The topics of anxiety and depression are always fresh in my mind because it’s something that affects my family in big ways. But, I know that there are so many others out there who live with these debilitating illnesses every single day. I also know that they do not present the same way in any two people; so the more people that are willing to share their stories the more people will not have to feel alone in their suffering.
Stephanie is someone I met not too long ago, but she is an open book when it comes to sharing about the hard things in life. I knew she would be a great resource for others struggling with depression and trying to LIVE with the struggle rather than having life happen around them.
As a warning, Stephanie does address some sensitive subjects briefly (alcoholism, drug use and infidelity).
1) You know the drill - Introduce yourself to everyone.
First of all I want to thank you Audra for asking me to do this, it is truly a honor!!
Hey everyone, my name is Stephanie Donegan, I am a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, married to my awesome husband Kyle (going on 4 years), the mom of 2 boys -8 and 2 years old, a fitness wanna be, I have a huge love for chocolate, I suffer from depression, anxiety and panic attacks and I am a life survivor( I will explain this).
I grew up and still reside in Oak Ridge, NC. My childhood was very disfunctional. My mom was an alcoholic and my dad was a workaholic, which left me thinking I was the adult and the mother to my brother who is 4 years younger then me. My grandmother (nana) was more like my mom and was my saving grace growing up. She died when I was 16 and that’s when my depression, anxiety and panic attacks started.
I didn’t know how to ask for help, or honestly I didn’t even know what I was dealing with, so I turned to alcohol, pills, marijuana, cocaine and whatever it took to get the attention from guys. Writing this makes me cringe and if you’re thinking why is she sharing all of this, the answer is because I want to give you hope in your own life.
During this time, I also dropped out of high school, and somehow managed to keep a job and get my GED. I met my now ex husband at this crazy time and clung to him like my life depended on it, because at the time it did. He wasn’t doing all the crazy stuff I was and so I was drawn to his stability. We dated for 6 years, got married in 2008 and in 2010 had my oldest son. While we were together my depression had gotten bad enough for me to get on medication and it was a constant battle with what I could take verses the side effects, so I just stopped taking medication. After my son was born and I went back to work, that is when the panic attacks started. I would literally feel like I was having a heart attack and ended up having to go back on medication or I wasn’t going to be able to work. Our relationship and marriage was always rocky and this for sure made things worse. I made some not good choices and cheated on him and we were divorced in 2012.
So here I am, broken, at the lowest point in my life, had no hope, single at 26 years old with a 2 year old, living back with my parents. Needless to say, all of my mental health issues were magnified at this time, but I ignored them; I was in survival mode.
In July of 2013 while I was hanging out at one of my favorite places at the time, I met Kyle, who grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, but wasn’t active during this time. He was harmless, he was younger, had a girlfriend and we had hardly anything in common - except for depression. We quickly became best friends and I was completely over joyed that someone finally understood what I was going through, because I really didn’t even get it at the time. Fast forward through all the sappy stuff, he and his girlfriend broke up, we started dating in April of 2014. January of 2015 I was introduced to the church, we got engaged on Feb 14, 2015 (the day I got baptized) and married on July 4, 2015. He has been the one to support me so much through fighting through my issues and I would love to tell you that things continued to stay great.
In Feb of last year (2018) I was finally able to achieve a goal I had since my oldest was born and that was to be a stay at home mom. I thought I had made it!! Then July came around and all of the sudden I couldn’t get out of bed most days, I would pray every night for Heavenly Father to take me away. I faked a smile to everyone, even Kyle. I didn’t want to admit that i needed help and that I was quietly dying inside. I finally got to a super scary place where I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it. The panic attacks were so bad I had gone to the hospital and was kept over night.. I didn’t realize then, that what was going on was a major panic attack.
I went to the doctor and got put back on mediation and was begging and pleading daily with Heavenly Father to help me; He was the only person I could lean on because I wasn’t allowing anyone else in. This is when I finally whole heartedly admitted to myself and accepted that I suffer from mental health issues.
I am still working through this daily and I truly hope to be able to give hope to any one else dealing with mental health issues.
2) Why did you decide to start talking about your mental health struggles?
