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When You're a Psychology Major Who Struggles With Mental Illness

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About the author: My name is Latrice and I am the founder of the When Your Brain Hurts project. I created When Your Brain Hurts earlier this year to provide perspective into the life of a full-time working, African-American female dealing with mental illness. 

Two years ago, I experienced a time where I had frequent migraines, stomach issues, excessive sleepiness and a low immune system. My husband, who was only my boyfriend at the time, would hound me about visiting my family doctor to figure out what was wrong with me. I know he was only looking out for my best interest, but I had been through migraine and food diaries, ultrasounds, vitamin B and D prescriptions, and antibiotics for every sickness I would catch. I would have at least 15 migraines a month. I hid from lights, noises, social situations that would require physical exertion and took several medications — nothing helped. I experienced stomach pains and digestive issues; experiencing times where I couldn’t eat for days and they still found nothing. I would come home from work and immediately fall asleep. Sometimes I slept right into the next day. I was so drained, caught every sickness that brushed pass me and I was tired of wasting my money at the doctor for them to find “nothing.” I let this go on for a year until I decided to visit a local psychiatrist who prescribed me medicine to treat my depression and anxiety. I’ve been taking medicine since then and my negative symptoms have simmered down.

To be honest, this wasn’t my first rodeo. I had my first mental break down during my freshman year of college. To this day, I can’t remember what triggered it, and there are some parts that are a blur to me. I remember visiting the therapists office and thinking, “So this is what I’ll be doing in the future?” My major was in psychology, and I now know that it wasn’t just a random box I checked on my application, it was God’s way of educating me on what I was about to experience for the next seven years. I remember telling the therapist how I felt and she told me that my statements sounded like depression. I remember asking her something like, “How do I fix that?” I knew it was something I could take a pill for, but I didn’t know about the emotional rollercoaster I was about to experience. I may have been educated on the subject, but it didn’t mean I knew how to fix my own life.

My freshman year was when my migraines first began. My doctor prescribed me another medication for that, on top of the anti-depressants I was taking. I went from taking gummy vitamins to taking several medications that had positive and negative effects on my body. I spent my first year of college serving the community and participating in campus activities. I received awards, scholarships and earned countless community service hours. I would then go home to write, pray, sleep, cry and be angry at myself. I remember one stormy night where I stared at my full bottle of medication and thought that if I took all of them at once, I’d be able to end my misery. The trial and error portion of taking medicine was the worst. I tried so many in just one year. I remember my mom asking me if I wanted her to take me to the hospital, and I remember telling her no. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to be out of my misery, and if that meant I would take my life, then I would do that. I remember thinking how I wanted to be with God.

My psychology degree taught me how to hide my illnesses. I would always ask myself, “What do I do that’s ‘not normal?’” I would force myself to laugh more and practice smiling in the mirror so that it looked genuine. I taught myself how to discreetly remove myself from an awkward situation before I became lightheaded. When I was having a depressive episode, I would just tell my friends that I was having a migraine. I knew I couldn’t mention that I was taking medicine, so I had to cover up all the tell-tale signs. I made sure I never mentioned nervousness. I would always disguise it as “being shy.” It’s affected my job more than it has any other part of my life. I used to think that it was my career choice that was making me sick, that maybe I wasn’t cut out for counseling. I was only doing academic counseling, and there I was, struggling to stay alive. Then I realized what was really making me sick — it was my underlying illness, not my career choice.

I never attempted suicide, but I have had several moments over the years where I was on the borderline of an attempt, including a time where my therapist threatened to call a 10-13 on me if I didn’t take a sick day from work. We made an agreement that if I didn’t feel better after that day, I would go to the hospital to get the help I needed. I didn’t want to go to the hospital. Why? So they can take me away from my family? The only thing that motivated me to stay alive was my family — I wanted to be here for them. I never felt like I was here for my own sake, and I still feel like that sometimes.

I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve been through three psychiatrists, five therapists and one recent visit to the psychiatric hospital where I was kept involuntarily for five days. Today, I’m still struggling with finding the “right” combination of medicine. I finally found a psychiatrist that listens to me, and a therapist that helps me work on becoming a better me. I am, and will, remain dedicated to staying well and promoting positive mental health.

Follow this journey here. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Originally published: September 18, 2017
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