Sickness You Can’t Heal
Sleep paralysis is defined by WebMD as a feeling of being conscious but unable to move. This usually happens right before or after a person falls asleep. It can last for a few seconds or a few minutes, usually with the sensation of choking or a pressure on one’s chest.
Now, imagine that feeling, but in a crowd of people. There’s no escaping. You’re frozen in one spot, you can’t speak, and you slowly panic more and more, just wanting to leave but unable to do much of anything. All you can do is sit and try to breathe and calm yourself down. This is an average anxiety attack.
Depression is something that’s hard to understand. It’s a disease, yes, but it isn’t just like a cold. It doesn’t affect your breathing, or give you a fever, or anything a normal illness would do. It affects you internally. It makes you incapable of getting out of bed, changes your outlook on different challenges in life, and overall makes you more negative. Depression is a hard thing to live with, but it doesn’t make you any different from anybody else.
Now imagine these two things mixed together. Having a depressive episode when something triggers an anxiety attack. It feels like there’s no escape from anything. There’s no sure-fire way to heal either issues. You can meditate, you can try breathing exercises, but that’s all it is; trying.
Mental health is one of the top issues on campus, with one in four students admitting to having depression, anxiety, or a form of mental illness. Every student copes with things differently: holing themselves up, cutting themselves, seeking help, and sometimes trying to commit suicide.
Laura Wonsik, a grad student working at the Counseling Center at Miami, is trained in helping anxiety. She says that anxiety attacks can come from a variety of factors.
“The three types of panic attacks are cued, uncued and situationally predisposed. The uncued can come randomly, cued can come from a trigger (something that sets off your anxiety), and situational anxiety can come from something like public speaking or being in a crowded room.” Wonsik says.
“Anxiety attacks can cause shortness of breath, increased heart rate, nausea, dizziness, and a few others.” Wonsik says. “I like using a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy method that identify what the trigger is and how to handle it. Exposure therapy is also good for trying to get over the trigger as well as learning how to cope in those situations.”
While Wonsik likes the results shown from medication treating anxiety, she thinks that pairing it with therapy shows the best results.
When depression isn’t treated correctly, or not treated at all, it can sometimes lead to worse things. For Amy Jenereaux, it led to bulimia.
Amy is from a small town near Detroit, Michigan called West Bloomfield. Most of her friends stayed close to home and went to Eastern Michigan or University of Michigan, but that wasn’t what she wanted.
“Yeah I get homesick sometimes, but I wanted to push myself to do new things and see new places,” Jenereaux says.
Amy had her whole life ahead of her. She was at the University of Kentucky in their ROTC program, she had a boyfriend whom she was with for two years, and she was the happiest kid at school.
After her first semester, Amy went off to basic for four months. During that time, her boyfriend didn’t contact her once.
On May 28th, 2015 she returned home to news she never wanted to hear.
“I texted Ryan and I was like ‘what’s going on, why haven’t you talked to me?’ and we met up later and he told me he had cheated on me almost the entire time I was gone. It was a two-year relationship, but I’d never been one to show emotion or anything like that, so when it hit me it hit me way harder than I anticipated.”
A week after finding out, Amy barely left her room. She wouldn’t eat, get out of bed, or even talk to anyone. The only thing she would do was watch Netflix. She found excuses to not go to work, avoided going to family events, and even stopped going to church.
About a month after, Amy thought about hurting herself.
“It was the first time I had ever thought about cutting myself or doing anything like that and it really scared me, so I told my parents.”
They made her go to the doctor where she was prescribed Wellbutrin, an anti-depressant. The medicine worked at first, but stopped after a few weeks and took her back to how she felt before the medication. Her next try was with Zoloft, another anti-depressant. This time it helped, almost curing it.
With her depression mostly gone and a better outlook on things, Amy enrolled at Miami University for her sophomore year. It went well at first, but she started getting anxiety.
“I was still on Zoloft and it helped with the depression, but not really anything else. I would push all my work to the side until I had everything due at once and I would get massive panic attacks.”
