So you met my first shrink in my last post. Now you know I’m gay. I know what you’re thinking. She’s depressed AND GAY?!!! Gees.
Relax. Let’s talk about it.
I was never a fan of labels. There’s so much more than what the eye can see. I feel like people are shamed into categories because of labels. They’re like ASSumptions sometimes. We all know what they can make out of you and me.
People can be so quick to judge. I admit, I’m guilty. I’ve labeled people before for foolish reasons. I thought I was justified simply because that’s what I thought. If I was thinking it than it must’ve been true. When that happens, a label becomes what you think you know about someone. It can prevent people from actually seeing the good that exists. You are creating what’s in the box before you even open it. I’ve learned not to turn my thoughts into judgments, but rather curiosity. My mindset now is, “What more can I learn?”
I’ve always been proud of who I am. I've never felt ashamed to tell people I was gay. No one has treated me poorly because of who I love. Sometimes I’m nervous, but mostly because I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable. Even then however, it’s much easier for me to say, “Meh, fuck it. They’ll deal with it how they want to.”
When I talk about depression and anxiety it’s different. I don’t always feel proud. I’ve been mistreated because of it: people have assumed the worst in me. I can accept when there’s a misunderstanding. For example, you just don’t know enough about mental illness because it never came into your life, for whatever reason. I get that. But when someone you love is affected by something, let’s say a mental illness, wouldn’t you want to at least try to understand? We don’t need to be professionals. We just need to be compassionate. You may never understand something, but it doesn’t give people the right to decide what kind of person you are. It doesn’t give them the right to label you.
I try to treat others how I want to be treated. I’m human and I know I miss a beat at times, but I practice what I preach. Even when I don’t get it right I try my best to learn from it. While I’m not proud of my mental illness, I’m proud of my courage. I’m proud of what it inspires me to do. I’d like to think those are ingredients to my person. Me.
Whatever you’re made of, I bet you’re wonderful.
See you next week as I introduce you to the love of my life.
This lady changed my life. I hope she knows that.
After a year of counseling, it was one session in particular that paved the way for me. It was toward the end of that year. She told me she had had a previous relationship with a woman. This gets us into another topic that I'll discuss in my next post, but let's move on.
You see, I was not out yet. Like gay out. I wasn't out to the world, just a few peeps. Her willingness to share a private time in her life gave me hope. After that session I went back home, ran for an hour down some country roads, and met a deer.
This may seem strange to you, but nature resonates with me. I connect with it. You could say it’s my religion. It guides me. Seeing that deer run across the road, right in front of me, was another sign of hope. I felt a sudden energy I’d never felt before. It has never repeated itself, and I’m okay if it never does because I feel it was only meant for that moment. I smiled. I felt a release of...doom and failure. It may not seem like the most miraculous thing to you, but I literally sprinted all the way home. It was over a mile that I sustained a sprinting pace. Things seemed to be heading in the right direction. I felt magnificent.
They say it gets worse before it gets better. My life in general has been full of incredible moments. I'm not forgetting those. In terms of my mental illness however, it would be nine years later that I'd feel magnificent again.
Stay tuned for next week as I rant and rave about unfortunate labels and assumptions.
After failing to escape my depression and anxiety, I felt hopeless. I knew that driving away from it wasn’t going to solve the problem. I made it bigger. Keep in mind that I can say this now, nine years later, because I’ve learned how to take better care of myself. However, the priority then was running away.
I spent a lot of time in a false-thinking mode. It followed me everywhere! I could not kick it no matter what I did. Eventually I was spending a lot of time sleeping, as I quickly became severely depressed. After witnessing my down spiral, a dear friend sat me down and suggested I get help. She even went with me to my first appointment. I was so relieved and grateful. Her kindness and compassion were the driving factors to me getting help. I would’ve continued to just sit in the mud. I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do. Thank God she was there.
I started seeing a psychologist for the first time in my life and that continued for a year. After quitting my job at Notre Dame and still being welcomed back, I took a medical leave of absence. I spent several months out of work and was well taken care of by the University. Still, many of my former colleagues never knew what I was going through. I took a lot of slack for not being at work. I was regarded as being lazy and noncommittal. I always heard people saying things under their breath. That was so hard for me. It was the first time in my life that others made me feel so worthless. I was close to a few of them and they never lost confidence in me. They are still in my life.
