Brendan

Age at interview: 21
Age at diagnosis: 15
Gender: Male
Outline:

Brendan, age 21, has abusive alcoholic parents. He was diagnosed at age 15 and has had suicidal thoughts. Therapy helps; medication led to a major depressive episode. His high IQ landed him in a good college to study music and focus on social justice.

Background:

Brendan has three jobs and is a fulltime college student and musician. He lives in an apartment with a roommate. Ethnic background is White.

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Brendan was diagnosed with depression at age 15. The story leading to that diagnosis included being abused by an abusive alcoholic mother and stepfather, witnessing his mother being abused, and being bullied at school from a young age. As a “scrawny, nerdy kid” with no friends and a keen sense of fairness, he developed anger issues early on and had his first suicidal depressive episode at age 10. His high IQ and mother’s persistence landed him in a school for gifted students, where he made friends for the first time. A thwarted love relationship precipitated self-harming and his first major depressive episode. Therapy in high school and college has been helpful. His first and only use of antidepressants led to his second major depressive episode, which caused him to retreat to bed, miss class and eventually take a medical leave of absence from college.

Making music has also been therapeutic. In high school Brendan and friends had a band, wrote original pieces and performed locally with some notoriety. Getting “into a really awesome college” has allowed Brendan to continue to develop as a musician. Depression and social injustice are recurrent themes in his music—with an optimistic tone that “this is temporary and something’s better coming from it”.

Brendan says that he is enjoying a “victory lap” after returning to college after his medical leave. He is learning to ride the depression cycle—refraining from exhausting himself in the good times to avoid caving in.

Brendan describes depression as persistent “multifaceted” challenge “that’s going to keep on finding its way back to your doorstep”. But on the positive side is that depression “doesn’t have to be where your story ends”.

 

Brendan says that depression is real, but that doesn't mean you are powerless to stop or slow negative feedback loops.

Brendan says that depression is real, but that doesn't mean you are powerless to stop or slow negative feedback loops.

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Depression is real. Depression is a real thing that affects you based off of brain chemistry and based off of a million other things. But that is not the same thing as being powerless against it. And if you choose to dwell in your misery, if you choose to list all the, you know, all the things that you didn’t get to do or if you, you know. If you dwell on it, you’re only making that feedback loop worse, and cutting is just an ultimate example of that because it’s really, it’s like this temporary relief but it gets you deeper into the negativity into the self-sabotage.

 

For Brendan, part of healing is learning to pace himself through the cycles of up and down.

For Brendan, part of healing is learning to pace himself through the cycles of up and down.

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What I’ve been working on a lot recently is getting a sense of like sort of like my cycles because, you know, hormone cycles and just like when does depression affect me and what ways? I am sort of trying to like– I would– I’m historically the sort of person who like when things are good, I will just like run, charge full steam ahead to get shit done and then when depression happens, I just lay there and don’t really do anything. And what I’m trying to learn is exhausting myself less when things are good so that it doesn’t eventually cave in and like basically learning to as I’m kind of call it ride the cycle. Make it something that I work around and, you know, just make work rather than something that occasionally comes in and fucks the shit up.  

 

Brendan describes his experience using self-harm to manage a break-up.

Brendan describes his experience using self-harm to manage a break-up.

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Well, one of two biggest depressive episodes of my life. And it stretched on for several months, throughout basically being age 15. And — getting over her took a very long time and I’m still not sure I totally did it [laughs], which very much informs where I’m at now. I definitely think nowadays that part of my depression is that — it’s, you know, it’s the one — it’s that she’s the one that got away. There was no reason why the relationship couldn’t have worked out besides just pure circumstance. And because we never — we never really, really went for it because we couldn’t really ever go all in, there was always something in the way. So we can’t even say that it didn’t work or that it wouldn’t work, you know, makes it hard to move on. But yeah, that, that led to just a huge depressive episode that, as I said, went on for months. It was very interesting — at that time, you know, I’d begun. I’d begun cutting myself a little bit for the first time in my life.

 

Brendan has learned that periods of hopelessness are temporary, and that if you wait them out you will find new solutions.

Brendan has learned that periods of hopelessness are temporary, and that if you wait them out you will find new solutions.

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There have been times when it’s been really bad and it felt kind of hopeless. But what I’ve learned when I was young in my first depressed, my first suicidal depressive episode at 10 years old, is that periods of hopelessness are temporary. And that if you wait them out, you normally see a solution that you haven’t thought of before. So sometimes, it is that. Other times, it’s, you know, like things are really good right now. And things are going really good for me, I feel optimistic about the future, but there are still even today, there are certain days where like, I know that things are good but I’m just tired, I’m just sad, I just feel a little awkward. It’s something that you live with. It’s something that you make adjustments to, you know, it’s,- I’ve tried to think of it as like you know having like a sore shoulder or something. You want to be careful with heavy, lifting heavy objects. You don’t want to hurt yourself but it’s an annoyance, it’s not something that’s taking you out of the game. And that’s what I try to remind myself is that no matter, no matter how bad I feel, it’s almost never actually that bad and if I just keep on doing what I’m doing then I normally turn out OK.

