Anna s Story
San Francisco, CA USA
"In March of 2017, I started to feel off. I began having severe anxiety, waking up in a panic every thirty minutes during the already minimal four-to-five hours of sleep I would get. At 5AM, my alarm would go off, but I was already awake- my heart seemingly beating faster with every waking day.
I could make it through morning crew practice, but it was not the same activity I fell in love with earlier that year. I used to love the freedom of being on the water with my teammates, but I started to feel out of focus and shaky. Academics had always been my strong suit at the academy, but I started to doubt myself and overthink as I walked from class-to-class, trying to plan how to better grasp new material. I met with professors during every free hour I had, then it was back on the water for three more hours.
Rowing is a very monotonous sport already, so when my mind was racing, I continued focusing on worry and doubt, instead of the oar. Soon, it was back to studying where I isolated myself at my desk to try to work. My grades reflected my lack of focus, and I felt guilty every time I went to sleep, thinking that I should be working harder to understand every detail of DNA replication or perfect my paper on the Vietnam War.
These days repeated until it led me into a spiral of crippling depression that went on for six more months...
To my peers, I flew under the radar as an average cadet, student, and athlete. No one takes a second look at the kind of cadet that I was. It did not hit me until someone did.
My commanding officer pulled me into his office on September 12, 2017 and I will never forget the words he said to me. 'What’s going on?' he said. I explained that I had been more stressed than usual, but that I was alright. 'What’s on your wrist?' He looked me dead in the eyes and forced me into a sudden state of self-reflection.
Everything was a cloud in my head that I could not even comprehend what I had done. In my over-stressed and suicidal state the night before, I had began cutting my wrist over-and-over to try to put myself back into the reality I thought I was living. I held my breath, hoping that I would pass out and wake up cured... or not wake up at all.
He asked me that question and I felt like I had lost every bit of strength I had. He rushed me to the emergency room and I was admitted into a psychiatric hospital. He sat with me for the eight hours of waiting in the emergency room and tried to reassure me that struggling with depression does not mean I am weak, but all I could think about was that I was the 'helpless patient'.
I had been working to be a doctor that helps people in situations like mine, but I felt like I had lost that dream. I was pre-med at a great school, had friends, and rowed collegiately – I didn’t 'look' like I had a mental illness. I wasn’t 'crazy' or 'delusional', like the mental health stigma makes it seem. In fact, I was highly functional in my cadet career.
This became the start to a long and continuing process, learning what it means to live with a mental illness. Fourteen days in the hospital in September and another nineteen days a few months later. It was definitely not a fast or easy realization, and I am by no means finished."