In addition to the psychologist, I also got a dog. Everyone in my life knows Sophie. You guys sure have shown her lots of love over the years and for that I am so grateful. She was the reason I got out of bed that year. You’d think having a dog, especially a puppy, would be the last thing I’d need, but it was the one thing I was able to take care of. Even as I continue living with depression and anxiety my dogs are a saving grace. During my first year of therapy, I was in some very dark places. Sophie literally saved my life.
She is nine years old now and continues to provide comfort to me when I’m going through hard times. My anxiety has already begun preparing me for her last day on Earth. I am not looking forward to that moment, but I will do everything in my power to make sure she knows how much she has impacted my life. I will be there with her through her hard times as well. For now however, Sophie is staying right here by my side.
Stay tuned next week as I share my first and only Aha moment with depression.
I wish I had considered medication much earlier in my mental illness. I was always anti-meds. My views have since changed, though I’m still not always for them. I think there is a real problem with unnecessary prescriptions and over-medicating, but I’ve learned a lot about my needs and particular meds that have worked for me.
Though my college days told me I needed help, it was at the University of Notre Dame that I truly fell apart. It was the Fall of 2009, following the news that I’d landed the job. I had my first severe bout of depression. I fell into a deep hole. It’s like I was walking on this path of greatness and suddenly stepped on a trap, covered in sticks and hay. Down I went.
And that’s one of the many things depression tells you; that things and people are out to get you. That no one is on your side. That you’re doomed. That you’re not good at anything. It gets the best of you. But I know there was no trap set for me. I just felt hopeless. I felt like good things were being taken from me.
Shortly after my first few days of work I wrote an email. In that email I told my boss and the administrative assistant that I couldn’t do the job they hired me to do. I literally quit. I spent a night writing that email. I went back and forth between hitting delete and typing. Once I sent the email my plan was to wake up the next morning and run away. I started to drive across the country to a place that I knew wouldn’t take away my problems. At the time I felt it was the answer. But I was in that deep hole and I was having a hard time climbing out.
I packed up my Pontiac Bonneville with a few items and the only thing that truly mattered to me at the time--my dog Sophie. More about her next week. I left early in the morning, before my roommate got up, and off I went.
Everyone was calling me. People cared. I knew that, but it didn’t matter. I needed to leave my fears behind. My depression was in full force, making many of my decisions. I was ignoring phone calls, speeding, and crying. I would stop to either to get gas or because my tears were preventing me from actually seeing the road. I’d listen to all the voicemails telling me it was okay and that I needed to turn around and talk to someone. My boss emailed me. The administrative assistant emailed me. Despite me quitting my job and running away, I was still wanted.
I didn’t make it past Kansas. I ended up getting pulled over. I was speeding in a construction zone. The police officer could tell I was in distress and leery of my, “I’m going to visit a friend”. That speeding ticket ended up being one of those meant to be things. I decided to turn around.
Stay tuned next week as I introduce you to one special dog, my Labradoodle, Sophie Jane. She truly did save my life.
In my first post I told you I was officially diagnosed with Major Depression in 2009. That is still true, but it really should've happened back in college. I did see a doctor there once. Had I understood the severity of my condition I would’ve gone about that visit a different way.
It was between my junior and senior years. I cannot provide anymore detail in terms of a particular month, but it was around that time. As I remember it, I began having some unusual frustrations. It made the expected, regular routine challenging. I was focused on a lot; classes, soccer, making the dean’s list and athletic honor roll, traveling weekends back home, maintaining friendships, and of course partying. I partied a lot. I remember the wave coming on, feeling scared and anxious. It was building. It was manifesting into something bigger. I just ignored it, or tried to by getting drunk on weekends. We all partied, but I sometimes would take the extra drink or two to get beyond my anxious and depressed self. I was sad. Not sure why, but it would come and go. I just thought I was like everyone else and it would take care of itself.
I was getting ready to student teach and I was not prepared. I mean, I was according to my degree, but I started to imagine myself standing in front of large groups of students. I was feeling overwhelmed with responsibility. I began doubting my abilities to do what I came to college for; to teach. It was my dream job. It was a strange feeling to be giving up on my dream. All I knew was that these feelings of doubt, worthlessness, and anxiety needed to go. I made the decision to change my major to K-12 Non-Licensure in Physical Education. Such a weird degree, but basically I finished with a Health and Human Performance degree.
