindsided and angry, Anna reluctantly made the walk to see the physician.
At eight years old, Anna began answering questions that exceeded her maturity.
“Do you think of yourself as a good person? Do you ever think about killing yourself?”
Feeling embarrassed, Anna answered the questions in half-truths; trying to be honest, while simultaneously sugarcoating how she really felt inside.
When it was over, a diagnosis was made: clinical depression.
For years, Anna hadn’t felt right. She found herself expressing her emotions through anger and tears, but her innocent mind didn’t know it could be depression.
She left the clinic with a prescription for anti-depressants, promising herself she wouldn’t tell a soul about her new-found disease.
As the pills made a home inside her body, her symptoms began to decrease.
She began to feel happier, normal even; until she stopped remembering to take them.
Her parents began to notice her symptoms rising to the surface once more, so she tried to take the medicine again. This time it didn’t go so well.
Throughout her adolescents, Anna lived with the darkness burrowed inside her heart.
She kept busy with friends and school, but sometimes, when it became to be too much, she’d lock herself in the bathroom, and hit herself with her hairbrush.
Her secret keeping abilities were a success.
No one knew what she was going through, not even her parents.
“I wanted to put on a strong face, so I learned how to hide it, even from myself sometimes,” Anna said.
Anna’s thoughts were a constant stream of inadequacy. “I’m not a good person,” was the thought constantly seeping into her nervous system.
A change of heart took place during her high school years when her family moved to a different town.
Anna tried out for sports, musical groups, student office and more, just to keep herself busy.
When she was busy, her mind forgot about the pain written in her heart.
She reached a new high as she entered college, making new friends and dating a man she thought she could marry.
While spending a summer’s evening with a coworker, something occurred that should only reside inside nightmares: Date Rape.
After being stripped of her innocence, Anna’s world began to spiral downward.
She began to feel worthless again, thinking this only happened to her because she was a bad person.
Amidst trying to cope with the violation, her roommates wouldn’t tolerate her pain.
“You need to get over yourself,” one roommate said. “You’re not the most important person in the world.”
Anna began to lose trust in people she cared about, especially when her boyfriend broke up with her the date after the incident.
No one could begin to understand her depression.
“Depression is not something you can just fix,” Anna said. “You can’t just get over it. People don’t realize it’s a disease, and there’s not always a cure for it.”
She felt like she was in a dark hole, and the only way out was to run away; literally.
Anna ran every day, usually around 2 in the morning.
“I just had this ‘bring it’ mentality,” Anna said. “I thought there was nothing that could happen to me that could make my life worse. I’d go on seven mile runs in the most dangerous parts of my town, because I wanted to prove that I could take care of myself. It’s almost like I wanted something bad to happen to me.”
At that point, there was nowhere to go but up.
Starting then and continuing to this day, Anna has come up with three solutions to help her cope with mental illness. Gratitude, exercise and service.
Although she would have never asked for this trial, she said she is grateful for her depression.
“I think I’m grateful for my trials because I’ve been able to meet people who are going through trials and talk to them,” Anna said. “I think we live in a world where we’re very caught up in ourselves and what’s going on in our own lives, so other people may seem like they have it good, but we don’t know what they’ve been through. It makes me want to be nicer to everybody.”
Anna said when she’s feeling really down about herself, it makes her feel good to serve others.
“When I’m serving, I’m not thinking about what’s wrong with me, I’m thinking about how I can help others,” Anna said.
After years of trials and tears, Anna has found solace in her marriage to the love of her life. She recognizes her blessings and is able to find happiness.
“What I wish I would have known my whole life is that we’re not alone in this,” Anna said. “For anybody that hasn’t ever experienced this just don’t give up.”