Julia

Age at interview: 22
Age at diagnosis: 16
Gender: Female
Outline:

Julia, age 25, first noticed depression symptoms at age 14 and was diagnosed in college. She has experienced neglect, toxic relationships and eating disorders. Medication and therapy, pets, and the support of her boyfriend and friends are helpful.

Background:

Julia is a family therapist. She is single and lives alone in an apartment with a cat and a dog. She takes medication and sees a therapist. She is Caucasian.

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Julia’s story starts with a very lonely childhood, as a single child whose parents divorced when she was age 14, and a mother who was working or out on dates. My friends “would complain that their parents make them have milk with dinner and I would be like, my mom’s never made me dinner”. Her transition into adolescence “was just kind of depressing.” Freshman year, Julia was “really anxious” and “struggling in a couple of my classes, but … I never felt like she really cared how I was doing in my classes”. For the rest of high school Julia “was really rebellious… and very apathetic about school”. Julia was “hanging out with a bad crowd”, drinking and smoking cigarettes and pot. “I had this kind of ‘fuck it’ mentality. You know, like what’s the point? No one cares”. Following her mother’s example, Julia had an eating disorder. “I couldn’t control whether my mom was going to be home or not and I couldn’t control feeling, like I had someone to go home to, … but I could control things like what I put in my mouth”. This led to obsessing over food and working out excessively; “my anxiety and depression was just like through the roof”. After graduating high school Julia attended a community college, which she says “was probably the best decision of my life”, as university would have been “a total failure”. Her first psychology class was pivotal. She bombed the first test even through she knew the answers, but the professor let her take the test orally and accepted the A grade. “It was amazing that she would take like almost an hour after class and literally go through every question. I mean she really believed that I knew the material, and I did. “ Julia decided to give herself a second chance and in the next year became “very perfectionistic” and pulled herself together academically. She then attended a university and stopped drinking and smoking. She says “the way that I coped in undergrad was still not productive because I was busting my ass”. She took rigorous courses, worked on several research projects, had an internship and volunteered. “I was never home and I kept myself busy and I think that perpetuated my eating disorder”. Julia says, “I like testing myself to see what I can handle.” She also says having “no concept of my own boundaries” and her high “need external validation” fed these behaviors. While studying psychology as an undergrad and grad student, Julia continued her pattern of “dating people who treat me like shit…Rationally, I know that I deserve better but I don’t believe that I do”. This boyfriend was alcoholic, had depression, put her in role of total caregiver, and threatened suicide when she tried to break up. They finally broke up when he went into residential treatment for substance abuse. All this occurred while she was dredging up her family relationships for a master’s seminar. “I was just working out compulsively and not really eating a lot. … I felt really out of control… I had a really bad breakdown. … I was pretty suicidal for about like two months”. She was so depressed that her supervisors offered her a chance to pause graduate program, “I said no because then I would feel like a failure”. Julia finally entered therapy, realizing that how she was living was not sustainable. “I knew I was depressed, but I never like said that word. … I always felt like shit. And I thought that was my normal.” She was diagnosed with anxiety, major depressive disorder and then Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified. She found a really good therapist. “She’s very hard on me but there’s so much compassion behind it. … It’s not coming from a judgmental place, it’s coming from, you know, she values me as a person. She values our relationship”. Julia has a few valued friends and is dating an “amazing” man. Recently graduated, she is now a therapist. “I think having my own experiences with not feeling safe and feeling unheard and feeling, you know, like at the end of my rope, I think that makes me a better therapist. … I want to be a safe space for people”.

 

Julia feels she will never be as good as other people. This, in turn, feeds into her depression.

Julia feels she will never be as good as other people. This, in turn, feeds into her depression.

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Because I get very perfectionistic about things so, ever since then I’ve had this mentality that if I’m going to do well in school, I’m going to do better than everyone else which is really anxiety provoking and having really high expectations of myself really makes me feel depressed because I’m constantly comparing myself to other people and just feeling this overarching theme of inadequacy. You know, like I’m never going to be good enough, and I keep raising the bar for myself and then feel like a failure all the time if I don’t meet an expectation and if I do, there’s always something beyond that. So yeah, I mean just that constant theme of feeling like everyone else is better than me and that, that made me feel depressed for a while and it still does. That’s something that I struggle with is that I’m very insecure and I think things like that really contribute to my depression. It’s just like, feeling different, feeling insecure and inadequate and not feeling like I’m able to connect with people. And just like having a fear that I’m going to end up alone, like all these things are just like in the back of my head. So it kind of keeps me from having like a meaningful life because I’m very negative and skeptical.

 

For Julia, getting past blame is an essential part of healing.

For Julia, getting past blame is an essential part of healing.

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…for whatever reason you didn’t get your needs met and it’s nothing that you did wrong. You know maybe if it was the person’s caregivers, you know maybe they did the best they could with what they knew and it still sucks [laughs].

 

Julia describes how the group of friends she gravitated to when depressed reinforced her substance abuse.

Julia describes how the group of friends she gravitated to when depressed reinforced her substance abuse.

