Opening the Door for the First Time



My name is Julia, I’m a 19 year old college student, currently living in Southern New Hampshire, and I am clinically depressed.

Not your average introduction, but if I am going to accomplish what I have set out to do with this blog, then we are going to need to be open and honest.

I have been experiencing depression and anxiety for most of my life, but have only been receiving treatment for a few months. One thing I have noticed time and time again is that people don’t want to talk about mental health.

Depression is an icky word. It’s meant to be whispered, to be thrown in a box and shoved under the bed. But here’s the thing: depression is a grower. And depression feeds on the darkness. The further you shove it down, the bigger it’s going to get.

So, that’s where the goal of this blog comes in. I want to open the doors to a wider discussion about mental health, so that those who suffer from mental illness can face their daily battles without shame or fear.

So feel free to introduce yourself, and look forward to some more content in the near future!

open door
“The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.” – C.S. Lewis

calm down + chill out breathing (not bullshit, not clickbait)

i’m down. i’m struggling and i don’t want to write. but as i was starting to feel panic rise just now, i started to focus on my breathing. i breathed in a way a very good therapist taught me 5 years ago, and i realized this technique had become second nature to me. but it didn’t start that way. that therapist sat down and taught us how to do it, and it has saved me over and over. and i figured i owed it to whatever corner of the world will listen to me to teach them too. so here goes.

the calm down method


1.) breathe in for 4 counts

2.) breathe out for 4 counts

3.) breathe in for 4 counts

4.) breathe out for 5 counts

5.) breathe in for 4 counts

6.) breathe out for 6 counts

and so on, as high as you can comfortably go. i would say a maximum of 8 counts. if you still feel panicked or anxious, start over. do it as many times as you need to. the panic will pass eventually.

why it works:

i’m no scientist or doctor, but i can give you the gist. first of all, the act of focusing on breathing itself lowers your heart rate. but the reason this method works particularly well with high anxiety or panic is because in a state of panic, you start breathing in more air than you’re letting out. this increases the panic symptoms and exacerbates the problem. but when you breathe with these counts, where the breath output is longer than the input, your body starts to reverse those symptoms of panic and calm down.

alternatively, if you need a little pumping up or an adrenaline kick, this trick also works backwards. just reverse the steps, so that you’re breathing in more counts than breathing out. this could help get past that last bit of sleepiness in the morning or whatever.

also i’m not going to get into the whole dbt thing, but don’t underestimate the power of cold water or ice or cold air when you have high anxiety. that stuff actually works, no bullshit.

okay bye now ❤

The Long-Awaited Religious Trauma Post

Alright folks. It’s time to talk about religious trauma.

Last week, during group therapy, we started discussing sexual orientation and gender identity, and coping with being closeted or not having the support you need. Some of these topics hit close to home for me, so I raised my hand and started talking about my experience going to Catholic schools my whole life. Halfway through my sharing, I noticed my heart rate shot up, my chest tightened, and I couldn’t catch my breath. Boom. I was having a panic attack. I turned off my camera and microphone and took about 15 minutes to recover before returning to group.

This reaction came as quite a shock to me. In therapy, I have been working through some residual emotions concerning my religious upbringing. But these topics haven’t induced panic since before I left the Church years ago. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t just some rough terrain I was working through. This was trauma. Trauma doesn’t go away just because you don’t talk about it. So let’s go ahead and talk about it.

Before we go any further, I know certain people who were involved in my story might read this. If you do, or if you recognize a part of my pain that you contributed to, please don’t contact me about it. Not for an explanation, not even for an apology. It will be uncomfortable for everyone involved, and cause needless stress. I don’t hate the people that were involved. I truly believe most people do what they can with the information they have, and many people have good intentions.

One more disclaimer: If you are religious yourself, I am not writing this to attack. I hold nothing against people who subscribe to a religion, as long as they are not using that religion to cause harm or pressure others into their beliefs. I am just here to share my experiences and hopefully give a new perspective.

I was baptized and raised Roman Catholic, practically from birth. Not just a little bit either. I was enrolled in Catholic schools from the age of 3 until I was 19. We were a church every Sunday kind of family. I was an alter server, a choir member, a scripture reader, all of the above. And I really loved it as a kid. Maybe it was the sense of community, maybe it was the positive (albeit watered down) messages about Jesus’ teachings, or maybe it was just all I knew. With a childhood surrounded by religion, I was raised with some unfortunate views about sex and my body. It led to a lot of shame.

In my freshman year of high school, I sat through a “sex ed” class that taught celibacy and abstinence. I’ll walk you through one lesson of this class, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Our teacher stood in front of the class with a piece of duct tape. She had each of us pass it around and stick it to our arms. When it reached the end, she took it back and said, and I’m paraphrasing, “See how it’s all dirty and covered in hair and dead skin? It barely even sticks anymore. That’s what it’s like if you have sex with multiple partners before marriage. No husband is going to want your dirty tape.” I didn’t even realize how messed up that was at the time. In later years, I would go on to write a 12 page essay about why abstinence only sex education is a gross and ineffective way to teach young people about sex and their bodies. At the time though, I was so entrenched in the atmosphere, I really wasn’t alarmed.