 

Brendan feels that part of learning to work with depression is to stop hiding and be open about it.

Brendan feels that part of learning to work with depression is to stop hiding and be open about it.

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I think more when I was a teenager, I definitely did that, you know, I had a very loud, happy-go-lucky public face that, you know, was very charming and I still do that every once in a while because it wasn’t completely inauthentic to me, but yeah, no, I do it less recently.

For me, part of what resolving my depression means is essentially being able to — I mean I guess not “resolving” because as I say, I think it’s going to exist forever. It’s not like I’m going to beat it, it’s just learning to work with it, you know? And that means not having to be ‘in the closet about it,’ so to speak. You know? Not having to, you know, hide my depression when it’s there, just be like — You know, it’ll be like, “Yeah, my allergies are acting up. Yeah, my depression’s acting up.” Like, you know, it’s just a thing.

 

Brendan sees that everyone is 'weird' in different ways, and defies stigma.

Brendan sees that everyone is 'weird' in different ways, and defies stigma.

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Yeah. No, no. There’s, there’s this stigma of — about mental illness. People still are convinced that people with mental illnesses are dangerous, you know, that they’ll hurt you or that they’re contagious and they’ll make you crazier. Like, my, my personal view, honestly? Is that there is no sane, there’s no “normal.” Everybody has little idiosyncrasies that are a — that make you a little bit off from some idealized picture of normal. And some of them happen — some of them are certainly problems if they interfere with your ability to live your life. But, the stigma around the people who suffer from that needs to change, because they’re victims and because to a certain extent, we all are, to a certain extent, ‘not sane.’ We all have our weirdnesses and that should not be used against us.

I think I’ve been lucky to be in some remarkably supportive environments, since about my high school career, so no, not so much. Also because, as a straight – enough – white guy, like, you get a lot of, sort of credence in social, social spaces. And because, you know, I always identified as punk and everything, I was always the one who was, fine, like, “no, no I have a mental illness, like, and fuck you if you think less of me for it.” Like, if there was a stigma, I was always the guy who was going to challenge you on that stigma [laughs].

 

Brendan may not be capable of feeling joy each day, but he has learned to be less troubled about its absence by remembering it will return.

Brendan may not be capable of feeling joy each day, but he has learned to be less troubled about its absence by remembering it will return.

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Do you experience feeling joy, happiness? You take—

It varies. Honestly, I have. And some days I do and some days I don’t, you know?

But you are capable of it?

I’m definitely capable. Yeah, I know, I’ve had truly, truly happy moments and there have been some times when I could– I should– I feel have been truly happy but I couldn’t because of my illness. You know, it, it can be debilitating and it can rob a peaceful moment from you and that’s the extra struggle of it that sucks. But the important thing is in remembering, that happiness isn’t gone. It’s maybe hiding around a little bit but you can find it again as long as you believe that it’s still there.

 

Brendan describes how growing up in an abusive alcoholic family set him up for bullying, and later his depressive and suicidal thoughts.

Brendan describes how growing up in an abusive alcoholic family set him up for bullying, and later his depressive and suicidal thoughts.

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My stepdad, was — he’s an abusive alcoholic, like many. [laughs] I’m not particularly fond of him.
He was angry, he was an alcoholic. I think he also had issues with depression. But it was just not a good environment for me to grow up in, especially once my mom sort of started playing along. She’s kind of simultaneously a, a victim and an abuser in this scenario. She is definitely being abused, at least psychologically, by my stepdad, and again, occasionally physically. And she has, I think, she’s internalized it and she’s enacted it and she hasn’t really been .. she hasn’t done much in the way of, you know, preventing it or protecting me and my brother. She would often get drunk, also. She’s also an alcoholic, in my opinion. She’d get drunk with him a lot in those early years, and the two of them would get into screaming matches while me and my brother laid low and tried to ignore it.
I had the social awkwardness, and the handicaps, and everything that come with, with being a child in an abused home. On top of that, I was very bright, had trouble connecting with my peers, and all that sort of thing. And this made me a target for bullies, of course. Which in turn — because of how I saw conflict resolution played out in my home, I developed anger problems like really bad. I would, I would get very upset when these kids would make fun of me in their various ways. And I would lash out of them, but I was a scrawny little nerdy kid, so I didn’t do much before I got in trouble. And because I lashed out, I usually got in trouble way worse than the kids who were picking on me.

 

Brendan's depression comes and goes with time; he has learned to make adjustments.

Brendan's depression comes and goes with time; he has learned to make adjustments.

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That’s something that I manage. And, it varies. About a year ago, it was something that walked with me, you know, I woke up with it, it colored every thought I had. There have been times when it’s been really bad, and it felt kind of hopeless. But, what I’ve learned when I was young, in my first depressed — in my first suicidal, depressive episode at 10 years old, is that, periods of hopelessness are temporary. And that if you wait them out, you normally see a solution that you hadn’t thought of before. So sometimes, it is that. Other times, it’s — you know like, things are really good right now. Things are going really good for me, I feel optimistic about the future, but there are still, even today, there are certain days where like, I know that things are good, but I’m just tired, I’m just sad, I just feel a little awkward. It’s, something that you live with. It’s something that you, make adjustments to, you know, it’s — I try to think of it as like, you know, having like a sore shoulder or something. You want to be careful with heavy — lifting heavy objects. You don’t want to hurt yourself, but, it’s an annoyance, it’s not something that’s taking you out of the game. And that’s what I try to remind myself, is that, no matter, no matter how bad I feel, it’s almost never actually that bad and if I just keep on doing what I’m doing, then I normally turn out OK.

