Feature Friday: Shantel

Shantel and I went to high school together and had some mutual friends. She commented on one of the stories I shared via Facebook and asked if she could share hers. I am so grateful she was brave enough to ask me and willing to share. I can relate to several things she went through and I know there are others who can as well. Keep reading for her story.

I used to think that people that were depressed were always sad, they kept to themselves, they were antisocial, they slept a lot, etc. I didn’t understand the disorder and didn’t consider myself to be a depressed person. I tried to be a happy person or so I thought. In my first year of teaching, I taught a girl who came to school regularly, was an excellent student, seemed like such a happy, bubbly, sweet girl. She was hardworking and got good grades. She was just a great girl. One of those students that all the other students like, and I loved teaching. One day we as faculty were informed that this girl had attempted suicide and would not be returning to school for a while because she was getting treatment. Many of us were shocked. I was especially. How could this girl, the girl that sat in my class day after day, the girl who was so happy, bubbly and sweet, struggle with depression so bad that she had attempted suicide and I had no idea that she was even sad, let alone depressed. I tried to justify that it was because I was on maternity leave for so long that I didn’t really know her that well. I just couldn’t believe that I had not noticed she had an issue. At this time, I didn’t connect that people with depression don’t have to be sad, sleep a lot and be antisocial but this happened around the time that I first began to realize I had an issue of my own.

In high school, I never had a super high self-esteem. I have never thought I was super pretty, or very good at much. However, I would have never considered myself to be depressed, but now that I really know what depression is and what it feels like I would say that I have struggled with depression for a lot of my life, beginning as early as junior high. I specifically remember feeling the way I do often now in my Junior year of high school. I had stress fractured my leg and was on crutches or in a boot most of the year. I was not exercising as much as I normally did. I couldn’t run with all my cross-country/track friends. Also, that year my two really good friends, that I spent pretty much every lunch and weekend with and worked with, started fighting and going their separate ways and I was stuck in the middle not sure what to do because I didn’t want either of them to think I liked one more than the other or that I was picking sides, so not only did I feel like I wasn’t part of my group of running buddies because my leg but I also felt like I lost my friends that I spent all my time with. Luckily, I had one really good friend that I hadn’t done anything with in a while that I started to spend time with, otherwise I would have felt like I had no one. When I talk about that year I always say it was the worst year of high school. However, nothing super bad really happened, any different than my sophomore or senior year, but now that I know what depression is, I now realize that I was depressed to the point that I thought the world would be better off without me.

That summer my parents told me they wanted to move to Logan, Utah. They said they would wait until my senior year was over if that was what I wanted to do. I immediately said I didn’t care as long as I went to a school with a good cross-country program. When I tell people that I chose to move my senior year they are shocked, but for me, all I could think about was getting a new start, with new friends. It actually turned out to be the best year of high school for me. I met friends there that I am still friends with today and were even my roommates in college. I stayed friends with a few friends from Davis high but for the most part, I didn’t feel like I missed much. After that, I don’t remember struggling very much. I remember being sad off and on throughout the rest of high school and throughout college but nothing major stands out.

It wasn’t until I was married and had a newborn baby that things got a lot worse. I was in the middle of my first-year teaching. Anyone that is a teacher knows that the first year is the worst. Almost everyone feels like they aren’t meant to be a teacher at the end of their first year so they always tell you if you make it through your first year you should make sure to try a second year before deciding if you were meant to be a teacher or not. My first year was not just hard because it was my first year but I also had a baby a month before my first anniversary, and 2 months into the school year and was on maternity leave for 6 weeks (not long enough) with a substitute that had no classroom discipline so when I returned trying to control my students was a nightmare. I came home every day saying how much I hated my job, how I didn’t want to go back the next day, even though I loved teaching and loved the students I worked with, I could only see how bad I was at it. I felt like I was a terrible teacher, that all my students hated me, and that I wasn’t really making a difference in any of their lives like I wanted to be.

At my 6 weeks after birth appointment with my OB, I filled out a paper with questions trying to diagnosis post-partum depression. Yeah, that questionnaire is terrible. It just helped me convince myself that I wasn’t depressed. This made me feel like I was just a terrible person because I acted poorly and wasn’t good at anything, rather than there being a reason for all these feelings of hatred and self-loathing.

When I returned to work after maternity leave, I was still trying to breastfeed Hadley and pump but I could never find the time to pump and so I got several batches of infection. I felt like I was only working because I had to or we wouldn’t have any money and we would be homeless not because I liked my job or was good at it. I wished every day that I could just stay home with Hadley and never go back. I just was counting down the years, the months, the days, until my husband was done with school so I didn’t have to do this anymore. Even though the school I worked at was the best school any teacher could ever work at, with the best students any teacher could ask for and the principal there is phenomenal. Seriously, the best administrator and boss. I decided to stop breastfeeding because I couldn’t keep missing work and it had become a chore rather than a time to bond with my child, I started to hate it and resent my child for it and I didn’t want to feel like that. However, lots of people made me feel like I was a terrible mom because I wasn’t giving my child the BEST food she could have. I already felt like I was inadequate to be a mom, a teacher, a wife, and this just added to it. Inside I felt like I was doing everything wrong. I wasn’t sad necessarily, more I was angry all the time. I was always yelling at my students because they wouldn’t listen and I couldn’t control them after the substitute had let them get away with everything. I was always fighting and upset with my husband, or crying to him because I had been mean to him and I hated myself for acting that way. The thing that was the worst is that I would become so angry at Hadley, an innocent child who knew nothing of being bad or misbehaving. She was just this innocent Child of God who Heavenly Father had entrusted me with and all I could do was get angry when I couldn’t figure out why she was crying.

