After being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression at age 20, Samantha Ramos, now 25, earned her degree in Film and Television at SCAD, packed up her life, and moved to New York City. While she struggled with this comorbidity during major life changes, she also developed a better understanding of her mental health, allowing her to practice acceptance along with other healthy coping mechanisms. Check out her journey battling such conflicting issues.
What first made you believe something was wrong, or “off” with the way you were feeling?
I always felt like something was “off” with me since at least middle school. I would get what I thought at the time was just really nervous for the simplest things. My grades suffered a lot in school because my anxiety didn’t allow me ask questions or let teachers know when I didn’t understand things. I also missed so much school because of how depressed I was. I didn’t know it then, but I could barely get out of bed every morning, let alone deal with the challenges of high school.
It wasn’t until I got to art school and the assignments and workload became unbearable for me to deal with. I had my first panic attack in my dorm room; I couldn’t breathe or see straight. It was then that I knew something was more wrong with me than just normal stress.
How does your disorder affect your day-to-day life?
It’s a truly, for lack of better words, crazy experience having both anxiety and depression. It’s like you are being ripped apart in two different directions. It affects so many simple things like walking into a store, traveling, dating, pursuing opportunities. There are moments when I am having extreme anxiety about not wanting to miss an event, but my depression also convinces me that no one wants me there or staying home alone is better.
Sometimes, I genuinely feel bad for my close friends that interact with me on a daily basis. The smallest of decisions require so much forethought and mental energy on my part that it’s difficult to be spontaneous with me. I still love them for understanding and dealing with me, but I definitely understand that it can get tough and frustrating when, because of my anxiety, doing certain things aren’t always in the cards for me.
When you’re in the middle of an “episode” or “attack,” how exactly do you feel, and what helps you break out of it?
For bouts of depression, when I feel myself slipping into that dark place, talking always helps. If it’s a really bad case and I’m feeling extremely dark, I normally text my therapist for a session or try my best to rationalize why I’m feeling that way. I just recently found out that hormones are a huge factor for women with depression. I definitely feel worse during different times of the month than others. Having that awareness has definitely helped validate my emotions.
Explain one of your worst, most severe experiences with your disorder(s).
The absolute worst experience I’ve had was actually pretty recent. I lost my job last February and was out of work for five and a half months. So many deep-rooted issues were building up, I was alone all of the time, and I just sort of lost it. Something small triggered me that day, and I felt like I was a waste of space and there was no room for me in this world, in my friend’s lives or my family’s. I just wanted to disappear and not exist anymore. I felt like everyone’s life would be better without me in it.
As melodramatic as that sounds, I sincerely believed all of those things to be true. That was the first time I thought I was going to hurt myself in a permanent way. I was pacing around my house, and I kept getting angrier with my existence and having super irrational, dark thoughts. I did briefly hurt myself during this episode, but my thoughts shifted slightly, and I knew I needed to leave the house or go to a hospital. I’d had suicidal thoughts in the past, but this was really the first time I very easily saw myself doing it.
Thankfully, I managed to get enough clarity to know that wasn’t the answer; and I left the house and met up with some friends. Afterwards, I was able to talk about it in-depth with a friend and my therapist, and I’ve done a good amount of work to stay away from slipping that far again.
What does your treatment look like?
My treatment has consisted of five years of psychotherapy. I took medication for about two years, but I felt weird on it. And not to say that medication hasn’t done amazing things for other people, but there were so many times when I would just zone out and have people waving or snapping in front of my face to snap me out of it. I felt like a muted, foggy version of my normally excited, bubbly self, so I decided to stop taking it.
I love therapy though. It is my source of clarity, safety, and true non-judgement. It has really helped me work through the deep-rooted issues that have caused my disorders to begin with.
What are some everyday coping mechanisms you use?
It’s so underrated, but deep breathing! I can’t tell you how many times a day I take a few good deep breaths to help with general anxiety.
Another one that might seem strange but has helped me a lot is speaking to my “inner child” or “wounded child.” This is something my therapist suggested since my anxiety and depression have manifested because of environmental factors (childhood trauma, bullying, etc.) On a day-to-day basis, I probably get triggered four to five times by things that most people wouldn’t blink an eye at. During these moments, I need to reassure myself that I am worthy, that I am meant to be here, and that I am enough.
Do you think there is a specific stigma about the disorder(s) you have? If so, what is it and why do you think it’s harmful to those in your shoes?
I definitely think there is a stigma, but also a general ignorance. I have been called too sensitive, too dramatic, too emotional, too “much.” I have been told to get over it, to just move on, to just be happy. If only those people could spend a day in my mind, they would understand how much I wish I wasn’t this way and how badly I wish I could just be, without the weight and burden of these disorders. When people say those things, it completely invalidates your very real disorder and makes you feel worse.
What is one thing you wish you could tell your loved ones about your disorder?
Innately, I always want to say that I’m sorry. I know I can be tough to handle sometimes. But mostly, I just want to say thank you for your compassion and understanding, and that every day I am trying to be better, to react differently, and to always reach a new level of self-awareness.
What is one thing you wish you could tell society about your disorder?
I would probably tell society to do some research! There is nothing wrong with being sensitive or emotional. If someone you know is more emotional than you, that’s okay. If someone tells you they have depression and anxiety, let them live and cope without offering unsolicited advice; but also let them know you are there for them. Most importantly, just reach out, to friends that seem happy or family members that live alone. Know that anxiety and depression are not always outward disorders and can very easily be internalized.
If you could offer advice to someone who was just diagnosed with the same illness(es) as you, what would it be?
Find a therapist! Therapy has truly changed my life. Also, it might not seem like it right now, but you will be okay. This is a long journey, but having patience with yourself, with the process, with your mind, will pay off.
I promise you there will be moments where one day you look in the mirror and life won’t feel so heavy and unbearable. These moments will sometimes be fleeting, and you will still have your dark days; but sometimes, those good moments will last, and that is an amazing feeling.
Lastly, it’s okay to not be okay. For so long, I thought the end goal was to be good and okay and “normal.” But I realized that life will never just be good; there will always be good and bad, but the goal is to make sure the bad parts are not deal-breakers.