Anna’s story.

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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 meganannmarsden@gmail.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.”

 

 

 

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Where dreams are born and time is never planned

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Meet my nieces, Paige (left) and Hannah (right). They are the world’s cutest little girls, in my entirely unbiased opinion.

When I decided to start this blog, I knew I had to write about these beauties, not only because they are inspiring, but because they add up to being the complete opposite of depression.

Spending an hour with these two will leave you feeling pure joy. 

The summer I was diagnosed, these girls and their parents came to Utah to spend a week with my family. 

I was unemployed at the time, so their presence filled up each of my hours.

Every day our activities ranged from playing “Snow White and Crazy Bird,” wandering through the Treehouse Museum and swimming at Cherry Hill. 

It was bliss.

One day, during a rousing game of “Snow White and Crazy Bird,” I was feeling particularly blue. Although I’d enjoyed my time with my little girls, I knew they’d be going home soon, and I’d be left friendless. 

While 3-year-old (at the time) Hannah was busy playing, I said to her “Hannah, I don’t have any friends.” 

I’ll admit, I didn’t think she was listening. I’d only said it to express one of my normally internal negative thoughts.

But when I said it, her head shot up, completely abandoning her toys.

“Yes you do!” Hannah said, “You have me and you have my mommy!” 

These eleven words sent chills down my spine and caused me to tear up.

Because she was right.

How could I disregard all the people who loved me, calling myself friendless? How could I think that my absence in their world wouldn’t make a difference?

In that moment, I made a commitment to myself.

No matter how sad was, no matter how much wanted to give up, I wouldn’t.

I wouldn’t because there was a three-year-old girl who needed me to play “Snow White and Crazy Bird,” with her.

I wouldn’t because one-year-old Paige had looked at me with a toothless grin, holding her arms out to me in plea for me to hold her.

I wouldn’t because my family needed me.

I wouldn’t because my Savior, Jesus Christ, had kneeled in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffering for this exact moment of despair, memorizing my pain and writing it upon his heart, so he would remember how to carry me through this trial. 

I still cherish the week I spent with my angels that summer, and our time together only gets sweeter.

This year, the LDS Primary theme is about believing in Jesus Christ, and my sister has been reading John 3:16 to Hannah, who is a CTR 5 this year.

The other day, my sister read the scripture, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

When she got to the part “whosoever believeth in him,” Hannah became elated, and exclaimed “Hey, that’s me! I believe in Jesus Christ!!!”

This thought must have been with her throughout the day, because when she kneeled down to say her prayers that night, she said “I’m grateful I believe in Jesus Christ so I will never die.”

It may have been a simple prayer, one that our lips never utter. But those words give the most important thanks to our Father in Heaven.

Hannah may not yet understand it, but what she was saying to her Heavenly Father was, “Thank you for my Savior, who suffered for each of my sins and infirmities, who will one day stand before Thee and plea for me to obtain eternal life.”

I believe in being childlike.

Like Paige does every day, I believe in stopping whatever activity is currently consuming my brain and telling whoever is nearest “I love you.”

I believe in finding joy from a simple trip to the park.

I believe in making friends with everyone.

I believe in loving myself.

Like Hannah, I believe in Jesus Christ.

 

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Meet my nieces, Paige (left) and Hannah (right). They are the world’s cutest little girls, in my entirely unbiased opinion.

When I decided to start this blog, I knew I had to write about these beauties, not only because they are inspiring, but because they add up to being the complete opposite of depression.

Spending an hour with these two will leave you feeling pure joy. 

The summer I was diagnosed, these girls and their parents came to Utah to spend a week with my family. 

I was unemployed at the time, so their presence filled up each of my hours.

Every day our activities ranged from playing “Snow White and Crazy Bird,” wandering through the Treehouse Museum and swimming at Cherry Hill. 

It was bliss.

One day, during a rousing game of “Snow White and Crazy Bird,” I was feeling particularly blue. Although I’d enjoyed my time with my little girls, I knew they’d be going home soon, and I’d be left friendless. 