Late in my freshman year, I started to question my sexuality. It took years of confusion and fear to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t straight. And the theology class I took the following year did little to help. I have a distinct memory of sitting in the back of the class crying silently while a group of girls did a presentation on why gay marriage is wrong, and how people who acted on same sex attraction would go to hell for their sins. And at the end of the presentation? Our teacher clapped. I hadn’t come out to anyone yet. And because of this experience, and others like it, I didn’t come out fully until years later. I spent most of high school hiding.

During my junior year, I came out to my mom. I told her I wanted to come out to everyone. Just make it public and be done with it. She sat me down and told me I had to think very hard about that decision. She then told me that someone in my older sister’s class had come out when she was a student at my high school. My mom told me that the administrators gave her the choice to go back in the closet, or leave. She transferred schools. So, I kept my circle small and didn’t tell anyone else. I was lucky to have a supportive group of friends, but I hated that I had to hide.

Between Junior and Senior year, my depression ramped up. I didn’t know it was depression at the time (I wouldn’t be diagnosed for another 3 years or so). Looking back, I was displaying textbook symptoms of depression. And I reached out for help repeatedly. I spent every study hall crying in the guidance counselor’s office. They only wanted to talk about college. So I found a teacher I really trusted. That teacher told me that my problems were spiritual. That the devil was testing me, trying to keep me from forming a stronger relationship with God. So I went to church. A lot. I had really powerful “spiritual experiences” every time I went to chapel to pray. I can now confirm that these “spiritual experiences” were actually panic attacks. I wouldn’t make that realization until years later.

So I went to college, a small Catholic college in southern New Hampshire with a monastery on campus. I decided to pursue a degree in Theology, with the hopes of teaching Catholic theology to high school students. I went to church nearly every day. I helped to run a music ministry group, and found a great sense of community there. I signed up to read at mass. I dove headfirst into rigorous religious study. I still thought I was just depressed because I wasn’t praying hard enough. Because I was a sinner, and I hadn’t paid my penance. I spent years torturing myself. Feeling constant guilt, and learning to hate myself because I never felt like a good enough Catholic. Not to mention, I stifled my sexual orientation, because a part of me knew that some of my friends wouldn’t approve of it.

My sophomore year, I finally saw a therapist. I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Severe. I was referred to a psychiatrist almost immediately. Finally I was getting some answers, and they had nothing to do with God, or prayer, or penance. I had a chemical imbalance in my brain, and it wouldn’t be easy, but there was treatment, and a name. I didn’t leave the Church right away. At that point it was such a large part of my identity, that I hadn’t begun to realize the pain and distortions my religion had given me.

But eventually, I did leave. I haven’t been to a church service in years. And I don’t regret it at all. My therapist recently asked me what I believe, now that I’m not Catholic. I’ll tell you what I told her. I believe in Something. Something bigger than me. Whether it’s God, or the Universe, or something else entirely. I believe in something. But I just can’t think about it anymore.

Treatment/Life Update!

Hello dear readers (all 2-5 of you). I’m not really sure what direction this is going, so let’s just call it a life update.

Because of my old friend Clinical Depression, I haven’t been able to write for many months now, not even for fun. Writing this right now is taking all of my energy. But I told my IOP group I was going to practice “opposite action” this week and try to return to some old hobbies.

So let’s start there. Right after the new year started, I started a 6 week Intensive Outpatient (IOP) group. Because there is an ongoing pandemic, these sessions take the form of 3 hour long Zoom meetings, 4 times a week. My group is called “Transitional Age Youth” and it consists of a small rolling group of 18-24 year olds. We do check-ins, give each other support, and help each other with goals, but at the core of this group is DBT skills training.

If you’re unfamiliar with DBT, it stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and clinicians and patients alike swear by it for treating all kinds of psychological disorders. I’ll admit, it all seems a little cult-ish when you’re first learning about it. The woman who first conceptualized the idea, Marsha Linehan, is basically the goddess, and the DBT workbook is the Bible.

Okay, not necessarily that extreme, but hopefully you understand the point I’m trying to make. In any case, DBT is all about learning specific and useful skills, most of which are simplified into helpful acronyms. (STOP, TIP, etc.) One of the skills is called opposite action, which is exactly what it sounds like. When you feel an overwhelming emotion or urge, you use as much will as you can muster to do the opposite. Which is why I am writing this post, even though I am completely unmotivated and can barely make words come out of my brain.

Since I’m in an acute depressive episode, holding focus in group is really challenging for me at times, and it’s difficult to incorporate these skills into my life. However, I’m glad I’m at least getting an introduction to them, and I think a lot of them will be useful going forward, when I’m feeling a bit better.

The other side of treatment for me right now is more medications (ugh). If you know anything about my mental health history, you probably know that I have a really fun diagnosis of Treatment-Resistant Depression, as if regular Depression wasn’t bad enough. What this means, in short, is that the traditional medications that most people respond well to have no effect on me. At this point, I have tried over 10 psychiatric medications from different classes, with no improvement shown from any of them. I also tried Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) twice, which worked wonders for me, but unfortunately the results didn’t last.

Now, my new psychiatrists through IOP prescribed me some new meds I hadn’t tried yet. It’s a bit early to tell, but no changes yet, and based on my history, I’m not optimistic. The good news is that I’m being considered for a referral to try Ketamine Therapy. If you’ve heard of ketamine outside of the psychiatry world, you may know it as a horse tranquilizer or a party drug. Those things are true, but it has also shown to be an incredibly effective treatment for Depression. I’m cautiously hopeful that this might be the thing that works. If it doesn’t, I’m not sure what’s next.