This decision came after I saw a doctor and spoke with my college advisor. My advisor was great! Actually, we’re friends on Facebook. She’s worldly and has always been a positive role model. She counseled me through my decision and did not make it for me. She reminded me of my talents and was living out her duties as an advisor. I was so thankful I had her at that time. In the end though, my mental health struggles were a priority and I needed to adjust my studies accordingly. It was not an easy decision.
The doctor however, was never my friend. It was after seeing him that I simply would not see any doctor unless I absolutely needed to. My resistance came seconds after being told I should be on medication for depression. This doctor decided to diagnose me without recommending me to a psychologist or psychiatrist. Sure, he ended up being right, but I hated pills. HATED THEM! Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that it was in my medical records to seek alternative methods. I always thought that pills would turn me into someone else. That I'd be put in a place I'd never return from.
I took the pills back to my dorm to appease the doctor. Can you guess what I did with the pills? I flushed those babies right down the toilet. No doctor was going to just hand me a packet of pills without knowing it was THE ONE for me. Telling me I was depressed was one thing. After you learn about psychiatry and the roles of doctors, you begin learning more about prescribing meds and why it matters.
Here in 2018, remembering my predisposition, and exhausting alternative methods, I needed medication. It has helped me be me.
Stay tuned next week for a trip back to my time at the University of Notre Dame. I literally quit my job because I felt like running away was the answer.
In order to fully understand MY mental illness you need to know a bit about my family history. I am going to tell you about my dad. He also battled mental illness. My dad had many struggles in his lifetime and Major Depression was one of them. He also had horrible Anxiety. I'm not a doctor, but when you start combining mental illnesses it gets confusing. Clinically, he was Bipolar or some say Manic-Depressive.
I didn’t understand the severity of his condition until later in life. As a kid I never thought about mental illness. I didn’t have to. Heck, I didn't make the connection until well after college. You know how it goes—we don’t always take seriously, the things that don’t directly affect us. On top of that, my dad’s mental illness was always masked by habitual drug use, to include alcohol and other drugs. He received help countless times in his life and proceeding that was usually a relapse. His addictions kept him away from his kids and the rest of his family.
Now, in my adult life, I’m familiar with mental illness. I’m more educated than I’ve ever been. I know that it kept my dad from being himself. I have a couple memories of my dad from childhood, but the rest, the most important ones, were later in life. That’s just how it worked out.
It wasn’t until I found out he had HIV that I developed a relationship with him. He wanted a second chance because death was knocking on his door.
I never judged my dad. Not once. I never told people that he was a loser or a horrible father. I think it’s because I knew. I knew in my heart that he struggled I just wasn’t sure why. While I say I never understood the severity of his condition, I did know compassion. That would be one piece of advice that I would give others who are trying to understand mental illness. Just have compassion. The rest will come.
My dad began writing letters as a part of his healing. There were many years between the last time I saw my dad and his first letter. Actually, I recently began sorting through them. I have every single letter from him. In his writing, he was the best dad. I looked forward to those letters. I always wrote him back too. He would send pictures of what was going on in his life; photos of his dad, his other kids, and events and activities he participated in. He spent lots of time in a halfway house. A halfway house is a center for helping former drug addicts, prisoners, psychiatric patients, or others to adjust to life in general society. So many of the photos he sent were from his time at these houses.
Eventually he asked if he could see us. When I say us, that includes my sister Katie. You’ll hear from her later. Anyways, we started visiting. The visits were not how many imagine of a father and his daughters. He was embarrassed, ashamed, and unsure of how to act around us. It was mutual at times, but we tried not to show it. We met up at restaurants where he’d say he was thankful he had some cash to treat us to lunch or dinner. He never really had money when he was clean. We’d see him for some holidays where we were often gifted with a religious trinket. I personally was never religious, but I supported his beliefs. He said believing in God helped him to get sober and eventually come to terms with his path in life. He found peace in his mistakes. I couldn't argue with that.