While 3-year-old (at the time) Hannah was busy playing, I said to her “Hannah, I don’t have any friends.” 

I’ll admit, I didn’t think she was listening. I’d only said it to express one of my normally internal negative thoughts.

But when I said it, her head shot up, completely abandoning her toys.

“Yes you do!” Hannah said, “You have me and you have my mommy!” 

These eleven words sent chills down my spine and caused me to tear up.

Because she was right.

How could I disregard all the people who loved me, calling myself friendless? How could I think that my absence in their world wouldn’t make a difference?

In that moment, I made a commitment to myself.

No matter how sad was, no matter how much wanted to give up, I wouldn’t.

I wouldn’t because there was a three-year-old girl who needed me to play “Snow White and Crazy Bird,” with her.

I wouldn’t because one-year-old Paige had looked at me with a toothless grin, holding her arms out to me in plea for me to hold her.

I wouldn’t because my family needed me.

I wouldn’t because my Savior, Jesus Christ, had kneeled in the Garden of Gethsemane, suffering for this exact moment of despair, memorizing my pain and writing it upon his heart, so he would remember how to carry me through this trial. 

I still cherish the week I spent with my angels that summer, and our time together only gets sweeter.

This year, the LDS Primary theme is about believing in Jesus Christ, and my sister has been reading John 3:16 to Hannah, who is a CTR 5 this year.

The other day, my sister read the scripture, which says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

When she got to the part “whosoever believeth in him,” Hannah became elated, and exclaimed “Hey, that’s me! I believe in Jesus Christ!!!”

This thought must have been with her throughout the day, because when she kneeled down to say her prayers that night, she said “I’m grateful I believe in Jesus Christ so I will never die.”

It may have been a simple prayer, one that our lips never utter. But those words give the most important thanks to our Father in Heaven.

Hannah may not yet understand it, but what she was saying to her Heavenly Father was, “Thank you for my Savior, who suffered for each of my sins and infirmities, who will one day stand before Thee and plea for me to obtain eternal life.”

I believe in being childlike.

Like Paige does every day, I believe in stopping whatever activity is currently consuming my brain and telling whoever is nearest “I love you.”

I believe in finding joy from a simple trip to the park.

I believe in making friends with everyone.

I believe in loving myself.

Like Hannah, I believe in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

A few of my favorite things

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Hey there.

Here I am, nestled between my seafoam sheets while attempting to do some homework, and all I can think of is you. My readers are always on my mind. You are always on my mind. 

Remember watching “The Sound of Music” as a kid? We watched it on the regular at my house. 

There I’d sit, wearing my favorite silky nightgown, singing with Maria and the Von Trapp children about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. 

I related to her. I, too, liked brown paper packages tied up with strings. Everything she sang about seemed happy, magical even. 

Then, one day, in the midst of my depression, I realized what a lie that was. That merely thinking of a few of my favorite things wouldn’t make me feel bad anymore. 

Story time.

I was wandering through the aisles of Deseret Book on an errand with my mom that summer, when the title of a book caught my eye. I can’t remember the exact name, but it had something to do with LDS women and depression. Glancing in my peripheral to make sure no one was watching, I picked up the book and began to read. 

The author asks the reader to imagine they are accompanied by the love of their life in a breathtaking Italian town, surrounded by vineyards and beautiful architecture. Then, she asks them to imagine them feeling completely apathetic to the situation. 

This real-life experience is how she described her depression; losing complete interest in even the most enticing activities.

I couldn’t have related to a person more than I did at that moment. 

I had been in such a dark place, not even reading Harry Potter (my favorite thing in the world) brought me happiness.

A couple of days later, I was driving home from work when I heard these lyrics from a Regina Specktor song.

“Some days aren’t yours at all. They come and go as if they’re someone else’s days. They come and leave you behind someone else’s face. And it’s harsher than yours. And it’s colder than yours.”

Regina, I hear you girl. But it’s got to stop.

