I always knew what mental illness was, what it looked like and how it affected others by virtue of my family’s history of depression and bipolar disorder. In my early teens, I was aware that I was not in good emotional shape. I started looking for help when I was 13 and have struggled ever since trying to find effective, sustainable treatment. It took me 29 years to find it here at Skyland Trail.
I had a career I loved in the nonprofit sector working in emergency management. It is a notoriously high-stress environment, but I thrived in it. My struggles were in my personal life. While it looked like I was living the “suburb dream” with a husband, two kids, two dogs and a minivan, I was in a constant state of panic, and no one knew. I kept 15 years of crying in closets, jumping at every squeaky floor board and twitching my feet until my ankles swelled out of sight. Then it all came crashing to an end at the end of 2015. I couldn’t force myself to function anymore. I moved out of my family home and into my old room in my mother’s house to get myself together.
For me, anxiety drives my depression. Anxiety is in the driver’s seat, and depression is riding around unsecured in back of the station wagon. When the anxiety hits the accelerator, the depression comes flying up and hits me in the back of the head. Anxiety drove me to the point where I was having cascading panic attacks. I lost hope. I became depressed to the point of considering suicide. While I did not act upon the suicidal thoughts, the depression became a chronic cycle. I would have depressive episodes, realize I had to change, then worry about how I was ever going to do that, lose hope, get depressed… and run the cycle on endless loop.
After 3-4 months of trying, I was still desperately depressed and struggling to keep going. That’s when I started looking for help beyond my 50-minute therapy appointments every other week. At the age of 42, I started treatment at Skyland Trail with the diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and depression. During my time here, my treatment team also diagnosed attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and later Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). Through the treatment at Skyland Trail, I learned how to recognize and cope with my feelings rather than punish myself for being weak enough to have them. Being surrounded by other people going through the same thing made me accept that I was not alone, that other people understood because they felt it, too. And taking 8 weeks to make my health my sole focus rather than catching an hour a couple of times a month finally allowed me to make progress and put it into practice without the constant pressure of the rest of the world over my shoulder.
Once I graduated, I re-entered the workforce in gradual steps. My confidence had taken a beating, so I needed to start over and prove to myself that I was capable. I took a part-time job as an executive assistant for a small engineering company. Working there for six months gave me the opportunity to regain some confidence, trust my skills and feel excited about getting back to what I loved. Eleven months after I graduated, I took a position as the national director of a nonprofit disaster program. Today, I am back on track to where I want to be professionally.
There is still work to do to get where I want to be personally, but I am okay with that because I am making progress. I never believed I would find any sense peace or happiness in my life. Skyland Trail equipped me with the tools I have used to build this new road for myself, so I trust they will get me the rest of the way, too. Being a part of Skyland Trail not only changed my life, it saved my life so I could create the one I always wanted to live.