 

Because he felt unworthy, it was hard for Brendan to trust the relationships that he had created.

Because he felt unworthy, it was hard for Brendan to trust the relationships that he had created.

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My depression and my anxiety would, you know, affect me in the ways of like, I would be convinced that, sometimes like – even against all logic – that, you know, my friends secretly hated me, and that they were just, you know, tolerating me. Because, you know, I have low self, self-worth, therefore I can’t understand why people would like me, therefore they must not really like me.

 

Brendan talks about how, despite his suffering, his purpose to make the world a better place keeps him going.

Brendan talks about how, despite his suffering, his purpose to make the world a better place keeps him going.

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“Yes, I was an abused child,” and, “Yes, I’m depressed but that is not going to stop me from being a bad ass.” Such as it were, you know, I want some– I’m so– even if there are certain days when it feels like I can’t lift myself up from my bed, I still have the sort of feeling that I want to wrestle life and the world into submission, into being exactly what I kind of envision it being. And I work very hard to make those sorts of things happen then, you know, that’s when I’m here.

 

Brendan discusses why he thinks antidepressants need to be combined with the ongoing process of making life changes.

Brendan discusses why he thinks antidepressants need to be combined with the ongoing process of making life changes.

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I also think that the problem is that, you know, we’re such like a sort of cause or like problem-solution oriented society. I think we want to be like, “You have depression, you take an antidepressant pill, and then you are no longer depressed.” And like, you know, it just makes like this nice, simple logic and I don’t think most people understand that like, no, antidepressants, basically all they’re meant to do, is for people who’s depression is caused by unstable brain hormones, it’s meant to stabilize it a little bit so that you can put in the hard work of changing your life such that you are no longer depressed. And that’s the thing, like getting out depression is a process and it’s an ongoing one. And I think that a lot of people think that they’re going to take antidepressants, and then they will feel great. And then when that doesn’t happen, they’re like, “Oh, well these things don’t work.”

 

As Brendan moves into adulthood, he values the ability to work effectively around his depression so it isn't so disruptive.

As Brendan moves into adulthood, he values the ability to work effectively around his depression so it isn't so disruptive.

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You know, I’m just– it’s just a part of life, it’s an aspect. I’m learning how to work with it without letting it collapse in every once in a while, you know. And that’s one of the, been one of the nice things about living with, living with someone else who has depression because, you know, we can kind of work together and like. What I’ve been working on a lot recently is getting a sense of like sort of like my cycles because, you know, hormone cycles and just like when does depression affect me and what ways? And I am sort of trying to like, I would, I’m historically the sort of person who like when things are good, I will just like run charge full steam ahead to get shit done and then when depression happens, I just lay there and don’t really do anything. And what I’m trying to learn is exhausting myself less when things are good so that it doesn’t eventually cave in and like basically learning to as, as I kind of call it ride the cycle. Make it something that I work around and, you know, just make work rather than something that occasionally comes in and fucks shit up.

 

Brendan describes having suicidal thoughts at a young age.

Brendan describes having suicidal thoughts at a young age.

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I know it was a thing from early on but the first really clear memory I have that stood out to me as being not normal was when I was about eight or nine years old. And I essentially noticed that I developed a suicidal fixation, and this particular image of being at my martial arts studio and bleeding out and collapsing and being hospitalized. And what I, and what I always found interesting about that in retrospect is not only the, the, the suicidal way, idealization, but also the very publicness of it. You know, I think there was something about attention. And, you know, because I was hospitalized, I was taken care of. So that was when I first really noticed that my mentality seemed to be kind of different and kind of darker than a lot of nine-year-olds. And when I was 11, during my brief stint in that private school. I actually considered suicide as an option for the first time. Luckily my, my brother became aware of it and intervened and he helped me get past what was going on there, which I think was mainly the drama in my life and the fact that I hated being at the new school but took the form of being about a girl.

 

After having cycles of depression, Brendan feels hopeful about the future.

After having cycles of depression, Brendan feels hopeful about the future.

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I feel optimistic about the future, but there are still even today, there are certain days where like, I know that things are good but I’m just tired, I’m just sad, I just feel a little awkward. It’s something that you live with. It’s something that you make adjustments to, you know, it’s, I try to think of it as like, you know, having like a sore shoulder or something. You want to be careful with heavy, lifting heavy objects. You don’t want to hurt yourself but it’s an annoyance, it’s not something that’s taking you out of the game. And that’s what I try to remind myself is that no matter, no matter how bad I feel, it’s almost never actually that bad and if I just keep on doing what I’m doing then I normally turn out OK.