Whitney

Age at interview: 29
Age at diagnosis: 9
Gender: Male
Outline:

Whitney, 29, was diagnosed at age 9, and later with bi-polar disorder. Family and school issues, suicide attempts, and drug use led to prison, where she got treatment. She lost custody of her daughter and has no job. Despite treatments, she is depressed.

Background:

Whitney is unemployed and is staying with her father who has custody of her 9-year old daughter. She is White.

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Whitney was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed Prozac when she was 9 years old. She says, “My family did not accept that I needed medication to be, quote, normal,” and her dad “dumped it down the drain”. Depression she says “tore my family apart”. Her grandmother was the only family member who gave her love and affection. Depression worsened in her teen years; she also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At age 15 Whitney tried to commit suicide and was committed to a juvenile mental health hospital where she says, “I felt I was being punished”. At about that time she transferred to an affluent high school where kids had money for “high end drugs like cocaine and heroin”. Whitney got in with “wrong crowd” and she “made bad decisions” that would follow her for many years. She said drugs and alcohol made her feel normal and happy if “not all the time”. Reflecting back, she was self-medicating. Getting pregnant at age 19 resulted in a forced marriage; her daughter was born when she was 20. Soon thereafter Whitney and her now ex-husband got into “a lot of trouble with the law” for drug use. Whitney’s father applied for and was granted “temporary guardianship” of her baby girl. Whitney has still not regained custody.

Two years later, at age 22, Whitney “got locked up” for drugs. She was in a maximum-security prison for women that had a dual diagnosis treatment program. “Believe it or not”, Whitney says, “I’m glad they sent me there. “It saved my life”. She was given several medications including Lithium, which helped “tremendously with managing my bipolar” and “curb my addiction”. The program had a social worker, a psychiatrist, a psychologist and used cognitive behavioral therapy. Whitney says, “I learned a lot about myself through that program and ways to cope effectively and stay away from drugs and alcohol upon my release”. Her treatment was punctuated with significant loss. “I lost my boyfriend who was accidentally given too much methadone at the methadone clinic” and she says “I couldn’t go to the funeral, so that sent me into another spiral downward”. Whitney’s best friend fell out of the program for using and then had four mini strokes and died. “It was super hard on all of us. …But I just kept going”.

Whitney no longer uses drugs. But she says, “I feel like my whole world is going to collapse into nothing”. For 20 years she has “tried all sorts of medication” to name a few, Prozac, Celexa, and Abilify, “nothing has really seemed to help”. She says counseling through the County health services have gotten worse since she started using them, because therapists see so many people. She has been unable to get and keep a job. Having “a record with the law” makes it “hard to get jobs”, she says, “I’m on the bottom of the list of people that they look at”. She needs an income to regain custody of her daughter who is now 9 years old. She says, “I just wanna be a mom and I wanna be normal like everybody else”.

Whitney does not “want anybody to have the life I’ve had. I didn’t go on one path, I went straight, like, through the bushes. I made things super hard.” So despite the stigma attached to depression, she says, “don’t be ashamed of coming forward and getting help for it. For herself she sees that depression is a “consistent journey that will, will probably never end”. She acknowledges while it is frustrating, “it’s just the way I am and it’s something I have to deal with”.

 

Whitney reminds people not to give advice if they are not a therapist.

Whitney reminds people not to give advice if they are not a therapist.

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Don’t tell a person “You have this. This is your problem. This is why you’re having that problem.” because quite frankly you’re not a therapist. You don’t, you’re not a psychiatrist, you can’t diagnose a person like that.

Showing anger and frustration, even though understandable, is not helpful. As Elizabeth put it, “When someone tries so hard to help you and it’s not successful, sometimes that produces anger.” She says for her, this situation just “produces more worry”.

 

Whitney describes her depression as feeling like she has the flu.

Whitney describes her depression as feeling like she has the flu.

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But it’s hard for me to go out and do things normally. If I start feeling really depressed and don’t wanna get out of bed and I feel sick. I mean it’s, it’s physically impaired me. I’ve felt like, I’ve been sick, like having the flu almost.

 

Whitney felt that her parents never really understood how depression altered her life.

Whitney felt that her parents never really understood how depression altered her life.

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It’s affecting me a lot. Like now, pretty much, my mom doesn’t want to have anything to do with me. My dad hates me. They don’t understand me. They don’t understand why I am the way I am. I think they’ve, still have to accept that it’s something I struggle with every day, and they’re not really knowledgeable on the whole fact of what depression can actually do and how severe it can get.

