Rachel’s recovery: a battle with depression
February 4, 2020
Symptoms to some, but a checklist of disorders for junior Rachel Wilson. And on World Suicide Prevention Day, she decided to share her story via social media.
The day is, at most, a mere blip on the radar for many high school students, but it was so much more to Rachel. For her, it was a day to make public her battle with mental illness, hoping her words could give encouragement to others who may also be struggling.
“I realized it was World Suicide Prevention Day. And I was just thinking, why not tell people,” Rachel said. “I know I felt this way at one point, if someone were to see something that someone else was so vulnerable, and be able to put themselves out there saying, I’ve been through it, like what you’re going through right now, the best thing to do is go get help. And that’s what I wanted to portray in mine, or just in case anyone that I was friends with, or that follow my page would be able to see that and think, ‘Oh, I need to get some help’.”
A long journey
For Rachel, being open about her struggle with mental health was a long journey that began years prior.
“Starting in middle school, middle school is kind of a rough time for me as it was a lot of people transitioning from elementary school to middle school. Both my parents suffered from things like this. And basically I just knew that it was going to be coming,” Rachel said. “My parents told me since I was little, ‘if you ever feel any of these things, you can just tell us what’s going on, and we’ll be there for you’. I started seeing a therapist when I was a freshman in high school. And it was kind of one of those scary things because you don’t really think oh, if someone sees me here, someone knows that I’m in therapy, they’re going to think that I’m crazy.”
An estimated 10-15 percent of teenagers worldwide have mental health problems with Rachel experiencing several different conditions.
“I had issues with anxiety, depression, and atypical anorexia, which is just where it didn’t meet all of the requirements for actually anorexia,” Rachel said. “So it was still categorized under it, just in a different way.”
With the expected stress of grades, peers, and extracurriculars from high school, Rachel’s junior year made it difficult for her family to identify unusual behavior.
“I honestly didn’t, even looking back,” Rachel’s mom, Amy said. “Rachel likes to be involved in several different activities and I knew she had a lot on her plate, but outwardly she seemed to be handling things well. I knew it would take some time to settle into the new school year but I had no idea how overwhelmed she was feeling.”
Rachel began to consider seeking psychiatric help beyond therapy once she realized how powerful her depression was getting.
“They thought about it at one point, but I was thinking, no, I don’t want to go and I’m fine. And then as soon as I started feeling as bad as I was, I knew that that was probably going to be the safest thing for me to do, that I tell my parents,” Rachel said. “And I talked to my therapist, and she agreed that it would just be the safest thing for me to do, because they just wanted to make sure that I was not a danger to myself or anyone around me.”
Once Rachel decided to express her concerns to her parents, they quickly reacted with care.
“To be completely honest, when Rachel first told me how she was thinking/feeling, I was shocked,” Amy said. “I wanted to cry but I knew there was no time for that and she needed help immediately. She slept with me that night and the next morning I made an appointment for her to see her therapist.”
After Rachel met with her therapist, she was then admitted into Seay Behavioral Health Center, where she was not the only one affected.
“I was really scared because being her sister, I always have been there for lots of things in her life,” sister, Natalie said. “And her having to go somewhere and be away from me for something like that, I didn’t know what was going to happen to her. It was almost terrifying, because I couldn’t stop worrying because I knew that she had been in a sad place, and I couldn’t do anything to help.”
However the people at Seay Behavioral Health Center could help even though Rachel was unsure what to expect.
“When I was first admitted I basically just thought that I was gonna be around a lot of people that had more severe issues than I did,” Rachel said. “And that I was going to be at a place with what people deem as crazy people, but it was more like a lot of the people there were the same people I was.”
As Rachel was receiving help, her family was trying to cope at home.