On his road to recovery and in his letters he continued to ask for forgiveness. I forgave him. I forgave him long before he asked for it. I took each moment I spent with him and I cherished the shit out of it. I wanted to learn about his struggles. I felt that it was the only way for me to show him he was loved. He was ill and would soon leave this world.
I did all I could to make him feel like he mattered. In the end, he said it did. The last time I saw my dad's face my sister and I were sitting by his side. He was on oxygen, but basically gone. Not coherent. He would never open his eyes again. We touched his hand. We talked to him. We even laughed a bit. More like giggled. Because we're human. I mean, what do you say?! I think it was very fitting. My dad would've liked to hear us giggle.
At his funeral he wanted the song Wild World played by Cat Stevens. “Oh baby baby it’s a wild world. It’s hard to get by just upon a smile. Oh baby baby it’s a wild world. I’ll always remember you like a child, girl.”
Join me next week as I take you back to my college days.
I was fortunate to have worked at the University of Notre Dame. Never, in a million years did I see myself teaching at such a place. I want to begin my story here because this was a pivotal time in my life coming out of graduate school. It was the start of something wonderful and awful at the same time. Actually, if I’m wanting to be honest with myself, and with you, then the truth is that the awful began back in college. I'll get to that later. It just wasn’t until starting my life at Notre Dame that I acknowledged something was wrong.
I found myself in a position, fresh out of graduate school, to work at one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. Currently, according to U.S. News, it’s ranked 18th. Certainly, in 2009, when I applied for the job, it was a big deal. You have to understand how small the world can be sometimes. I grew up in the southeast corner of Wisconsin; spent some time in Burlington and a lot more time in Kansasville. And no, that is not near Topeka. Most of my family had never been to Notre Dame. There was never any reason to go. We were a small town family mostly cheering for the Green Bay Packers from our living rooms and sports bars.
So yeah, my family was super excited that I landed a job quickly, but it took us all some time to realize what I had just accomplished. But that’s what I love about them. It didn’t matter then how Notre Dame ranked on any scale and it doesn’t matter now. They were simply happy for me.
I didn’t really tout my new job because prestige, while great to some, wasn’t a career goal of mine. To this day, it still is not a career goal. The only career goal that’s mattered was wanting to make a difference, to help people most in need. Little did I know, I was one of those people.
The transition from graduate school to my first professional job in the Fall of 2009 was difficult. I was officially diagnosed with Major Depression. I didn’t care about my job or much else for that matter. I always had, but my mental illness kept me from being me. Do you know how that feels?
I hope that by telling my story people learn more about mental health, specifically depression and anxiety. I will mostly tell my story because, well, I’m the one with a mental illness. I will however, attempt to do the best I can to include perspectives from those close to me. You will hear from my wife, other family, a friend or two, and my current psychiatrist. I’m not the only one suffering here. I believe it is vital to include their experiences if the goal is to educate and raise awareness. We all must be willing to listen and learn.
I have been a lifelong advocate for all things wellness and that includes educating others about mental health. I ask you to please listen and read carefully, repeat parts if you have to. Just have an open mind. I am grateful for your time. Welcome to my story.
In Kindness & Love, Stephanie
See you next week as I rewind a bit and tell you about my dad.
From an airplane window is where I found my inspiration. I knew it was time to share my story.
I have always loved flying. Not just being in the air, but the entire process. Booking a ticket is fulfilling in and of itself. The worst is over. I always pick a window seat. Luckily, my elbows have never been hit by a beverage cart! I always hated it for Drew Barrymore.
For someone who has panic attacks for no reason, you'd think that flying would stress me out. It doesn't. Not once have I experienced a panic attack in an airport or on a plane. Not with a fox and not in a box.
When I get to the airport I feel cool, calm, and collected. I've actually tracked my heart rate during this process and it's been under 50 bpm on several occasions. Amazing! I get through security no problem. I have the patience of a saint. I can see how people would get super anxious at this point. Everything has to come out of your bag, put in its own tray, and down the conveyor belt it goes. They take everything from you and all you're left with is that one thing you forgot to take out of your pocket. SANITY! Sometimes they want that too.
See how easy it is to THINK about being anxious? I often think about what's to come even before it gets here. I work myself up. This is one situation though where my anxiety disappears.