That’s about all I have for mental health updates at the moment, but I hope my ramblings were somewhat coherent. (Again, this brain of mine doesn’t work too well these days.)

Have the best day you could, and remember to be gentle with yourself.

World Mental Health Day 2021

TW: This post will touch on the topic of suicide. If that is a trigger for you, you may want to skip this post.

There’s a trend on TikTok right now of people showing what they would have missed if they had died by suicide when they had attempted or come close. And it makes me happy for those people. I love to see their babies, and their spouses, and the trips and parties and experiences they are still here for. I love to see people’s lives go from the lowest low to the highest high.

I thought about participating in that trend, but when I sat down to look for the things I would have missed, I realized there wasn’t all that much. I would’ve missed more years of trying treatments. Finding something that worked, just to relapse again. Dropping out of college 3 times before finally giving up completely. Getting broken up with months before my wedding.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in a better place than I was when I struggled daily with suicidal ideation. But am I thriving? No not really. I think that’s okay though.

The way we often see mental illness portrayed, especially on social media, is that you go through something really hard, you get better, and then your life is wonderful and you can’t remember those bad times. Maybe for some people that’s true. But I talk to a lot of people who have mental illnesses, and I think every one of them would disagree with that portrayal.

Our stories aren’t usually linear. I’m in a support group of sorts on Facebook, and we don’t usually spend a lot of time posting about our lives in broad strokes. More often, we talk about what’s going on day to day. We celebrate the small victories. Who was able to get out of bed this morning even though they didn’t want to? Who set a boundary with their friend or family member? Who had a tough conversation with their boss?

We also talk about the small negatives. We talk about our panic attacks, our negative self talk. Sometimes we just say “I feel like shit today, can anyone relate?” And the answer is always yes. Someone always relates. These kinds of posts have helped me realize that you don’t need to be in crisis to deserve support. You can say “I don’t like my body today” and you’ll have a comment section full of people offering their support and their own experiences to make you feel less alone.

My point in sharing all of this, is that we need to make room for people who aren’t “on the other side” of things. Often, there is no other side. When talking about mental illness, you’ll never hear words like “cure”. You’ll hear “treatment”. We are trying things to get our symptoms under control, but the illness itself is chronic.

That’s why I’m not fond of talking about mental health as a journey. A journey implies a time frame and a destination. It implies that you start off not well, and then by the end you’re all better. In reality, it’s more complicated. There is remission and relapse. Good days and bad ones. A medication can work for many years and suddenly stop. You can work with a therapist and realize it’s time for a change. To say there’s an end to the journey is a false hope.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But I’ve been doing this “being depressed” thing for a while, and I’ve picked up some tips along the way.

1.) Get to know yourself. You might think you already know yourself pretty well, but if you do some digging, chances are there is still a lot to learn. And it’s hard and ugly and can be painful. But the good thing is, the more you get to know your specific triggers, fears, and reactions, the easier it is to

manage symptoms. For example, if you know yourself well enough to say “I’ve been driving really fast on the highway lately, and that usually happens when I’m starting to relapse again”, you just gave yourself a head start to use your tools and prepare for a problem that might be coming up. Which leads to the next point.

2.) Get a toolbox. There is no one treatment for mental illnesses. If there was, we wouldn’t all be so frustrated all the time. We all carry around a different tool box. Some people use medication. Some people have a weekly therapy session. There’s meditation, exercise, bath bombs, crafting, and a million other items. Wherever possible in your own life, figure out what fits in your tool box, and what you could throw away. Try things! If it doesn’t work, move on to the next thing. We all need different things, and you’ll never know what yours are until you start trying.

3.) Let yourself feel. Are you having a crappy day and all you want to do is put on some loud, angry music and stare at the wall? Do it.

In the mood to turn off your brain and watch a garbage reality TV show and laugh at the characters? That sounds delightful.

You feeling bummed out and need a good cry? Me too.

Feelings aren’t bad. They can be hard to control, and can cause issues when you can’t control them, but stifling them doesn’t usually do any good. When you bottle things up, that pressure will keep rising until you can’t take it, and then they all come out at once. That’s where the real problems happen. If you have trouble keeping control of your feelings, like you start and just can’t stop, try using timers. Set a timer for 5-20 minutes and let your guard down until the timer goes off. Whether that’s journaling, crying, or just sitting with your emotions, let yourself have that time to feel.

4.) I want to put a disclaimer that this last one comes from a place of privilege that I understand not everyone has. Work with a professional. If you have insurance, or are financially able, I highly recommend looking into therapy. Therapy is great, because there are so many different kinds and different reasons to go. Some people go for a limited amount of time to work through a specific life problem. Some people go weekly for their entire lives. Sometimes, it’s helpful just to unload your burdens on an unbiased third party who can help untangle things. And other times it’s all about coming up with concrete solutions. The best part is that it’s all about you. No one is going to have the same experience in therapy as you, because no one has your specific needs. Don’t assume it won’t help you because of what you’ve heard from other people, because those people aren’t you. In my opinion, it’s always worth a try.

So there it is. My thoughts on World Mental Health Day. How we can get better at talking about mental health as a whole, and some things you can do to feel better in your own life. Below are some resources you could use to help yourself or someone you know. Thanks for reading!