“She did not initially want anyone to know where she was,” Amy said. “Other than her sister and her dad, who were dealing with this too, there was no one I could talk to about what was going on. I completely respected her desire for privacy, but it was difficult to completely compartmentalize and go through my day behaving as though my heart wasn’t broken for my girl. Ultimately, I was relieved that we had a relationship where she came to me knowing her dad and I would do whatever it took to help her and I felt that she was where she needed to be.”
For Rachel, her time in the hospital allowed her to get professional assistance that taught her skills to deal with triggers in the future.
“Basically I just learned how little I needed to be alright,” Rachel said. “We didn’t have any phones. The only electronics we had was the TV while we were eating. It was just the little things like that. We did group therapies and we did one on ones. Basically, I just learned a lot of coping skills. Just help for when I start getting anxious. I just realized all the things I like to do are coping mechanisms for when I’m feeling stressed, or when I’m feeling really anxious.’’
Transition back to school
Once she was released from the hospital, Rachel received aid from school counselors when she returned to campus.
“The counselors gave me a certain pass that whenever I feel anxious, whenever I get stressed, I can use that pass, like show it to a teacher, and it lets me go straight to the counseling office whenever I feel anxious,” Rachel said. “And people are like ‘you have a pass where you can leave the class whenever you want, are you going to abuse it?’ Absolutely not because this is something they gave me as a resource for me when I’m feeling anxious.”
Leaving the safe environment of the hospital, Rachel’s transition back to school sparked feelings of fear, as she was hesitant to share her story so soon.
“I was legitimately terrified,” Rachel said. “I worried that people were going to think, ‘she was in the hospital for a week. She must be insane. I don’t want to talk to her’. I made up this whole thing about stomach flu, and I was grounded, something like that. Just an explanation why I didn’t have my phone and why I wasn’t at school.”
However, once Rachel’s close friends questioned where she claimed she had been, she decided to open up to them in private.
“I told them truthfully,” Rachel said. “And then I realized when I was telling them, I wasn’t ashamed of what was going on with me. I wasn’t ashamed that I had been in the hospital because of it, like trying to deal with suicide. I was thinking, this is me, this is my story. I’m not ashamed that people hear that I was struggling with mental health because it’s something that millions of people are struggling with as well.”
Although hesitant at first, Rachel decided to be vocal about her experience on Instagram, where she received numerous messages applauding her for her bravery.
“I had some of them comment on my posts or text me saying, you’re so strong, I’m so glad that you were able to be so vocal and put yourself out there like that,” Rachel said. “They said that they were proud of me, that I was really brave and that made me feel good. Because I was really very stressed. Typing that, I was like, I don’t want people to judge me. But then all the responses that I got, especially from my friends, were so positive.”
After hearing about Rachel’s experience, some of her friends now view mental health as a bigger issue.
“I know how bad it affects people but I never really thought about the big impacts on it until it happened to one of my best friends,” junior Thais Fernandez said. “And I was really worried but I know that there’s always a way to make it better.”
As society often highlights the surface of mental illnesses, those battling know that it is deeper and is more difficult than simply choosing to be happy.
“The thing about hearing ‘it’s going to get better, it’s going to get better’, is that when you’re in that place, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to get better. So it feels almost kind of hypocritical,” Rachel said. “One of the biggest things that I can say is if you feel hopeless at all, and in any way, just go get some help. Even if you are getting help, National Suicide Prevention hotline, always there. Your family is always there. I promise that there’s someone that will be willing to talk to you, if not, reach out to me I’ll always be there for literally anyone doesn’t matter because I’ve been through the same stuff and I’ll always be willing to help anyone. And just one of the most important things is just to get help if you’re struggling.”
Even though many people struggling with mental health issues prefer to keep things to themselves, Rachel’s mom encourages people to reach out.
“I want to remind everyone that if they are thinking of suicide to please tell someone,” Amy said. “If one person doesn’t take you seriously or doesn’t do anything because they don’t know what to do, tell someone else. What you feel isn’t always true. You are loved and you are important and you can feel better.”