After security I go straight for food. Almost always you'll find me standing in line at Starbucks. I know. That's not food. But do you see the priority now? MUST HAVE STARBUCKS! Food comes next. I am not picky and will eat just about anything. I drink and eat. I am happy.
I make my merry way to the restroom and have a little winky tink. Then I sit in some chair, play on my phone, and finish my coffee. I always get a Venti Iced Coffee, No Classic, 2% milk. Pure bliss. A vice. A comfort.
Getting on the plane gives me control. I know that I have the ability to be patient and kind. We've all seen videos displaying the horrors people experience in flight. I hate the thought of people going through such things. I show everyone respect and hope that my demeanor creates a warm and welcoming environment.
I like meeting new people. I won't usually initiate the conversation because I don't want to disturb anyone who might already by unnerved, but I'll open right up when someone talks to me. If they can't find their seat belt I don't show frustration when they have to dig around for it and accidentally brush the outside of my thigh with their pinky. IT HAPPENS PEOPLE, GET OVER IT! I would do anything for anyone on an airplane if it meant ensuring they were comfortable and safe.
Then there's the flying part. I always look out the window during take off. Landing too. Sometimes people around me are praying, texting, or calming their children. I just look out the window.
I am so amazed that a hunk of metal (and other parts) can fly through the air and remain there. Just flying along. It's incredible. I really take it all in. It's like looking at a mountain and trying to fathom how it got there. Or how Lake Michigan can seem so endless. Speechless moments meant for the mind.
Obviously everything gets smaller the higher you go. Your world becomes a Polly Pocket! I loved those toys. The coolest part is watching things take shape. Have you ever noticed how neighborhoods are set up into grids? Or how farmland is either in the shape of a square, rectangle, or a circle? How about the on and off ramps? They are fun looking--like a toy race track--fun loops and curves. I see rivers and railroad tracks and feel as if I know where things are going. It's like everything has a purpose and now it's explained. Everyone can see true colors.
This is what makes me feel normal. This is what takes my anxiety away. Gives me hope. I can always be myself on an airplane. On the ground it's not as easy. You have to hide sometimes and take the shape of something you'd rather not.
I love flying because we all look down on the same world. Everything is a grand idea from the air. Shouldn't we all feel grand?
Next week...Starting my journey at the University of Notre Dame...
Hi, my name is Stephanie Ryckman.
Welcome to my personal blog, documenting my journey through mental illness. My goals are to encourage and educate. I want others to be proud of their story. Together we can make this world a better place. I also want to educate others so that our society has a better understanding of mental health. Whether you've been diagnosed or not, you have a role in this.
I ask that you bare with me for a minute. I want you to think of someone you love. You just found out they have cancer. Take a deep breath. Think about what you would say to them. How would you treat them? Would you buy them flowers? A card? Would you plan a special outing with them and spend quality time with them? Would you console them? Of course you would.
Now imagine that person were to tell you they were suffering from Depression instead. Or Bio-polar Disorder. Severe Anxiety. What would you do now?
I suffer from Major Depression and Anxiety and it should be taken just as seriously as cancer. I'd like a card or maybe a happy text message once in a while. Or some flowers. I'd like you to spend quality time with me instead of fearing me. Even just a smile or a hug will do the trick. And if you're still unsure about how you feel, just listen. That's all.
At times my mental illness gets the best of me. It can be really scary. And just like cancer, I cannot control the fact that I suffer from depression and anxiety. It's not just about what I cannot control though. It's about my actions, my will, my support system, and the severity of my illness.
I'm sharing my story with you because mental illness is real. Whatever your story, I ask you to read with an open mind. I also ask that you embrace your thoughts and reactions. At the end of the day, we need to take better care of ourselves and each other.
I have not gone through this alone. My wife has been my #1 supporter. She holds me when I need to be held. She cries with me. She takes the time to learn about depression and anxiety. No matter what, she is on my side. She never makes me feel alone. Her experience is just as important. We don't always get to hear about the challenges being faced by someone who is taking care of a loved one with mental illness. In addition, my family and my friends have found ways to support me. I've gotten books, essential oils, financial support, phone calls, silly text messages to make me smile, and unconditional love! Every little thing helps.
Always know that you are supported. There is help. I'd love to hear your story! Don't worry, everything will be okay.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being here.
I just want all people to learn and grow together.