I grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. Then I studied English and Women’s Studies at Duke University. During my junior year there, I had my first major depressive episode. I felt like an “imposter,” that my whole life had been a charade and that I did not deserve to be a student there. I began taking an antidepressant before the start of my senior year and then experienced four happy, stable years in which I lived on a farm and had various jobs. I also wrote a “dual” memoir about my life and that of my maternal grandfather. I thought that writing about my experience with depression would mean that it would never come back. I was wrong.
One day, I called up my psychiatrist and told him I wanted to stop taking the antidepressant. He gave me a schedule to taper off of it, and I followed it exactly. A month later, I moved to Washington, DC and started a master’s in journalism. As the program became more stressful, I began to have anxiety attacks, and the depression returned. I had daily suicidal ideations, which led to an episode of self-harm. I left graduate school and felt like my life was over.
For the next year and a half, I would see over 20 different mental health professionals, try 15 different medications, and cycle in and out of seven different psychiatric facilities in five different states. Finally, I ended up on a therapy farm in Asheville, North Carolina, where I met the most compassionate and progressive psychiatrist of all I had seen. He performed genetic testing and informed me that I had two genes that resulted in a lower level of serotonin production than most healthy brains. He prescribed a new antidepressant based on these genetic deficits, and two weeks later my suicidal ideations subsided. I could focus on the future again, so I started taking online classes in the field of speech-language pathology.
Now I know that I need to manage my brain chemistry like a diabetic manages her insulin and that, most importantly, there is no shame in that. My illness is a part of who I am, but it does not define me.
In May 2018, I graduated from George Washington University with a master’s in speech-language pathology. Now I enjoy working with people recovering from brain injuries, high school students with literacy issues, and transgender people who want to achieve a voice that is more congruent with their gender identity.
I have been writing and speaking about my experience as a person with mental illness in our country’s healthcare system. I have appeared on the Dr. Oz show, spoken at the NAMI conference in South Carolina, presented poetry at Busboys & Poets in DC, and published articles in Writer’s Digest, Huffington Post, PsychCentral.com, and Genomind’s blog.
My life is full of passion and purpose, and I hope that my story can help others suffering from mental illness get the compassionate, effective care that they deserve. No one deserves to be discriminated against for a chemical issue in any organ of the body–including the brain! I believe that the conversation about mental healthcare in this country needs to include the progressive technology of genetic testing, which has the potential to lead many others toward recovery. I have finished writing my memoir about my experience discovering the root of my depression and recovering from those horrific episodes. I’m currently seeking a literary agent to represent my work. Check back for updates!