I didn’t want to feel apathetic anymore. I wanted to feel passionate. Joyful. Loved.

So although participating in fun and simple activities didn’t work right away, they helped. 

Today, I created a list of 10 of my favorite things. I dare you to try them.

  1. Go into nature. One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein, and it says, “Go deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” I was living in Russia when I first read that, and my little apartment was surrounded by the most gloriously tall trees I’d ever seen. When it turned warm, I’d go outside, lay on a lawn chair, and just stare at those trees. When I returned home to the beautiful land that is Utah, my mom would drive me up to a hiking trail, and we’d spend the morning hiking through God’s most glorious creations. It may not have been a quick fix, but I’m telling you, I felt God in those mountains.
  2. Spend some time with your pet. Remember when you begged your parents for your pet, and now you’re all grown up and too cool to spend more than five minutes a week with it? That was me. Yet, some days, I’d just sit outside with my cat Lizzie. I’d talk to her, she’d purr, we’d soak up the sun together. Sometimes animals understand better than the crazy humans do. 
  3. Do something you loved as a child. Painting? Dancing? Hopscotch? Do it. I love asking children what they like to do. They do everything. My nieces are artists, singers, dancers, soccer players, and anything else you can think of. I was also those things when I was their age. You know what I am now? Me neither. I don’t care if you still can’t draw a horse. If you loved it then, chances are you’ll secretly love it now.
  4. Don’t just “pin” it. Raise your hand if you’ve spent hours pinning recipes, DIY projects and quotes on Pinterest. I’m definitely guilty. Last summer, I made the picture at the beginning of this post for my wedding reception. Do you know how I felt after having making one of my “pins” a reality? Like a Pinterest baller. Creating>Pinning. Big time. 
  5. Meditate. Meditating has been one of my favorite things to do since high school. If you’re anything like me, your brain is constantly wired, thinking about a million different things. When I was in the height of my depression, most of those things were negative. Meditating teaches you to control your thoughts and love your mind. 
  6. Go to an old folks home. If you feel like nobody has it worse than you, head on over to an assisted living center. There, you’ll see people who really have it bad. You know what else you’ll see? You’ll see Midge with some tubes up her nose, sitting in the same arm chair she has for the last 6 months, wearing a diaper and thinking of her deceased loved ones. And you know what she’ll be doing? Smiling. From personal experience, I have seen people who are worse off than this, smiling the day away and giving compliments to everyone who walks by. It’s a real humbling experience. A necessary one. 
  7. Facebook stalk yourself. How many times do we find ourselves browsing through other people’s pictures, noticing how pretty they are, how much fun their last vacation was or how many friends like their statuses? It happens to me frequently. And during those times, I have to stop looking at other people’s happiness and look at my own. I scan through the pictures and posts of Megan Christensen and I see pictures of an amazing experience in Russia. Family vacations, life-long friends, and the greatest family I could ever asked for. Because guess what? You’ve had trials. But you’ve also had a good life. It may not seem like it, and it may be less fortunate than a lot of people. But I know somebody loves you, and I know you’ve had many, many blessed nights in your life. 
  8. Write a letter. Not an email, not a text, a real letter. Write it to someone you love, someone on a mission, or a stranger. Who doesn’t love mail?
  9. Read “The Fault in Our Stars.” This beloved book found me at a time I needed it most. It will hit you hard in places you didn’t know you could feel. It’s especially good for depressed victims, because it teaches the most beautiful perspective about a girl who has been where you’ve been. And then some. And if you’ve read it before? Read it again. I read it every June. 
  10. Watch your “blankie” movie. This is what me and my husband call our favorite movies. Not the most recent Nicholas Sparks type of movie. The movie that’s been through the years with you. The one you had to get on DVD because your VHS is so worn out. For me, it’s You’ve Got Mail. There’s not a character I can relate to more than Kathleen Kelly. The sassy, passionate, book-loving heart who works hard to keep something she believes in. 