My husband, Chris, would try to bring up how he was concerned that I could become so angry with a newborn child, he had struggled with depression and suggested maybe I was having issues with it. I told him he was wrong because I wasn’t sad all the time, I didn’t sleep all the time, I wasn’t losing my job, I was fine. One day, however, I just broke down and cried saying that I hated myself for how I treated him and our daughter and that I thought they were better off without me. He said he thought I needed to get help, so I went to a therapist because he thought I needed to not because I wanted to.

In April of 2013, 6 months after Hadley was born, I began to see a therapist. I saw her for about a month. I didn’t like her much. She had said a couple helpful things but not much. I felt like it was useless and so I just got her to say she thought I needed medicine so that I could go to my family doctor and get on medication. Medication helped but it didn’t solve anything and created some problems of its own. It helped me not be a mean wife and mom. It helped me be a better, happier teacher but I still hated myself and every time I wasn’t perfect I felt like my family was better off without me. That I should just leave so they didn’t have to deal with me and the terrible person I was. This ate away at my marriage and caused issues in many areas of my life, it just hid the true issue better.

The first medication I tried caused me to gain lots of weight. Which was awful because I already felt terrible about myself and thought I wasn’t pretty enough and this just made the feelings worse. I switched to a different medication and things were a lot better but it has taken me years to lose only some of the weight I gained. Then about 2 years ago, to help my negative self-image, even more, my face suddenly decided it wanted acne. I never struggled with acne as a teenager, but something happened that one day my acne was so bad and nothing I did helped. After a year and a half of trying different medications and treatments from dermatologist to every person on the planet thinking that they had to stop me to tell me they had some new acne treatment or face cream that would help, it was better but still not great. Over this time period my self-esteem, and self-image got worse and worse. I felt like I was so ugly and fat. How could my husband love me when I was so hideous? Then I finally gave in and went on Accutane (not advertising that people should use this), even though it is so hard on your body, and after 5 months, I can now look at myself in the mirror without being disgusted and thinking I’m hideous. The point is medication didn’t solve my problem. I needed something more if I was going to get better.

A year ago, Chris and I decided that I should get tested because I was having a hard time focusing and making sure I was taking care of my daughter’s needs. I would focus so much on a task that I didn’t hear Hadley calling for me, I would stare at the wall when Chris was trying to talk to me like no one was home. After multiple visits, I was diagnosed with ADHD. It was also brought up that I struggled with depression and anxiety. I had never really thought I struggled with anxiety but now I know different. At some point, I decided I should and I wanted to really see a therapist. I went on a search for the perfect therapist. This time seeing a therapist was different because I had the desire to get better and I knew I had a problem to solve. I have been seeing my therapist for the last year and I would suggest everyone could use a therapist. I love my therapist. He is the best, not that my first therapist wasn’t good, I just found one that worked for me and was able to communicate with me. That was one of the best decision I have made.

Working with my therapist I now know that I struggle with depression and anxiety as well as ADHD. I am on medication for all three and have tried going off them but my life is just better and I am a happier person with them. I may not need them one day but for now, if it makes it so I don’t feel the feelings I felt for so many years, I will take them forever. Between medication, and regularly seeing a therapist I have begun to manage these mental disorders so they don’t define me any longer. I have come far enough that I feel like I am actually improving my self-esteem. At this point, I feel like things are going really well but I often struggle with symptoms of these disorders that I will probably struggle with my whole life, but I have slowly learned how to not let them control my life.

Now I am doing something I love, I am currently teaching a class at and getting my Master’s degree from Utah State University in Mathematics and I hope to get my Ph.D. so I can one day be a professor. I love being a mom and I know that I can be the person God intended me to be.

I have learned that anyone can struggle with these things and you never know who. These disorders can affect so many different types of people. People you would never even think had issues like this. Depression is not just about being sad and anxiety is not just about having an overwhelming fear of something. When I am anxious I talk a lot. I get anxiety in many situations that I never realized. I feel like I will always be learning how to deal with these disorders but I finally feel like I am winning. That I am a good mom and wife and though I am not perfect, I have worth. Depression and anxiety are scary and many times you cannot beat it and learn to overcome it without help. Most of the time you cannot do it alone, we all need help. If you can’t ask someone, you always have a Heavenly Father waiting with concourses of angels ready to come to your aid.

Elder Holland said, “In the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have help from both sides of the veil. When disappointment and discouragement strike—and they will—we need to remember that if our eyes could be opened, we would see horses and chariots of fire as far as the eye can see, riding at great speed to come to our protection. They will always be there, these armies of heaven, in defense of Abraham’s seed.

I have learned I can do hard things and do anything with his help. That whenever I feel unloved, inadequate, or unworthy, Christ has felt it all. If I turn to the scriptures or a priesthood holder for a blessing, I will feel His love, overwhelmingly. He will lift me and carry me through it if I turn to Him and follow Him. If you need help, please find someone that can help you, you do not have to make this journey alone. There are so many that struggle with this disorder or are familiar with it, that if you can simply reach out and ask for help, help will be there.

I am so grateful for Ally and the opportunity she has given me to share a small portion of my story, my story that is not over but now feels worth living, in hopes it helps someone figure out their story and find the help they need.

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