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But I think maybe a part of me did it to, kind of like, self-medicate? The only way that I knew how to and the only way I, like, had access to something. So, I did that for a few years and then I just started hanging out with a really bad crowd and I kind of started ditching all of my friends that I had been friends with for a really long time because they weren’t filling those needs of partying and stuff like that. So, so I lost a lot of really good friends and … yeah, and the friends that I hung out with, they were meeting my social needs and they were meeting like a lot of superficial needs, but, I mean, I couldn’t count on them for anything, which made me even more depressed. [laughs] So, I felt, kind of, trapped in this cycle of just like, partying and being stupid, doing stupid shit with these people, who I knew, like, didn’t care about me. But I was so used to people not caring about me – or feeling like people didn’t care about me – those are the people that I associated myself with because it was just like a weird comfortable feeling.

 

Julia experienced a relapse with drinking during a difficult class that required writing about her family history.

Julia experienced a relapse with drinking during a difficult class that required writing about her family history.

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There’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t want to, you know, bring up again. You know, things that I specifically put in the back of my mind. I had to write it all down and read it and edit it and then have a professor read it … and I lost it. You know, I couldn’t even get through a page without drinking wine. And I hadn’t drank, you know, since high school. And then I started drinking because I felt like I had to. You know, I couldn’t write this paper sober. And then, it, it was just like constant [dog barking] like, I, I was so depressed, I talked to my supervisors and they asked me if I wanted to, pause the program and then come back the following year. And I said no, because then I would feel like a failure. But, you know, like my partner would come over and I would have drank like half a bottle of wine and then taken Tylenol, you know, and I know Tylenol is like, the one over the counter thing that you’re really not supposed to take because that can really fuck up your liver. So – and I knew that! And that’s why I took Tylenol, which is like, it’s, ridiculous. But, yeah, and I did that, like I would pass out, and my partner would come over and be like, “You know you, you could have died, like accidentally, even if that wasn’t your intention, like, you, could have done that.” … I don’t know.


And then I started, doing it for attention I think? Like there were so many points in time where I literally was just like, “Fuck it, no one cares about me.” And I, I don’t think I wanted to die, I just wanted, to not think about it anymore. Because, I was so used to like obsessing, I wanted to just like, numb myself.

 

Julia describes how her mother's not being there for her contributed to her depression and to her risky behaviors in adolescence.

Julia describes how her mother's not being there for her contributed to her depression and to her risky behaviors in adolescence.

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… I felt, not invincible, but I felt like I could get away with a lot because my mom wasn’t home. So, I was pretty truant and I would often miss school to just, hang out with my friends, or I would have parties a lot and my friends were not very good influences, so they would bring over alcohol and stuff like that, and my mom never even knew about it because she was never home.

 

Julia says it's validating that her pets love her unconditionally. At the same time, her desire to be with them sometimes exacerbates her tendency to isolate herself from other people.

Julia says it's validating that her pets love her unconditionally. At the same time, her desire to be with them sometimes exacerbates her tendency to isolate herself from other people.

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I love my pets. I have a dog, Toby, a cat, Char, and then I have a turtle.

Uh-huh.

Slowsky, and they’re like my best friends [laughs]. In like a really unhealthy way. Yeah, I can’t imagine not having pets, I’ve always had pets and it’s just really nice to come home and have someone unconditionally love you. And even if I like go down to get the mail and come back my dog is so excited to see me, it’s like I’ve been gone for a week (both laugh). You know, it’s just a really nice validating feeling you know that there’s someone that cares 100% who looks at you like you’re the greatest thing ever and that’s a really good feeling. And it’s also, I get such enjoyment just like staying at home and petting my animals and I could like watch my cat watch birds for like an hour.

And be totally fine doing that. Sometimes I do feel like it’s a little isolating because there are times where I’ll make plans with someone and in the moment I’m just like yeah, I totally want to get coffee and then it will be like the day that we’re supposed to go and I’ll be like I kind of just want to stay home and play with my cat [both laugh].

 

When Julia failed her first psychology exam, her professor gave her a second chance. This motivated Julia to give herself a second chance, too.

When Julia failed her first psychology exam, her professor gave her a second chance. This motivated Julia to give herself a second chance, too.

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So I went up to the professor and I started crying. And I told her I was just like, so embarrassed and I knew the material and I don’t know why I got this grade and I said this is my first class ever in college and I was just nervous and she sat with me and asked me all of the questions over again verbally and I got an A. And she took that score.

And that was so validating and I felt so much support from this person who didn’t even really know me and I thought, what an amazing profession. You know, to really just like have empathy for someone and to show them support and to not judge them. And from that point, I wanted to pursue Psychology. And it was still, it was still a really like difficult road and after that I was still not taking it as seriously as I could have. I’ve always done well in my Psychology classes but there were, I think one was like an art class or something like that, and I just didn’t take it seriously. And that was a class that I failed because I just, I didn’t even go. But then I went back to thinking about my Psychology class and how much that meant to me and then that’s what kind of created that shift is I didn’t want to be truant, I didn’t want to be that person. You know, like I wanted to be that person that gives people a second chance, so I gave myself a second chance.