Growing up, I was always very aware of my disease. My mom always tells me that as a small child, I didn't have a problem walking up to any adult that was smoking cigarettes and tell them to put it out because I had CF. My close friends always knew about my disease, as did their families. When I was about seven years old I remember one of my little friends telling me that her mom said I was going to die young. Kids can be mean, wonder why? I remember being confused by her statement. I told her that it wasn't true. I later told my mom what my friend had said. She was so angered and was so hurt for me. The next time I saw my friend, my mom asked her about what she had said to me. My friend replied with a little hesitation, but my mom embraced her and told her what cystic fibrosis really was.
Thinking about that situation today, I am so disgusted by the information that my friends' mother put into her head at seven years old. I am also proud of the way my own mother handled the matter. She didn't scold my friend for saying what she did, she simply made her aware of the true facts of my disease. I really believe that what my mother did, was a step towards the right direction of solving ignorance in our peers. I am not a parent, but if I were, I would have done the same thing my mother did and educated the little girl.
As I grew into middle school, I only let my close circle of friends aware of my disease. They were always so understanding and protective of me, even at that age. I always made my PE teachers aware of my illness, incase of an emergency. I'd have to take a trip to the school nurse's office everyday before lunch to take my enzymes so that I could eat. Kids would always ask why I had to go to the nurse's office everyday but I never told them the truth. I honestly don't remember what my false excuse was. I never had a problem hiding my disease because I was just as active as another kid my age. I became a cheerleader when I was eight and stuck with it for the rest of my childhood. I believe that always staying active helped keep me healthy.
In the eighth grade, I was diagnosed with a lung infection as well as MRSA. Pretty intense stuff! I spent about ten days in the John's Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, MD. After being discharged from the hospital, I had to continue IV antibiotics at home for another two weeks. My PICC line had been placed in my arm, so I had to come up with some sort of excuse for why I kept an ace bandage around my upper arm. I was not comfortable with telling other kids what was wrong with me. Whenever they asked, I told them that I ran into a tree branch on my bike and it stabbed me in the arm! So pathetic, but they believed me. Again, only my close group of friends knew the real deal, which was alright with me.
About six months after my parents and I moved to North Carolina, I made quality friends at school. They still happen to be some of my best friends to this day! I made them aware of CF and in return I developed the same sort of understanding and protective friends. Since we were now in high school, more and more people started finding out that I had some sort of illness. It made me so uncomfortable knowing that people may have thought I was different. I knew that my personality outshined my disease, but I never wanted anyone to label me, "sick."
When I was 15, my mom and I went to one of Michael McGowan's fundraisers for cystic fibrosis. That was the first time I got to meet a male CF'er older than me. At the fundraiser, Michael called me out of the audience, to introduce me to the crowd. I was mortified. I remember him asking if I wanted to say anything through the microphone and all I could do was shake my head, "no," and stare back at all of the people starring at me. I was a deer caught in headlights. I was even more embarassed about the fact that some of my schoolmates, who didn't know I had CF, were attending the benefit. As I walked back through the crowd, I felt as if all eyes were on me, because I was sick. My mom was so happy that Michael had introduced me to everyone, but all I could do was hold back tears. I eventually ran into the bathroom to cry. I felt ashamed, embarassed, and less than. As I was standing the bathroom sobbing, this older woman came up to me and told me that I was going to be okay because I was an "angel sent from heaven." I will never forget what this woman said to me.
After the benefit, I dreaded going back to school. I knew that the kids who had attended, were going to tell other people. I couldn't handle the thought of that. That exact experience was the start of my depression.
When I wasn't at school, I'd lay in bed in my dark room, and sulk. I'd cry at the drop of a hat. I remember laying on my bathroom floor sobbing, praying to God that he'd take me away from my pain. I never thought about actually committing suicide, but I knew I wanted out. I wanted God to take away my disease, my pain and suffering, and most of all, the embarassment of other people finding out my secret. It was a terrible few months for me. I was able to come out of that depressive state because of indepth discussions I had with my close friends about why I was so hurt. I think that those conversations, and them building me back up, saved me. As a junior and senior, more people found out about my disease, but I was able to handle it because of my friends support.
Since then, I have battled an anxiety disorder and depression. Since that one depressive episode, I have suffered from two others, happening almost every three years. If any of you are familiar with depression, you may know that it's like clockwork. Studies have shown that when someone suffers with depression, they usually have severe boughts of it about every three years. These episodes can last months if not treated.
The second bought of depression that I experienced was more severe and occured when I was 19 or 20. I dropped down to about 98 pounds, lost all of my appetite, had zero energry, slept all day and night, and eventually lost track of time. After about a month, I realized that I couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel and that I couldn't get through this alone. I needed help. I consulted my doctor and was prescribed a couple different medicines until I found the right one for me. After a couple more months, I felt back to normal.
The third and most recent episode happened around this time last year. I dealt with the exact same symptoms as before but they seemed more intense. I was even hospitalized for a lung infection because my body grew so weak and I didn't have the energy to take care of myself. Again, I knew that I wasn't going to make it through alone. I had been seeing a therapist and was taking medicine, but it wasn't enough. I decided to turn to God. He was my only hope. After a couple months of getting my mind, body, and soul back to baseline, and adjusting medication, I was able to get out of my rut.
I know that I will always suffer from anxiety and depression, but I also know the steps that I need to take to get myself out of it. About a month ago, I decided to ween myself off of the two medications that I was prescribed because I felt foggy and clouded. I am aware that if and when I do have another depressive episode, I will have to possibly start taking medication again, but at the moment, I feel much better without it, especially since I have decided to almost completely quit drinking alcohol.
Anxiety and depession are no joke. People honestly do not understand how severe they are, if they've never experienced it for themselves. It's not just something you can say, "look on the bright side," or "just be happy" to. Therapy, prayer, and surrounding myself with supportive people have helped me through each time. I know people who haven't been able to make it out of that dark place alive. Thankfully, I have never experienced depression on that level, but it is a real thing and people need to be aware of it. Most people can hide their suffering when it's that bad, which is terrifying.
I've learned to always have an open mind because of the illness. As therapeutic as it is just to write down or type my feelings and share my story, it's even better know that someone reading can relate and know they're not alone. All we can do for one another is be there, so why not?