Jenny, age 35
My interview with Jenny revealed an engaging mosaic of a person—determined, sensitive, caring, and while fairly private about her mental illness, she wants to share her story so that, “Everything I've been through is worth it.” Plus, she wants to help fight the stereotypes associated with mental illness. “Just because I don't look depressed, doesn't mean I'm not. I feel like my feelings are pushed aside because I'm nice and smile.”
Jenny lives with depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder (can have difficulty managing emotions, self image, and behavior, and often feels emotions more intensely), as well as a gambling addiction and eating disorder. “I don't choose to feel this way. When you're depressed or suicidal, you believe it. I live with mental illness. Anybody can have it. It's not just a homeless person or someone in the military or abused. It can be a housewife, your teacher, your preacher. Anyone. Mental illness doesn't discriminate.”
It was at age 14 that Jenny knew she needed help, but her struggle had started gradually a few years earlier. After moving to a new school at age twelve and feeling very isolated, she had her first thoughts of suicide and began controlling her eating, including dabbling in bulimia. Over time the suicidal thoughts and controlled eating worsened, and by age fifteen she had started cutting and hitting herself, with suicide attempts in high school and college. Her first hospitalization was for the eating disorder.
Jenny described a lot of feelings when I asked what her mental illness felt like. “Rollercoaster. Exhausting. Fear of being alone and abandoned.” But she also described how she feels “more aware of the things around her and deeply empathic to the feelings of others around her.”
Jenny said that residential treatment and working on coping skills at adult rehabilitation has helped her a lot. Today, with on-going therapy, a caseworker, and medication, she's better at managing and recognizing her warning signs of depression. She'll enter partial hospitalization (a daytime intense treatment setting) when she's having suicidal thoughts. But she's the first to point out, “You're never cured. You just hope to manage things better.” Her last suicide attempt was over three years ago. Her life today is a mixture of good and bad—she has a degree and her own business, but frustratingly asks, “Why isn't anything different?” In her twenties she wanted marriage and kids, and she feels that dream is lost now.
“Mental illness is not easy. It isn't curable, but it can be manageable. It's important to stay in therapy and take medication. Find a purpose, any purpose—they're what keep you going.”