Resources: Find a Therapist is the easiest tool to, well, find a therapist. There are lots of filters, so you could find someone nearby who is well suited for you. Comfortable with a LGBTQ+ allied woman who specializes in CBT? Just enter your preferences, and the site will give you a list of providers nearby and their contact information. Make it OK is a wonderful site, especially for those who have loved ones experiencing mental illness. It’s all about starting conversations, and how we could adjust our language to make these conversations more honest and fruitful. NAMI is an organization involved in mental health awareness and outreach. Head over to their site to learn more and contribute if you are able. If you are in crisis or helping someone else in crisis, the suicide lifeline is available by phone or text 24/7 to connect you with a volunteer who can help you. I highly recommend keeping both the phone and text numbers on hand. You never know when you’ll need it. If you are in immediate danger, please skip this step and call 911.

May 2021

Mental Health Month is ending and I am ironically having one of the worst months in terms of mental health that I have ever had. I think this will be a post about when your plans don’t work out, as that is the source for most of my depression at the moment.

April showers bring May…. whatever this feeling is.

4 years ago to the day, I graduated high school. I was so excited for all the adventures that awaited me at college the next Fall. I won’t go into the details, although a quick scroll through my previous posts will tell you about all you need to know. My “adventures” turned out to be more akin to disasters. My mental health plummeted and ultimately I did not have the magical college experience I longed for. All I knew was that May 2021 would come, and I’d walk across that stage and all the turmoil would finally be worth it.

But I didn’t walk across that stage. Or any stage for that matter. I dropped out of college due to my mental health in January 2019. I have taken a few courses since then, but never completed any of them. And yeah, I feel like a failure for that.

So now it’s May 2021, and I’m watching all of my friends, past and present, walking across that stage that I was supposed to be on. I should be a smiling face in their photos. Popping champagne. Posing in all of the places on campus where I spent the best years of my life. But I’m not.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I am so proud of all of the people who graduated this month. Especially considering the state of the world. They busted their asses for that diploma and I couldn’t be more proud. Unfortunately, proud and jealous aren’t mutually exclusive, and I’ll admit there is a certain bitterness in me. I don’t like that side of me, and I’m usually pretty good at keeping it down.

Except, Plan B didn’t work out either. Plan B was, of course, to get married in May 2021. I was engaged in November 2019 and decided the wedding would be in May 2021. I looked at venues, made Pinterest boards and Spotify playlists. I finally had something to look forward to. However, in a turn of events I could only describe as comically tragic, my fiance and I broke it off in March 2021. Out of respect for my ex’s privacy, I won’t give any more details about why we broke up. Just that we did and now I’m convinced May of 2021 is a cursed year.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I’m a mentally ill 21 year old with a mostly inactive blog, not an advice columnist after all. Maybe I should stop making plans and live in the moment. Or maybe I should avoid the month of May like the plague. For now, though, I think I’ll take things one day as a time. Planning for the future is overrated anyways.

The View from Halfway Down

Hello everyone (if anyone is still here)! It has been about 10 months since my last post, and I sincerely apologize for the long break. It has been a long 10 months of treatment, recovery, relapse, and everything in between. On top of that, I was one of the lucky folks who didn’t lose their jobs during COVID-19, so essential worker life has been a hectic one.

I can’t say I’m going to be posting every week or on a set schedule like I once did. Truthfully, I wrote most of my oldest blog posts during my work study hours at school, and now that I don’t have that convenient block of time confined to one space, it is difficult to find time to write. I really do miss it though, and I hope I don’t have a long break again for some time.

I will likely be making posts about my journey over the past 10 months at some point, but today I have something else in mind. And I’m not wasting any time getting back into some really heavy content. So without further ado:


See the source image

If you have watched Bojack Horseman, you probably knew from the title where this post was going. If you haven’t watched Bojack Horseman, then I envy you, because I wish I could watch it for the first time again. Don’t worry though. I’m not going to give any actual spoilers regarding the plot of the show. This post is solely about a poem read by a minor character in the second to last episode of the series. The poem goes as follows:

The View From Halfway Down

The weak breeze whispers nothing
The water screams sublime
His feet shift, teeter-totter
Deep breath, stand back, it’s time

Toes untouch the overpass
Soon he’s water bound
Eyes locked shut but peek to see
The view from halfway down

A little wind, a summer sun
A river rich and regal
A flood of fond endorphins
Brings a calm that knows no equal

You’re flying now
You see things much more clear
Than from the ground

It’s all okay, or it would be
Were you not now halfway down

Thrash to break from gravity
What now could slow the drop
All I’d give for toes to touch
The safety back at top

But this is it, the deed is done
Silence drowns the sound

Before I leaped I should’ve seen
The view from halfway down

I really should’ve thought about
The view from halfway down

I wish I could’ve known about
The view from halfway down”

Written by Alison Tafel for Bojack Horseman

When I heard this poem read for the first time, I paused the show, and I sobbed into my fiancé’s chest for about 10 minutes straight. I will tell you what I told him then.

This poem was the first piece of media about suicide that has ever gotten through to me. I’ve seen the “it gets better” and the “permanent solution to a temporary problem”. The “your family would be sad” and the “it’s a selfish thing to do.” And I brushed off every one of those platitudes. None of it ever felt sincere. It always felt like people were reading a script, or acting out a bad Lifetime movie. But this poem… It reached me.

This poem somehow got through walls of denial and shame and fear. Every stone that I built up to protect me from having my mind changed about suicide. Nothing I have ever read or heard or encountered ever made me feel like suicide wasn’t a viable option for me; that is, until “The View from Halfway Down.”