 

As she grew older, Whitney found it harder to hide the ways in which her depression had delayed her from getting what her friends had already achieved.

As she grew older, Whitney found it harder to hide the ways in which her depression had delayed her from getting what her friends had already achieved.

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I still don’t have a lot of friends, like I cut everybody out … And, you know, and I’m so far behind a lot people, it’s embarrassing to go out with people … because I don’t have the money. I don’t have a house, I don’t, not always able to afford things. So it’s hard for me, I mean, I feel like everybody just looks down on me, so I just stay home, and hide away. And there’s a lot of my friends who actually have been pretty accepting of my issues.

 

Whitney was able to find a psychiatrist who could provide her with some good care once the Affordable Care Act made it possible for her to get 'insurance through the state.'

Whitney was able to find a psychiatrist who could provide her with some good care once the Affordable Care Act made it possible for her to get 'insurance through the state.'

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You had to copay for medication. And I’m like I can’t even pay that. And so, sometimes I wasn’t able to afford my medications or able to get out there to get them. So I would lapse in a few days which would kind of make things start over again. And it was frustrating for me so sometimes I feel like it’s not even worth going out there anymore. Like I felt like the doctor would see me for ten minutes to ask me what was going on and he’s like “How you doing? Okay, so, what should we set up for next week?” That’s as much as he said to me. He didn’t ask me about my life, what was going on. Nothing. Now I, once the Affordable Healthcare Act was in place and, I was able to get insurance through the state and I found a psychiatrist who actually, first appointment sat with me for three hours asking me about my life. Getting to know me as a person and was able to identify my problem areas and what I needed help in. And he was able to find out my triggers, why I was acting the way I did, kind of learned my life story and it’s like I felt like a lot of the county workers were just pushing me in through the doors and pushing me back out. I wasn’t getting the help I needed. And it was really frustrating for a while there.

 

Whitney finds great joy and comfort in pets, but changing living arrangements sometimes forced her to give them up.

Whitney finds great joy and comfort in pets, but changing living arrangements sometimes forced her to give them up.

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I’ve had pets. I made sure I had pets (laughs). That I actually, um, back in 2010 I got real sick and, I went and bought two little kittens from the Humane Society and I had them until, up to I wanna say last year. I had to give them to my dad’s girlfriend because I couldn’t have them in the house since we were getting ready to sell it and my dad was getting all prepared you know and, uh, I wasn’t able to afford it, I needed my own place. But I can go see them whenever I want but the one cat played a huge factor in my life, he’s the one that kept me going. Because he had such a personality to him and I seem to find animals that have a lot of personality. I got my daughter a rabbit for her birthday and my dad has a cat and the bunny and the cat love to lay next to each other on the couch and it was, it’s like they’re best friends. They chase each other around the house (laughs). I mean it’s just, having the animals there gives me time to not focus on myself and just get a break.

And kind of, I guess it’s like a stress reliever too for me, like just holding them and stuff like that cause it’s just like, it’s a comfort having them and sometimes you need that. Especially if you feel alone.

 

Whitney could both get and give help in her on-line community.

Whitney could both get and give help in her on-line community.

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On Facebook I belong to like the Bipolar Foundation.

And there’s a lot of different, like CBT therapy they have a whole bunch of different groups on there. And, um, you know I enjoy helping other people out so there’s a website called Seven Cups of Tea, and you can actually become like an online counselor and actually help people listen to their problems and like I’ve been there and I’ve done that. And there’s a whole bunch of different topics that they can talk to you about and you can just select whatever you want, that you want to address and so I do that and that kinda helps me get out of my depression. Because I don’t feel so alone.

People can request you and a lot of people have requested to talk to me that I’ve talked to before and it’s and a lot of the issues that they go through, it’s just they do feel alone. And I think that is more the issue I have dealt with people, it’s just feeling alone constantly.

 

Whitney says growing up makes her nervous because depression makes it hard for her to live up to the expectations of 'normal life.'

Whitney says growing up makes her nervous because depression makes it hard for her to live up to the expectations of 'normal life.'

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… it makes me nervous cause I feel like I’m not ready for that. I’m not emotionally there which makes me not mentally there. You know, it makes me frustrated because at the age of 29 I should be able to have a degree and have a job, have a car, be able to pay all my bills, have custody of my daughter and be able to live a normal life and I can’t. I really can’t live like everybody wants me to. Like i’m supposed to snap back into being normal and that’s frustrating for me.