The week of Halloween 2015, Amy went to Skipper’s, a local restaurant uptown, after Beat the Clock. Amy lived with 2 other girls, one of them much skinnier than her and the other an athlete, both who Amy compared herself to.
“I had started working out with them a few times a week and doing drill and stuff like that here and one of them made a comment about how they could tell a difference from before I started and instead of taking it as a compliment I took it as a negative. I started panicking, wondering if I was too fat or too skinny and didn’t know what to do.”
When they got home, she ran to the bathroom and threw everything up that she had just eaten.
“I remember thinking ‘this is disgusting I’m never doing this again’ but the feeling that I got after it was honestly amazing. I felt really skinny and after that it just became an addiction. I wouldn’t get any nutrients out of the food and it was starting to kill me.”
After almost every meal Amy would throw up. It got so bad that there would be days she couldn’t get out of bed because she was so weak.
December of 2015, she told her mom for the first time. Her mom didn’t know what to say or do.
“She didn’t really understand eating disorders so she was just like, why? After I told her she told my dad and things kinda got really bad after that.”
Her eating disorder started tearing her family apart. Her dad would yell at her every time she would bring it up, making her want to do it more and giving her more anxiety. Her mom tried to understand but couldn’t. It was slowly pitting everyone against each other.
Even with everything going on, Amy still couldn’t stop. Things got so bad that she had to get surgery on her esophagus.
After the surgery, she went on medical leave from school for the second semester and became an outpatient at a rehabilitation center near her house.
“When I was there, they focused on the bulimia, but they also worked with my depression and anxiety. I started exercising, I went back to work, I found different hobbies. It might sound stupid but yoga was actually probably what helped the most.”
This year, Amy returned to Miami to continue her studies, but she made an agreement with her parents.
“They were really proud of how far I’ve come, but they were still worried about me, so they told me I could go back to school as long as I checked in with them at least once a week and told them about how I was feeling. I also have to tell them if I relapse.”
Amy has relapsed a few times this year, but it’s a minor blip in how far she’s come.
“I know it’s not the best, but my friends this year have really helped me. I’ve never had a support system like them before and, even though they yell at me when I do anything bad, I know they do it because they care and I love them for it.”
Recently Amy has been put back on her anti-depressants, but she is still optimistic that she’s going to be okay.
Evan Knox is a junior at Miami studying History. He’s six feet tall with an athletic frame; a typical college student. Looking at him you wouldn’t know that under that skin, he’s sick.
Evan was recently diagnosed with minor depression.
“I think my parents and friends knew before me,” Knox says. “I never really thought anything was wrong with me.
He was born and raised in Vinton County, Ohio in a town called McArthur where everybody knew everybody. His school graduated less than 200 students a year and didn’t have a men’s soccer team. With such a tight-knight class, friends were bound to be made.
One of those good friends called Evan on the morning of August 14th, 2013, just before the beginning of his senior year of high school.
“Kendall died last night, Evan,” he said. “She got in a car accident.”
Knox was heartbroken.
“She was one of my really close friend,” Knox says. “I would go to her for everything and she would do the same.”
In the year before she died, Kendall was involved with a guy that a lot of the school knew to be a player, but she thought that he wasn’t like that.
Evan eventually pulled her away him and into the arms of one of his best friends. They were happy together for a few months, until Kendall one day left him for her previous boyfriend. Evan was furious.
“This dude that she had spent so much time complaining about just pulled her out of a great relationship. I basically told her that I was done listening to her if she was going to put herself in that situation.” So he decided to cut her out of his life.
Less than two months later, she died in a car accident after leaving her boyfriend’s house.
“I guess I blame myself,” Evan says, tears starting to form in the corner of his eyes. “I feel like if I hadn’t stopped talking to her and protected her from going back, not even bringing her back to my friend, then she wouldn’t have been coming back from his house and never got in the accident.”
From that point on, he distanced himself from people and stopped trying to make new friends.
The year passed with Kendall still in his thoughts constantly as he moved in to Miami, ready to start anew.
