My name is Hannah and I am currently a sophomore at St. John Fisher. I’m from the Syracuse area, but I kind of grew up both in New York and in Georgia. I was born in Syracuse and raised in Syracuse and then I moved to Georgia when I was three. Around three, my parents starting fighting a whole lot and they got a divorce. Me, my mom, and my brother shot back up north and that’s where I went to school from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. My father still lives in Georgia.
Growing up, mental illness wasn’t really a thing in my family—at least it wasn’t spoken of. Even now, we learn that the older generations don’t really like to talk about it and it was more of a, “rub some dirt on it, you’re fine”, type of thing. With my parent’s divorce, I was like fifteen maybe and my mom asked me, “Do you know why we got a divorce?” I was like, “No I mean people fight, people lose interest…”, and she said, “No. Your father was really emotionally and mentally abusive and I fell into this really deep depression.” I told her that I knew she had depression and she told me she had depression growing up too. My first real instance with it [mental illness] was with my mom during those teenage years. With teenage mood swings and everything I just assumed maybe it was just hormones and puberty, but my mother told me she thought I had depression too. She told me that everything I do, the way I distance myself from people, the way I get into something and then lose interest, and my eating habits all point towards depression. At the time I was like, “Okay, well it’s not a big deal. I’ll deal with it.” So I learned to deal with it myself and I learned to get all my aggression out while playing sports.
You know, during high school I didn’t think I had many friends, but I thought I just kind of bounced from one group to the next. I still felt like a loner though—really alone. Senior year comes and my dad still lived in Georgia while I was living up here so I told him I wanted him to come to my graduation. I told him, “I just want you and grandma to come”, because that’s all who went to my older brother’s graduation. He said, “No. If you don’t want my girlfriend there, then I am not going.” I figured because it’s my day that I could choose and he just freaked out at me because of that. That’s when I hit real rock-bottom. Hitting rock bottom for me meant losing interest in everything. I was a three-season athlete. I was usually an A and B student. I went from As and Bs to Cs and Ds to nearly failing and then not even wanting to play sports anymore. I couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. I finally went to a psychologist and he told me I had depression—of course I could’ve told him that because it was obvious. He told me I also had anxiety and I was bullied really bad in high school and it started to get to the point where I was constantly checking over my shoulder in school every day, I had to shut out my blinds at night, I had blacked-out window shades—I was afraid people were looking in my windows and following me. It got pretty bad at one point, but I’ve always been the type of person to try and figure it out on my own and deal with it myself. I realized soon after that I couldn’t do this by myself anymore—I needed help. My mom recommended that we go talk to somebody and we did.
That was my personal experience with mental illness but even now as a psych major, I asked my family if anyone else had feelings like mine or symptoms of mental illness and they’re just not willing to talk about it.
Outside of my family, I’ve had a couple friends, mainly my best friend, who suffers from depression and anxiety. My best friend goes to school in Rochester too and she’s attempted suicide twice. Both times she’s called me during her attempt. The second time she woke me up at two in the morning and she’s balling her eyes out saying that she didn’t know what came over her and everything has just been going terribly lately. She told me that she needs to talk to somebody and that she needs help because she just tried to drive herself off the road. I was like, “Okay, thank you for calling me…” because I didn’t want to get the other phone call. I didn’t want to get the, “Hey, she’s gone.”
The next day while at the hospital she got a psych evaluation and luckily they changed her medications to ones that worked. For me, the first medication that I went on worked—I haven’t had to change it. For her though, it was always something different and trying to find something that worked for her because nothing ever did.
Other than that, I haven’t really been exposed to too many other people with mental illnesses. That’s why I joined NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) because there is so much more that I could learn about this by being in the crowd with everyone else. I don’t know what I want to do after graduating, but I just want to help people.
When I was in elementary school we had a divorce counselor and when I graduate I am going to write her a letter saying how much she helped me push through those tough times. I would sometimes go to school crying my eyes out because I missed my dad. When you live with one parent for so long, you really only get that developmental portion and you don’t get to see the other side. So when I would go see my dad, he was always the fun parent and there was never any punishment because I was only there for a week or two. I think maybe if I had both of my parents then maybe things would be different. But with my depression, I think I cope the same way my mom does—but I think that’s because I’ve seen her do it. I can tell when she’s having a rough day. If she comes in and is super quiet or is angry and bouncing off the walls, then I know she had a rough day—and she’ll do the same with me. She’ll check on me and ask me if I’m sleeping or sometimes why I’m sleeping for twelve hours.
I think the weather is a trigger to my depression too. If it’s just dreary or dark all day then that obviously puts me in a mood, but if I can find some type of positive out of it like, “hey it’s dark and cold outside, but at least it’s not snowing”, then that helps me. Bad grades are another one—like that feeling of, “I didn’t do well enough” or “I don’t feel good enough” moment can kind of trigger it. Also, if I see something with my dad, that’s usually my biggest trigger.
We have therapy chickens at home. We claim our mother is really lonely and that she gets bored as a middle school nurse. But if she’s having a rough day, then my mom goes and sits with the chickens. What’s better than that? They’re adorable! Between chickens and puppies, that’s all I need in life. I laugh but when people ask me what can they do [when they’re in a rut], I tell them therapy chickens—anything that makes you happy. It might take some time to figure out, but you have to try things. That’s what I’ve learned too. Sitting in bed all day is not going to help you get anywhere—you have to get up and go do something new.