I pride myself on being open and honest about my mental health. But even the most open people keep things to themselves. I haven’t really talked openly about my own experiences regarding suicide and suicidal ideation. I’ve touched on it briefly here and there, but always quickly retreated back behind that wall of safety. But while Bojack has that wall collapsed and under construction, I guess now is as good a time as any to tell the full story.

In May of 2019, I came pretty close to my own “halfway down.” In a haze of depression, confusion, and fatigue, I tried to drive my car into the ocean. I stopped before I reached that point of no return. I have had over a year to process the events of that day, and I still couldn’t tell you what made me stop. And I’d love to tell you that this was a turning point for me; that I walked away feeling lucky to be alive and that I was ready to turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that. I guess I could, but it wouldn’t be true.

In reality, all I felt was angry. I spent months after that beating myself up for not “finishing the job.” I would lay in bed at night, mad at myself for getting so close and not going through with it. If I had just waited a few more moments before slamming the brakes, it would have been too late to save myself. I felt like a coward, which sounds ridiculous coming from a clear head, but was so accurate to how I felt about myself.

It took a long time to stop the active suicidal thoughts. In the weeks directly following my attempts, I spent my time “researching” better ways to do it. Ways I couldn’t change my mind about halfway through. There is a line in my favorite Barenaked Ladies song “When I Fall” that goes “They’re frightened of jumping in case they survive.” It was that same mentality that kept me from going through with anything I read about.

Once the constant Google searches faded, I still had these active thoughts. When I drove by a bridge, I would have the thought “I could jump.” I don’t think thoughts like those ever truly go away. They just get quieter. Or you get better at telling them to shut up. Some days are better than others.

As of right now, I am far from okay. I still have that voice in my head. I might always have that voice. But now every time I hear that voice creeping up, I think about “The View From Halfway Down.” After finishing that episode, I started doing some reading. I found out that most of those who have survived jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge say that they regretted it the second their feet left the ground. It is bizarre to think about that. The decision that you could be so sure about in order to get to the point of deciding to jump – that clear decision can be dismantled so quickly once the finality becomes real. Once you see the view from halfway down.

See the source image

Before anyone gets too concerned, I am not in danger. I am in mental health treatment, and I have plenty of people to turn to. I am not recovered, and I have a lot of work left to do, but I have hope. I want to get better, and I have hope that I will.

TMS: Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Hey everyone. Because I am me, I am going to preface this post with yet another apology for not writing. I’m sure most of you don’t care whether I write or not, but I still feel guilty for intermittently abandoning this blog and returning. My posts have been sporadic for months now, and I have completely given up on trying to keep a schedule for my posts. Good thing I don’t get paid to do this.

To be completely honest, I haven’t had any desire to write. I have had no inspiration for topics, and even if I did, I haven’t had the energy to write. I don’t even want to write today, but I want to address the recent steps in my treatment. So let’s get started.

Today I am going to tell you a little bit about the latest update to my treatment journey for depression.

What if I were to tell you that there is a treatment option for those with treatment-resistant clinical depression that has proved effective in 70-80٪ of those who have had it? What if I were to tell you that this treatment is less invasive than a dentist appointment?

A couple weeks ago, I met with a very kind psychiatrist, who was recommended to me by one of my treatment providers. I sat with him and his TMS technician in a cozy office for an hour and a half and discussed my history. My life, my childhood, my medication trials, everything. When I left, he promised to be in touch.

Sure enough, a couple days later I got a text saying my insurance paperwork was sent in. A few days after that I was ready to start treatment.

After years of suffering, and over a year of psychiatrists and therapy and medication, this life-saving treatment was promised to me in just over a week from my first appointment.

TMS is a fairly new treatment for depression. I am no scientist or doctor so I won’t go into detail on the treatment itself from a clinical perspective. If you are interested in that kind of stuff, I definitely recommend looking it up. It’s pretty remarkable. In short, an MRI magnet is held up to a certain part of your head and sends pulses through your scalp to a particular part of your brain. The pulses only go a few centimeters in, which makes for a treatment that is just powerful enough to cause a positive reaction, but not so strong that it causes damage. Typically, the patient has 36 sessions over a 6 week period, with treatments being given 5 days a week.

So yesterday, I sat in a chair (imagine a cozy, upright dentist chair) and wore a silly cap that made me feel like an alien. The doctor and the tech spent about a half hour measuring my head (turns out I have a very symmetrical head which is pretty neat) and figuring out the correct placement and voltage that the magnet should be administered at. This takes a surprising amount of trial and error in which the goal is to target the part of the brain that specifically makes your right hand twitch. Part of the error included incorrect placement that made my whole face twitch. That was the most uncomfortable part of the session by far. Neuroscience is weird.

Once the doctor made my hand twitch to his liking, he measured 6 centimeters down from that spot, and apparently this is the perfect target for the magnets to wipe out my depression.

Then, the doctor turned on the machine and showed me how it worked. Between the humming electricity of the magnet and the whirring of the fans keeping it cool, I really felt like I was in a space ship now.

He asked if I wanted to do a trial run so I know what to expect when it was time for the real deal. I agreed and they positioned my chair meticulously. He counted down, continuing my scifi theme, and then commenced the magnet. The best description I could come up with is that it feels like a brain freeze. It’s a moment of pain, but then it eases and you get used to it. It definitely caught me off guard, but I was able to adapt pretty quickly.