“I made a lot of friends the first few weeks,” Knox says. “I got a lot of girls and I thought everything was finally gonna be okay.”
Winter break brought more heartache. One of his best friends Ashley, whom he had known since he was two-years-old, died of cancer.
“She was diagnosed with Leukemia our senior year and after a lot of chemo it went away and we all thought she was gonna be okay,” Knox says. “Then I heard she got worse while I was away. I went to see her when I got home and she was on so much morphine that I knew she was never getting off.”
On January 13th, 2015 Evan got on Twitter and saw a tweet, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’ and knew what it meant.
“She died six days before my birthday,” he says, his eyes welling up with tears.
His motivation went down after that and he stopped caring about a lot of people. He stopped talking to a girl who he was interested in and he bottled up lot of his emotion.
His sophomore year, he met another girl, Haley, who became his rock.
“She was my first girlfriend and she became my anti-depressant.”
They started dating a few weeks after Valentine’s Day of 2016.
In the weeks after, she became involved with a few of her exes, texting them consistently. It caused his anxiety to get worse.
Midway through the second semester of last year, Haley started dropping hints about him maybe going to get help.
“He just didn’t seem like who he was when we first started dating,” Haley says. “He would get upset about little things that wouldn’t really matter and stay upset.”
Evan refused to go talk to anyone, not wanting to admit anything was wrong with him.
In the beginning of Summer of 2016, the biggest test of their relationship came. Haley’s friend Tarik, who previously had a crush on her, said he wanted to sleep over at her house.
“I was like you can do whatever you want because I knew it was going to be a fight, but I hated the idea,” Evan says. “Then, I get a text and it’s like ‘I’m gonna try to kiss Haley tonight and there’s nothing you can do.’ So obviously I’m gonna tell her what he said, but then I somehow become the bad guy for telling her.”
After that, he kept most of his problems to himself.
His depression slowly got worse. He wouldn’t text Haley as much, he stopped talking to his friends and doing much of anything.
During a party his parents were hosting, Evan snuck down and grabbed a bottle of Scotch, bringing it back to his room and drinking half of it.
His mom came up to his room, wondering if he had taken it. Evan, very drunkenly, began sobbing and telling his mom everything that had happened and how unhappy he was.
“It was the first time that I had told anyone what was going on with me. She made me go to the doctor, but I made her do all the talking.”
The doctor put him on a generic version of Prozac, a very common anti-depressant.
“It definitely helps,” Knox says. “But it makes me feel emotionally numb.”
He was emotionally numb to everything.
He broke up with Haley a month after being on the medication.
“I just didn’t feel anything anymore and I didn’t think it was fair to her to keep her around when I just didn’t care. My dad’s best friend is dying of brain cancer and I can’t feel any emotion about that, how can I feel something for a girl?”
Evan is in the process of switching his meds, something that he doesn’t feel like he needs much anymore. He talks once a week to a therapist over the phone and still takes his medication.
“I just want to feel happy, or just feel anything at this point.” Knox says. “I know depression isn’t something that’s easily fixable, although I feel like I’m close, but I just really want to be all the way better.”
There are people all over the world that have mental health issues, some undiagnosed. Some of them are too scared to get help, others don’t think they need it. This doesn’t exclude Miami. A Miami study showed 1 in 4 students at the University have mental health issues.
In September, a mental health forum was hosted in the Armstrong Student Center. The speakers talked about their own experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicide. A video they showed had students around the campus admitting to certain mental illnesses and talking about how they cope with it.
No matter how lonely you feel, nobody is alone. There is always someone out there in the same situation, recovering from the situation, or can help you through it. Suicide is not the answer. Don’t become a statistic. Get help.
Suicide Hotline: 1–800–273–8255 / http://chat.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/LifelineChat.aspx
Miami University Counseling Center: 513–529–4634
“People don’t have the choice of obtaining a mental illness, but people do have the choice to perpetuate the stigma.” — Alex Lindley, creator of Project Wake Up