A Summer of Depression and My Journey to Recovery by Erika Carrillo

Our brains thrive on stories; they’ve been a part of human connection since our beginning. As the conversation about mental illness grows, we believe that storytelling is one of the most effective ways to understand mental health. When you share your mental health story, you create something powerful. Today, Erika Carrillo from Ogden is sharing her story of sudden depression and the path of choices that helped her overcome it.

“It came out of nowhere.”

I still don’t really know the cause; depression may run in my family. As a child, I remember a period of time when my father lost interest in the things he loved. He didn’t want to do anything and I remember feeling confused. Today, I can see similarities in his behaviors and mine.

The summer of 2017 was the worst summer of my life. Out of nowhere, feelings of emptiness hit me and they came on strong. I was a full-time student and the semester had just ended. It was summertime. I wasn’t failing school. I wasn’t struggling financially… why was I feeling this way?

I started sleeping a lot, sometimes until 7:00 pm. I stopped eating and showering. I avoided my friends because I lost interest in going out. Sometimes I would make plans in an effort to pull myself out of this, but I’d always bail on them. My lowest moment was when I began having suicidal thoughts. Thoughts that, to this day, make my heart ache because I know that I am not the same person today who was thinking that way. I recognized that I was not the same person, but at the same time, I was exhausted… apathetic… it didn’t really matter.

“Help fell in my lap.”

I’ve been seeing Ryan Westbroek at Ogden Clinic since I moved to Utah two years ago. During an unrelated visit last summer, he immediately noticed a difference in me. He said, “I don’t know what’s going on but this isn’t the same person I saw last year.” While I was initially hesitant to talk to him, Ryan Westbroek was concerned. He made me feel like I could trust him by saying, “Small changes in how you feel are not small, they’re big things and they’re important.”

After I opened up to Ryan Westbroek, he set me on a path toward healing by prescribing a couple medications and monitoring how I responded to them. He referred me to a mental health counselor who I could regularly talk to. He was very proactive in my care and he wanted to see me get better. Ryan Westbroek’s support made a big difference in my life. It motivated me to take small steps toward my own care, which included finding a new job that could give me a consistent schedule.

“I was willing to communicate, that was my turning point.”

After talking to Ryan Westbroek, I felt more willing to talk to others. One of my friends from South Korea dealt with social anxiety growing up. I felt like he understood my situation better than most people, so I spoke to him regularly.

Then there was my new job. Routine was good for me. It meant I couldn’t sleep in all day. I had to socialize when I didn’t want to. And on one particularly “bad day”, I decided to communicate with my manager. I told him the same things I’d told Ryan Westbroek, not knowing what to expect.

To my surprise, my manager shared that his sister also struggled with depression. She even missed a semester of college while battling it. My boss was willing to adjust my schedule and help me in any way he could. This event opened my eyes to the fact that many people experience mental health hurdles. It can affect anyone. Even people who are not affected still feel empathy because many of them know someone who has struggled.

My boss gave me incredible advice. He said, “Give yourself a pat on the back for every little thing you do. When you get up and shower. When you get out of the house; after work each day, pat yourself on the back. All of these are progress. They’re big things.”

If you are hurting…

Like my boss said, celebrate the small things. They’re actually huge things. When you leave the house, that’s big. When you reach out to someone, that’s big. When you feel so heavy but continue to carry yourself, that’s big.

Every challenge that I faced, I communicated. I was not expecting the positive feedback I received from the people I spoke to. While I didn’t know what to expect from them, the support I received was a turning point in my life. Please don’t be afraid to talk to someone you confide in, whether it’s a friend across the country, your mom, your sister, or your physician. People are receptive; your story is valuable.

One more thing that helped me was leaving my current setting. I’ve always wanted to travel and I finally worked myself up to doing it. I had to get out of my safe-haven; my room did nothing but bring back negative associations.

So I booked a trip to Europe and planned on staying for two weeks with a friend named Marie. Leaving my current setting was like night and day. Before I knew it, the old Erika clicked. There was a fire in me that I hadn’t felt in so long. Everything I enjoyed before interested me again and I wanted to do all of the things I missed out on for six months. I never wanted to be alone or empty. I was just trapped in a mental rut… an imbalance. Travelling helped me discover that.

Am I healed?

When you go through something like this, it’s hard not to reflect back on it. It’s summer again and I occasionally think “Are those feelings going to creep up again? Am I going to fall back into depression?” The best thing I can do for myself is to continually set goals. Goals give me something to look forward to and they keep my sights focused.

A lot of people believe that depression never really goes away, but now I am more confident about managing my feelings. By staying active, celebrating small wins, and setting goals, I believe I’m on a path in the right direction.

Erika Carrillo is a student at Weber State University.