I started to talk about my mental health issues when I realized I need to for 3 reasons. First, while I was in the depths of this I felt so alone, even though I had people who cared about me and loved me, I didn’t want to admit this issue to them, and I knew if I felt that way there had to be others dealing with the same things and feeling alone, and I wanted people to know that they had someone who understood. Second, It’s truly therapy for me to share this, I’m aware that I should probably get professional therapy, but for now sharing my journey is really helping. And third, I want to help squash the stigma that society puts on mental health issues.
3) How can friends and family support a loved one dealing with depression?
This question is hard, because I believe every person and situation is so different. It’s so hard on families, as well as it is the person that is experiencing the mental health issues. In my opinion, the best things friends and family can do are to not judge, be encouraging and supportive of how the person is dealing with it and truly be more aware of what they are going.through, especially if there are thoughts of suicide or self harm. For me, I didn’t understand why and what was going on, so my family couldn’t either.
4) What are your top three ways to practice self care?
My top 3 ways to practice self care are setting aside the time daily to grow my relationship with Heavenly Father, working out and journalling.
5) Describe what depression feels like to you - both physically and mentally.
Physically, depression causes me to shut down and often have headaches and stomach issues and I sleep a lot. Mentally, I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have any drive or reason to continue to move forward. I have literally felt dead inside is the only way I can describe it. My face and body may not look affected, but on the inside I’ve been dead.
6) In your opinion, why do you think we have seen such an increase in mental health issues recently?
From my personal experience, I feel like mental health issues have increased because so many people are dealing with really hard things in their life and don’t know how to cope with them and its a spiral effect. Another thing is the stigma society has given this issue. People feel afraid to speak out and ask for help worrying they will be judged or mocked .
7) What are some ways to help avoid slipping into the vicious depressive cycle? And what are some things people CAN do?
Once again I can only share my experience and I know everyone is so different. But, for me, I have to avoid not having a routine. When I see myself going back down I know I haven’t been focusing on my routine. Something else, I very recently learned, was that even when I have done my check list of things that help me and I still feel down, I can’t ignore that Satan is real and that it’s not me.. I’m not causing these feelings he is.
Things to do (yes I slip on these sometimes), create a list of things that you need to do daily to fill your cup in the positive. For me, that’s prayer, scripture reading/study, working out, getting enough sleep, listening to uplifting podcasts or reading a personal development book, and on my worst days I dance!
8) What is the most common misconception you hear regarding depression?
The most common misconception I hear about depression, is that you should be able to just get over it. This is no different then having a heart attack, you can’t tell that person to stop having the heart attack, they have to seek help. Depression is no different.
9) Where do you see yourself in five years?
In 5 years, I see myself speaking and advocating for people who deal with mental health issues, and helping to educate and create places for those suffering and their family.
10) If you could only pick one social issue to support, what would it be and why?
Self love is the number one social issue that I would support because a lot of my mental health issues stemmed from not having this. I felt that all my past mistakes made me who I was and that I wasn’t worthy to love myself.
11) When you’re in slump, how do you prioritize your to do list?
To be honest, some days when I’m in the slump I just do what I can to not overwhelm myself. If that means the kids and I eat cereal and Mac n cheese for meals that’s what happens, and then I don’t beat myself up for that day, and I start over the next. My check list of things I know I have to do daily is the other thing, as long as I’ve done those things I know I’ve accomplished a lot and the other life stuff can just wait!
12) What changes would you like to see surrounding mental health?
I would love to see more people sharing and talking about mental health and centers being developed all over the world to support the education and give help needed to those that experience the issues and provide support for their loved ones.
13) If you were to write a book, what would it be about?
Well I’m actually planning to write a book, and it will be about my story with lots of detail, and tools to help others.
14) Who would you choose to play your character in a movie about your life?
Rachel Hollis (if you don’t know who she is, go look her up) is my best friend, she just doesn’t know it. So I would choose her to be my character in a movie about my life.
15) If you could give one piece of advice to 10 year old Stephanie, what would it be?
My one piece of advise to 10 year old Stephanie, would be to work hard every single day to grow your relationship with Heavenly Father. He is the only person who will truly never leave you!
Talk about real and raw! I love how open Stephanie is about admitting that she is still in the thick of dealing with her mental health disorders. There is not a quick, easy road to recovery - for some it’s a life long battle. BUT, there is hope and there is help all around.
Disclaimer: Neither Stephanie, nor myself, are mental health professionals. This is a personal account and should not be used to diagnose or treat a mental health disease. If you or a loved one are suffering, please seek medical attention! You do not have to do this alone.