I can’t guarantee that doing these things will heal you. But I guarantee at least some of them will make you feel something. And it’s a good feeling.

Liz’s Story.

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Authors Note: This is the beginning of a series I’d like to write about other people’s experience with mental illness. I so appreciate Liz, her brave heart and her willingness to share her story with fellow sufferers. If you’d like to share your story, email me at meganannmarsden@gmail.com, and we can set up an interview.

During her ninth grade year, when most girls were spending their days shopping with friends and taking drivers ed, Liz Erickson was coping with severe depression. 

After experiencing her mother’s death at age 12 and enduring physical, verbal and emotional abuse from her autistic sister, she felt unpretty, unloved and unintelligent; but she figured everybody felt like that.

Her depression went undiagnosed for ten years.

Throughout that decade, Liz’s depression led to eating disorders and thoughts of ending her life.

It was during her time living in Salt Lake City that she hit her peak.

“I just completely lost it,” Liz said. “I felt like my brain wasn’t my own. I was fearful for my own life and I was scared of my own self.”

After telling the doctor she thought she might have depression, he gave her a blue packet to fill out, which would help him assess the severity of her mental illness.

She described filling out that packet as taking the worst test in the world, because it meant admitting she was broken.

After diagnosing her with mild-severe depression and anxiety, the physician put her on several medications.

“The medications worked for about six weeks, but then things got worse,” Liz said.

During a second visit to the doctor, Liz was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, which frustrated her, since she felt like the medicine was the cause of this second diagnosis. 

Just when things couldn’t get worse, she was in a car accident, which totaled her car.

“I was physically fine, but I didn’t know how much it was going to change me,” Liz said. “I had started a new job and a new school, and my body was literally shutting down. The left side of my body shut down. My arms wouldn’t work and my hands wouldn’t open.”

It was then that she sought the help of a neuropsychologist, who diagnosed her with a third mental illness: Conversion disorder.

While most patients who experience anxiety fall into the 60th percentile, Liz fell into the 90th percentile, which led to her brain converting her mental pain into physical pain, sometimes even temporary paralysis. 

If she did not get better, there was a risk of permanent paralysis. 

The healing process meant regularly taking medicine and attending group therapy, but the medicine only made it worse.

One night, when she felt the weight of the world pressing hard upon her shoulders, she overdosed on her medication. 

It was at that point she decided she needed to get better, and the medication could not be a part of the equation. 

With the approval of her doctor, she decided to ween herself off her medication, but the results weren’t pretty.

She knew she had to get better, though, so she decided to counteract the medicine by training for a triathlon. 

“The exercise gave me so much confidence in myself,” Liz said. “When I started doing things I never thought I could do, I started to think ‘Wow, I’m a lot more awesome that I thought.’”

It took less than one year for Liz to get off her medicine.

Though she was doing much better, she still experienced hard times. 

One of her coping mechanisms was to create daily victories for herself.

Her victories were small, but productive, such as getting out of bed or changing her clothes.

She also made it a habit to pray daily, even if her prayers were as simple as “Thank you for keeping me alive today, amen.”

Liz said The Lord was the number one instrument in her healing process, though she couldn’t always see it. 

“I think I was angry at God for the longest time, but once I started getting better, I saw His hand in everything.”

Liz experienced frustration with others when they would tell her that if she would just read her scriptures she’d be fine, she’d be happy. She tried doing that, but she wasn’t feeling better, so she figured she was a bad person. 

“It wasn’t until a bishop in salt lake said ‘lets get you better’ that my testimony really strengthened, because finally someone heard me. I was sick and I needed to get better,” Liz said. 

Author’s final note: It’s been fun for me to see Liz at church during the last few months, because happiness radiates from her skin. She has found the love of her life, whom she is marrying next month, and she always has a contagious smile on her face. Liz reminded me of the importance in seeking professional help. If you feel like you are in need of someone’s help, never hesitate to find a nearby psychologist. After all, like Liz says “the medication treats the symptoms, but the psychologist treats the underlying diagnosis.”