Today was my first real session. Now that I knew what to expect, I wasn’t as nervous. And really I had no reason to be. The tech is maybe the sweetest person I have ever met, and she hung out and chatted with me about random stuff the whole time. It was almost easy to ignore that I was wearing a ridiculous alien cap and getting magnets blasted into my brain. I’m not exaggerating when I say I have had dentist appointments more eventful than this.

The appointment took 17 minutes. It took me twice as long to get to the office than it did for the magnets to do their thing. In the beginning, the doctor who prescribed the treatment came in to check on me. He smiled and told me he felt very optimistic. He looked me in the eye and said “This is it. You’re going to get better. I’m betting on it.”

I will try to update throughout, especially if I notice any big changes, but I will definitely write a big update after the 6 weeks are through.

Treatment-Resistant Depression and Its Difficult Choices

I want to talk about what I’m being faced with right now in my life. This feels like the dramatic climax of the story where the main character needs to make a drastic decision that could either solve everything or make things far worse. The decision must be made and she is running out of time to make it.

Since being diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder about a year ago, I have spent hours in offices, doing therapy, trying medications, crying, breaking down. When you break down often enough, it can, for lack of a better term, break you down. I have been on approximately 8 different medications over the past year, as well as combinations of each. 3 psychiatrists and 3 therapists later, and I am still lacking relief. Still no answers.

I have often chosen to define the feeling of depression as the intersection of hopelessness and percieved helplessness. You feel that you cannot be helped, and therefore there is no hope. This leads to despair and suicidal ideation, and so on. Imagine feeling this way, practically all the time, for years of your life. Now imagine you get a new diagnosis: Treatment-Resistant Depression. How’s that for hopelessness?

My psychiatrist confirmed all my fears when she told me that I was indeed treatment-resistant. She suggested we continue on the current medication I have been trying, and then try one more. Then we could talk about alternatives.

Alternatives in this case means more radical forms of treatment, namely Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Formerly known as Electroshock Therapy, ECT is a treatment that has a long and painful history of use. Most who have heard of it associate it with patient abuse in mental hospitals, or gruesome depictions in movies. However, the modern procedure is much safer, and very much unlike these horror-inducing images.

In ECT, the patient is put under general anesthesia and given a muscle relaxer. Then, electrodes are applied to the head to send a course of electricity through the brain, firing neurons and inducing a small seizure. The patient wakes up 5-10 minutes later, rests for the day and gets back to their life. Usually a treatment series occurs over about 2 weeks, with treatments 2-3 days per week.

It sounds crazy, but the statistics don’t lie. ECT’s effectiveness is unmatched by other forms of therapy, such as medication or talk therapy.

I learned all of this through extensive research, reading through success stories, and even watching one such procedure on YouTube. Most of the content I found was largely in support of the treatment, stating that its effectiveness and benefits outweigh the risks and side effects.

It is a well known fact amongst people considering this procedure that ECT causes some degree of memory loss in most patients. However, for the majority of those who experience memory loss, it is temporary and spans only along the timeline of when you recieved treatment. You may have trouble remembering going in for the treatment, what you did afterwards, or things that happened in the days between treatments.

Others aren’t so lucky. In my very extensive search for information, I found a group of people who were adamantly against the treatment, claiming it took away their dearest memories, even starting from childhood. Furthermore, others even shared their stories of brain damage and disability following the treatments. These seem to be rarities in my findings, but what a terrifying thought, that these things might happen to me.

Yesterday, I woke up late. I went to therapy, came back home and went right to bed, where I stayed until the next morning. While laying in my bed, feeling utterly fatigued and hopeless, I realized how many days I have spent like this. How much time I have wasted living less than half of a life. I began to think again about ECT.
Yes, it is a radical treatment. Yes there are serious risks. But isn’t doing nothing more of a risk? Is suicidality and hopelessness not a recipe for the most radical “solution” of all? I decided right then. If it means getting my life back, becoming a person I could be proud of, a person I might even learn to love, I am willing to endure any side effects. I want to get better. I say that as honestly as I ever have, and at this point in time, I am willing to do whatever it takes.

Cooking with Love

Some of my greatest memories take place in my family’s tiny upstairs kitchen, an afterthought of a room that juts out of the house, crafted haphazardly in a way that perfectly mirrored the family that inhabited it. It was in this kitchen that I was taught the love language that is food. I was taught the joy that a homemade meal can bring out after a long day at school or work. I was taught the correct spices to use to make your chicken “with love”. I was taught all of these things by the master of love-cooking, Carol Cyr – my mother.

Three days ago, I moved out of the house I called home for the first almost 20 years of my life, and into the new home I am building with my boyfriend, Nelson. I am learning now what it is to put these skills to the test. Sure, I’ve baked cakes for loved ones and even the occasional dinner, but now it is my turn to truly show my love through the food I make, and to show it towards the person I have chosen to create a home with.

So today, I am going to be trying my hand at food blogging, which I know is a bit different from my usual content. I wanted to share a recipe that my mom made for our family dozens of times, that I am now making alone for the first time. I hope I am making her proud. So without further ado….

Salsa Verde Chicken Baked Taquito Enchilada Things

Yes, this is what we call this recipe. To claim it to be any one thing would be inauthentic at best, insensitive at worst.

First, put the chicken breast into a pot of water. Season the water with salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.

