I am thirty-one-years-old and I have been depressed for at least 14 years or more. I have struggled with insecurities, low self esteem, perfectionism, fear, and anger all of my life. A therapist once described my family life as a “toxic cesspool” and concluded that my depression is really like post traumatic stress disorder.
In 1997, I decided to run away during my freshman year at Duke. I told my Resident Advisor that I couldn’t handle life anymore and then promptly walked out the front door of my dorm. I returned an hour later, having never made it off of East Campus. But I did walk its perimeter – on the inside of the “wall.” I continued to suffer from these deep bouts of depression throughout the rest of my time at Duke, but in my senior year, I began to experience frequent and severe headaches. And at the age of 21, I found out why I was having those severe headaches. I was diagnosed with hypertension, better known as high blood pressure. Although my physical condition was diagnosed, I was not ready or able to accept that I suffered from depression, but I knew I needed help. I wouldn’t talk to my family because they were a significant cause of the problem, and I didn’t talk to my friends because I feared no one would understand. I considered going to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Duke, but I was afraid, afraid of being labeled or judged. I suffered in silence instead, and convinced myself that I could “fix” myself.
Graduate school made things worse. Living in a new city and attending a new school, I was even more isolated than before and felt the realness of my insecurities as an Ivy League doctoral student. Despite being recruited and offered a full tuition fellowship, I seriously doubted my competence and potential to excel academically. I either slept constantly or not all. I stopped doing my assignments. Then I skipped a class here and there. I cried quite a bit. My eating habits were atrocious. I didn’t know how to deal with my anger, my sadness, my confusion, or my loneliness. I was drowning emotionally. I reached out to the university Chaplain – we only met for a few sessions, but it was great to talk to someone and admit that I needed help. I even hopped on a plane and flew to Georgia to spend the weekend with the author (and his family) of a book that many would file as “self-help” or “psychotherapy.” While in graduate school, I decided to give CAPS a try because CAPS was discretely located within a building that housed several other services. This way, if anyone saw me going into the building they wouldn’t automatically assume that I was going to counseling. I quit after a handful of sessions. Then I quit my doctoral program and abandoned my full tuition fellowship. I left the University of Pennsylvania in good standing, with an approved leave of absence. A year later, I officially withdrew.
I then became a teacher in a private school and moved back in with my parents, which was the absolute WRONG thing for me to do. I was miserable. It didn’t take long for me to seek out Caroline, the Chaplain at the school where I taught. My conversations with her were like taking deep breaths in my stifling world. We spoke often, and I cried often. I left teaching after one year, and consequently lost my connection with Caroline.
Over the next several years, I tried to find relief in church, books, men, sleep, food, and work. Things became worse for me, and I was ready to give up. I began having thoughts of dying, believing that I, and the world, would be much better off if I simply weren’t around anymore. I would finally have peace.
In 2007, I began seeing yet another counselor. Those sessions were helpful, but after 8 or 9 sessions, I quit. I was depressed – but I was in denial.
I quickly spiraled downhill over the past six to nine months, approaching my rock bottom. Depression was taking a toll on my physical, emotional, spiritual and mental self. I was constantly fatigued, my high blood pressure remained, I developed severe and frequent migraines, my hair was beginning to gray at a faster rate, I slept often or couldn’t sleep at all, and I was ready to give up. I began seeing Sue, yet another counselor, in October and for whatever reason, I’ve stuck with her. Sue suggested that I consider antidepressants. I knew I was depressed, but I resisted. I resisted because taking antidepressants would mean I’d have to admit that I was depressed and I feared that my life was truly out of my control. Despite that belief, I talked to my primary care physician and asked for a prescription in December. I finally began taking the antidepressants in mid-February and saw a marked positive difference in my mood. One month later, however, I had an emotional breakdown. My family situation and my life in general seemed to simply shatter. I really began to feel numb to the world and didn’t care about anything at all.
Having stuck with Sue all this time, she was a tremendous support for me. My family was a major part of the problem, so I was distanced from them. Without warning, I broke up with my boyfriend of 4 years, moved out of his house within 3 hours, and moved into my own apartment within 3 days. I continued with psychotherapy and antidepressants, but I was so extremely isolated and in a bad place. After these incidents, Sue asked me for the first time, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” I replied honestly, “no.” I wouldn’t have minded dying in a car accident –a frequent vision of mine – but I was not conjuring ways to cause it.
I finally decided to try something that I never tried before. I reached out to my friends. I needed to come out of hiding. I am blessed to have had my 12 sorority line sisters in my life for the past 10 years. Our bond goes beyond the commonality of our sorority experiences, and our bond goes deeper than any one of us could have ever imagined. On April 2nd, I wrote the following to my sisters:
“This is one of the most stressful and sad times of my life, for this and other reasons. I am feeling really hurt and confused and quite frankly depressed. The depression has always been there, since before I met all of you. But it’s only just within the past 4-6 months that I have been getting help. I am taking antidepressants and seeing a counselor, which is very difficult for me to share because I have been in denial for more than a decade. My family and I have been dealing with some pretty deep family intra-relationship issues as well. I have no idea what kind of support I need from you all, but I really just need to know that you all love me, especially right now as I am going through this time in my life.”
Coming out of “hiding” was the beginning of my breakthrough. I was not judged, as I feared. I was loved and accepted and supported.
As I pour out these words, I can honestly say that at this precise moment, I am experiencing a happiness and peacefulness that I’ve never felt before. I have a long road ahead of me, that’s for sure. But I’ve opened myself up to the love of my friends. This has been 14+ years in the making; therefore, no single decision or event suddenly transformed me. I’ve muddled through and fought through some of the saddest and darkest times of my life, and it has been worth it. I never quit.
Samantha A. Murray, pictured above, is 31-years-old and lives in Baltimore, MD. She graduated from Duke University and earned a master’s degree in educational policy from the University of Pennsylvania. Samantha loves her “right now” dream job as a Research Specialist in the Baltimore County Public Schools, and she is also a women’s basketball official and a high school badminton coach. Her aspirations include establishing an education nonprofit organization to support vulnerable urban youth and their families and to elevate her basketball officiating career.
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