 

Liz’s Story.

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Authors Note: This is the beginning of a series I’d like to write about other people’s experience with mental illness. I so appreciate Liz, her brave heart and her willingness to share her story with fellow sufferers. If you’d like to share your story, email me at meganannmarsden@gmail.com, and we can set up an interview.

During her ninth grade year, when most girls were spending their days shopping with friends and taking drivers ed, Liz Erickson was coping with severe depression. 

After experiencing her mother’s death at age 12 and enduring physical, verbal and emotional abuse from her autistic sister, she felt unpretty, unloved and unintelligent; but she figured everybody felt like that.

Her depression went undiagnosed for ten years.

Throughout that decade, Liz’s depression led to eating disorders and thoughts of ending her life.

It was during her time living in Salt Lake City that she hit her peak.

“I just completely lost it,” Liz said. “I felt like my brain wasn’t my own. I was fearful for my own life and I was scared of my own self.”

After telling the doctor she thought she might have depression, he gave her a blue packet to fill out, which would help him assess the severity of her mental illness.

She described filling out that packet as taking the worst test in the world, because it meant admitting she was broken.

After diagnosing her with mild-severe depression and anxiety, the physician put her on several medications.

“The medications worked for about six weeks, but then things got worse,” Liz said.

During a second visit to the doctor, Liz was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, which frustrated her, since she felt like the medicine was the cause of this second diagnosis. 

Just when things couldn’t get worse, she was in a car accident, which totaled her car.

“I was physically fine, but I didn’t know how much it was going to change me,” Liz said. “I had started a new job and a new school, and my body was literally shutting down. The left side of my body shut down. My arms wouldn’t work and my hands wouldn’t open.”

It was then that she sought the help of a neuropsychologist, who diagnosed her with a third mental illness: Conversion disorder.

While most patients who experience anxiety fall into the 60th percentile, Liz fell into the 90th percentile, which led to her brain converting her mental pain into physical pain, sometimes even temporary paralysis. 

If she did not get better, there was a risk of permanent paralysis. 

The healing process meant regularly taking medicine and attending group therapy, but the medicine only made it worse.

One night, when she felt the weight of the world pressing hard upon her shoulders, she overdosed on her medication. 

It was at that point she decided she needed to get better, and the medication could not be a part of the equation. 

With the approval of her doctor, she decided to ween herself off her medication, but the results weren’t pretty.

She knew she had to get better, though, so she decided to counteract the medicine by training for a triathlon. 

“The exercise gave me so much confidence in myself,” Liz said. “When I started doing things I never thought I could do, I started to think ‘Wow, I’m a lot more awesome that I thought.'”

It took less than one year for Liz to get off her medicine.

Though she was doing much better, she still experienced hard times. 

One of her coping mechanisms was to create daily victories for herself.

Her victories were small, but productive, such as getting out of bed or changing her clothes.

She also made it a habit to pray daily, even if her prayers were as simple as “Thank you for keeping me alive today, amen.”

Liz said The Lord was the number one instrument in her healing process, though she couldn’t always see it. 

“I think I was angry at God for the longest time, but once I started getting better, I saw His hand in everything.”

Liz experienced frustration with others when they would tell her that if she would just read her scriptures she’d be fine, she’d be happy. She tried doing that, but she wasn’t feeling better, so she figured she was a bad person. 

“It wasn’t until a bishop in salt lake said ‘lets get you better’ that my testimony really strengthened, because finally someone heard me. I was sick and I needed to get better,” Liz said. 

Author’s final note: It’s been fun for me to see Liz at church during the last few months, because happiness radiates from her skin. She has found the love of her life, whom she is marrying next month, and she always has a contagious smile on her face. Liz reminded me of the importance in seeking professional help. If you feel like you are in need of someone’s help, never hesitate to find a nearby psychologist. After all, like Liz says “the medication treats the symptoms, but the psychologist treats the underlying diagnosis.”