How cute are my labeled spice jars!!

Next, bring the water to a boil. Once it begins to boil, cover the pot and wait 10-15 minutes, until the chicken breast is cooked through.

(My mom would have used a crock pot for this step, but I don’t have one yet.)

Take the chicken out and allow it to cool on a cutting board. Once cool, use two forks (or your hands!) to shred the chicken into small pieces.

After the chicken is all shredded, move it to a bowl and mix with some jarred salsa verde, like this awesome one from Trader Joe’s

You should probably use a larger bowl than the one I used, but seeing that I moved in a few days ago, this is all I have.

Once it is all mixed, you’re ready to roll (literally). Place a tortilla down, sprinkle some cheese on (I used a pre-shredded Mexican blend, sorry mom.), and then put a few spoonfuls of your salsa chicken in a line across the center of the tortilla.

Then, roll your tortillas, and place them with the seam down.

The best part: load on remaining salsa and cheese.

Now it’s time to bake your tortilla things at 375° for about 25 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown and get crispy.

And voila! Cut into rectangles and serve with sides of your choice! For mine I chose some roasted carrots and zucchini along with rice.

So there you go. I hope to someday master the love language of cooking like my mom, but until then I’ll continue to learn from her however I can.

ARFID and Me: A (Not So) Brief History

For some backstory, I wrote this piece when I was starting my Freshman Year of college at Saint Anselm. It is a personal reflection of my time living with ARFID.

I want people to understand ARFID. I want people to understand that I did not choose this and that I am trying to fix it. I want to eat like normal people. I want to stop skipping meals and events out of fear that there won’t be food for me. I wish I could tell if ARFID causes anxiety or if it’s the other way around. Or if neither causes the other. Why do I have this disorder? What could I have done to prevent this. Not much; it started when I was 2. I have constantly felt bad that I can’t eat normally. I am often met with the choice between sitting out a social gathering and going, but being incredibly anxious the whole time/starving/faking a stomachache/hiding in the bathroom. The list goes on and on.

The last time my eating could be described as “normal” was when I was 2 years old, or so I’ve been told. I had no problem eating anything and everything. Then, it just changed. I went weeks where all I would eat was a fingerful of butter and a few baby M&Ms. I stressed my mother out to no end and she took me to the doctor, who told her not to force me to eat and that I would grow out of it and eat when I was hungry. That experience as a toddler began my less-than-friendly relationship with food.

Through my early childhood, I remember eating a very limited selection of foods. Most of these foods were bread/carb based with a crunchy texture. No one could convince me to eat a vegetable. Despite these limitations, I seemed to be growing like any other normal, healthy child. Family meals were embarrassing, when we did eat together, because my mom would have to make me a separate dinner almost every night. My sisters made fun of me, made me feel like a freak. I don’t blame them for that; they didn’t understand. Hell, I didn’t even understand yet. “She’s a picky eater.” Is a sentence I must’ve heard a million times. My parents tried every picky eating solution in the book.

“No leaving the table until you eat your vegetables”

“Try this one bite, it’s not going to kill you”

“Gabby is eating it, why can’t you?”

And on and on and on and on.

I distinctly remember being taken to the doctor once when my parents felt my eating habits were out of control. The doctor gave some tips to combat my “picky eating”.

“Try one new food every day/week”

“Prepare a familiar food a new way”

“Write down the food you eat every day and think of some foods you’d like to try”

Nothing worked.

When nothing worked, the doctors decided that since I was healthy, there wasn’t much else for them to do. This was long before the DSM-5.

Not too long after this fruitless attempt, I had my first allergic reaction. After blood testing, I was discovered to be allergic to nearly all the “big 8” major allergens, to varying degrees. As if my relationship with food wasn’t bad enough, this created major food anxiety for me. I was terrified that everything I ate contained an allergen. I only ate meals that my mother cooked, after asking her to wash her hands multiple times and after multiple reassurances that it was safe. I started washing my hands a ridiculous amount, looking for allergens in every item I encountered. The anxiety triggered fake instances of anaphylactic shock where I convinced myself that I couldn’t breathe and that I was having a reaction, even when I hadn’t eaten anything. I still have this problem now to7 a much lesser extent. At one point, this food phobia got so out of hand that I reserved my right hand for eating, and did everything else with my left hand, to avoid contamination. I am right-handed, so it was difficult to hide this habit and I was often questioned by teachers and family, to which I replied that I was “trying to make myself ambidextrous.” No one bought it.

The lowest point of my food anxiety was the week of my sister’s wedding. The wedding was in North Carolina and we packed up the rental van and took off for the 13-hour drive; my parents, 2 sisters, and me. I complained of a stomach ache on the way there, so I nibbled on rice cakes and didn’t eat anything else. No one thought much of it; they just assumed I was carsick. That changed when over the next days, I starved myself out of fear of a reaction. In our hotel room, my mom cried and begged me to eat goldfish crackers. She tried to bribe me at first, saying I couldn’t go to the wedding if I didn’t eat. When that didn’t work, she pointed at the hospital across the street and told me if I didn’t eat they would have to take me there to get food pumped into my stomach through a tube. She had my sister, a registered nurse, confirm this to me. I don’t remember when I finally gave in to eating a meal, but I’m sure it came shortly after nearly fainting at the hotel pool with my sister and brother-in-law. It must’ve been 2 or 3 days of eating almost nothing.

