Updated: Jun 27, 2020
| This is the 342nd story of Our Life Logs |
My name is Stephanie. I was born in 1994 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My parents got married when Dad was 20 and Mom was 21. When I was young, my parents moved to Minnesota, to a town of 600 people. So, from the start, I was raised a bit separate from society-at-large.
My parents were private people and wanted their space, but I was not like my parents. I felt lonely and wanted to be around others. Given the quiet, introverted nature of my house, first grade could not come soon enough.
I was excited to go to school every day, rather than every other day for kindergarten. I was eager to make friends at recess. Unfortunately, a girl named Joy who was anything but her name chased me around the playground and pushed me around. One day she bumped into me and kissed me without my consent. Of course, someone from my grade saw this and yelled, “Stephanie kissed Joy!” Sadly, I was an odd duck from day one.
The years followed with sad stories. In third grade, my best and only friend moved away, fourth grade brought a contagious case of ringworm in my cheek that turned me into a tiny leper, and middle school just widened the gap between me and social grace when my first crush pretended to like me back for the amusement of our entire class. Let’s just say that there were the popular kids, the unpopular kids, and then…there was me. I was more than out of the loop.
Though I may have felt forgotten by everyone else, I still believed that God saw me and loved me. My parents had taught me about God from a young age and I went to church every weekend. I was a logical child and, since I figured the bad things in my life had to come from somewhere, I blamed the devil rather than God.
But while God didn’t create anything bad, he didn’t stop the bad things from happening, even though I asked him to. At home, my dad experienced a major depressive episode while searching for a new career. I watched, terrified, as the dad I had known and loved had lost weight and became a ghost of who he once was. His former job at a warehouse had caused him considerable emotional pain as he had experienced bullying by coworkers for working harder than the rest. For the first time, I saw depression could do to someone, and I was afraid that I would grow up to have depression tear me apart too.
This fear remained with me as I grew up and graduated from high school in 2012. Unlike most other students, who clung to the friends and memories of high school, I was all too glad to put the whole experience behind me. Yet, as traumatic as it had been, I had grown accustomed to eating alone at lunch and ignoring the hushed voices when I walked in a room. The unknown of the future was much more intimidating, especially because the question of “Who am I (besides the outcast)?” had plagued me since the day I stepped foot in a classroom.
Finding friends on my college campus was awful the whole ordeal and reminded me of middle and high school all over again. What reason would people have to accept me? I still saw myself as the girl that was always rejected, sitting by herself, and isolated. And even when I joined a Christian group on campus, I continued watching my peers interact, all while comparing my life to theirs, retracing my steps to make sure I was succeeding like they were. What was I even good at? Why did I choose something artsy? Was I pursuing the right degree or major? Was I going to find a job in something I enjoyed? I loved writing for my mass media classes, and yet, I couldn’t stop worrying and overthinking my path.
Fueling my worry was the belief that I was failing God by not doing what He had asked me to do. Like most of my Christian friends, I believed that God had created me with a unique call and mission for my life. Was I achieving my purpose? If there was a specific plan for my life, didn’t that also mean I was capable of missing my purpose? While my parents continued talking me through these seemingly endless conversations, their support was difficult to rely upon from afar. Feeling isolated, I retreated into my own head.
As school progressed my paranoia continued to worsen. I talked with a friend I trusted, who worked as a psychologist, and she put me on several medications. Looking back, I now know that although she meant well, the medications didn’t gel well for me. My roommates began to comment about how I was eating and sleeping at strange times as well as my general anxiety about my future. Fear was all I could talk about. I spoke in circles and repeated myself, a tornado of fear ripping my life apart.
Near the end of my senior year, I found a job as a salad bar clerk at the local grocery store, but by that time I was too overwhelmed. As I labored to meet deadlines with homework amid my anxiety and paranoia, I would often arrive at work late or start falling asleep on the job. I couldn’t focus or do what I was instructed, which got me into trouble on more than one occasion, making me feel more all the time that I was failing at my life.
On the day of my graduation, I stayed back at my apartment, not wanting to go through the long ceremony. Worry twisted my stomach and I only felt it lift when I slept for hours and hours. A few days later, I was fired from work, and while at first I felt a quick sigh of relief, the black hole of my future seemed to grow. Depression squeezed my entire being, and I found no escape. I just wanted to end my suffering.
In a desperate and confused state, I began to take pill after pill after pill. As my medications began to take hold of my mind, like the shadowy fingers of an approaching monster, I called my psychologist, and told her what I had done. She calmly told me to tell my apartment roommate, Kelly, what had happened, and ask her to take me to the emergency room. Kelly, being the good and faith-filled nurse she was, got me to the hospital in a hurry and called my parents, my priest, and everyone I had known from the Christian center I attended at school. The doctors would later credit Kelly with saving my life through her quick actions.
In the months that followed, I realized that I was not alone. I was valued by the ones who visited the hospital, made me the giant card, called me, prayed for me, and gave me advice on my next steps. Lying in a hospital bed, I felt many things, but relief was what I felt most.
With the help of my doctors, I was finally able to get diagnosed correctly with depression, major anxiety, and high-functioning autism spectrum disorder. For the first time in my life, I was on the right medications to help me. I felt like things could get better.
Decisions had to be made in order for me to leave the hospital. In Austin, Minnesota, near my family, there is a residential treatment service for mental health called Austin Manor which houses the individualized healing of people with issues just like mine. I moved there in May of 2018, and for the next three months, I met with my new psychologist, Dr. Todd. Together, we got some of the worst anxiety out of the way as he calmed me and gave me techniques for the battle in my mind.
Next, I moved home for a few months and then transferred to a new house called West Park in Austin. I continue to live at West Park today, receiving excellent care. What I appreciate most is the structured schedule, not lax but not too rigid, which has helped me to stop obsessing about the future. I am also so thankful for my wonderful caseworker and my ARMS (adult rehabilitation mental health services) worker, both of whom are helping to prepare me to reintegrate to ease back into the work world again.
I spend part of my day volunteering at The Bridge, a mental health drop-in center that is part of West Park. Helping out with games and talking with the people who come in have helped me find meaning and purpose again, as well as know I am not alone, something I always believed growing up, but not any longer.
This is the story of Stephanie Vogel
Stephanie grew up isolated and bullied in her small rural school which left a scar on her life, impacting her self-image. Anxiety and depression settled in when she transitioned to college life taking her childhood trauma with her. Despite seeking treatment, it took a medical intervention and a near-death experience for her to find the right therapist, diagnosis, and medication to help her achieve a find a sense of normalcy in her life. Through the care of mental health professionals at several treatment houses, Stephanie is now able to live her life with renewed zeal and purpose. When she is not in therapy or volunteering at The Bridge, she enjoys taking the bus to visit nearby friends, watching Netflix, composing music on her piano or guitar, and playing video games or board games.
This story first touched our hearts on March 29, 2019.
| Writer: Mary Flanagan | Editor: Colleen Walker |