BIG DEVELOPMENT: I found one vegetable: cucumbers!! Mom and dad must’ve been thrilled. I was forced to try a piece of cucumber with some salt on it. I didn’t gag, and I got it all down. There were a lot more cucumbers in our house after that day. That’s still more or less the only vegetable I will eat, other than peppers. I don’t enjoy either, but I don’t choke when I try to eat them.
School lunch was always a challenge. Kids are brutal to each other, sometimes well-meaning, but often not. I would get harassed, even by my friends, for not eating normal food. I was constantly bombarded with questions from everyone around me about my eating habits. It made me incredibly embarrassed and I felt like it was my fault that I was such a freak. While everyone else would cheer about a pizza party, I would sit silent, already coming up with excuses to get out of it. In 6th grade, I stopped eating lunch. My friends knew I had a “weird thing” about people touching my food (fear of contamination), so they thought it was funny to mess with me and touch my food before I ate it. In another situation, this would be harmless, but it nearly always ended in me not eating anything. I didn’t want to seem dramatic, so I silently went hungry and tried to laugh along with them. Even when they got tired of the bit and stopped, I was still often too paranoid to eat my lunch.

The best thing to happen to my diet: hot sauce. Frank’s Red Hot drastically changed the way I eat. The strong flavor of hot sauce, which I love, helps to mask other flavors that I previously found hard to stomach. It can’t fix everything, but it definitely broadened my food horizons.
Because of the new discoveries about hot sauce, I decided to add a new, normal lunch food to my list of safe foods. Buffalo chicken cold-cuts and cheese on a roll, with extra hot sauce. I was happy and proud of myself for this step, until people started making a big deal about it. “Oh my goodness, is Julia eating a sandwich?!” bellowed Mrs. Glynn, causing everyone to look over at me. My face turned red and I faked a smile, but couldn’t eat with this much attention on me. There goes that attempt.

Things continued on more or less the same from that point. I had pretty much given up on new foods and stuck with what I had. I was at a standstill. Nothing was getting worse, but nothing was getting better either.
Then came middle school. I looked around and saw my friends and the other girls at school. All tiny, skinny, small, and pretty. I looked in the mirror. I was pudgy, chubby, and ugly. These thoughts about myself festered for most of middle school. It didn’t really change my eating habits. This was the time of “eating disorder culture” on sites like Instagram. Girls would create secret accounts where they posted black and white photos of girls with thigh gaps, with captions outlining the ways they planned to starve themselves to achieve these “body goals”. They posted pictures with captions like “for every like I will fast for one hour”. Some people I knew even had accounts like these for anorexia or self-harm. I spent a lot of my nights scrolling through these pro-ana pages, feeling guilty for envying the bodies and lifestyles of the sick girls I saw. I probably tried one or two times to starve myself, but thankfully, I didn’t have the will power. The self-esteem issues were pretty serious, and I have definitely suffered mentally as a result, but I never developed anorexia (even though a cruel part of me wanted to). That could’ve gone a lot worse, but I narrowly escaped the grasp of a negative body image induced eating disorder.

Entering high school, I was coming to terms with the clear signs of mental illness I displayed. I didn’t do anything about this, but I acknowledged it was there. I was depressed and anxious. I tried to cut myself once in 9th grade, but it was an almost pathetic attempt. I knew in my heart I didn’t want to do that, so I couldn’t bring myself to make anything more than an indent in my thigh. That’s another example of a situation that could’ve turned out much worse than it did. It’s another reason I’m grateful. I had friends who self-harmed and I knew I couldn’t help them if I fell into the same hole. So, I stopped trying.

One of the most refreshing and liberating moments I can remember was the day I came to a self-diagnosis. I was deep in a “What’s wrong with me?!” Google search, like so many times before. Unlike the other times, however, this time I found something. I came across an article about Selective Eating Disorder (SED), also known as Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). The more, I read this article, the more I realized that every single sentence described exactly the nameless food problems I have been dealing with my entire life. This was no cure, not even a solution, but it was a name. It was the first time I realized I am not alone. I had never met another person with the problem I had, but now my computer screen opened wide a door leading to the stories of dozens of people who had the same experience as me. I immediately sent this link to my mom, who was just as excited as I was.

I never got a formal diagnosis. I’ve never said the word ARFID to a doctor. I’ve never seen a specialist or a therapist or talked to anyone professionally about this. I’m not sure why. I guess I just have been living with it for so long, that it didn’t feel necessary. Just like the doctors said when I was a kid: I’m healthy, it’s under control. I’d like to get help eventually though. Until then, I’m living and I’m doing okay.

As I got older, my intense food anxiety reduced, but I still ate a very limited selection of foods. I still avoided going to friends’ houses for dinner. I still faked illness and made excuses at every opportunity. I explained it to some of my close friends in high school, but it isn’t an easy topic to bring up. Now I’m in college and no one here knows. No one has made the connection yet that almost every night for dinner I get a piece of grilled chicken and a side of fries. Or maybe they have, and they don’t want to be rude and bring it up, which I appreciate. It’s not a conversation I’m willing to have right now. I know I shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed of it; but I do, and I don’t want to deal with the awkwardness of telling people.
I’m getting better. My boyfriend is supportive and wants to help me. My parents continue to be very understanding. I have tried a few new foods since college started. I ate a hot dog last month. If you know me, you know that’s a huge step. I’m taking steps and that’s what matters.