I’m sitting here trying to type out my first journal entry turned blog post days before my 29th birthday and am coming up blank – for someone who’s job is to share online, why does it feel a little too personal to write about myself here? Existential crisis aside, I guess we’ll jump to the start. Hi. I’m Amanda. I can be described as a 28 year old woman who has blue eyes, dirty blonde hair and is taller than average. I am a Capricorn, Enneagram 3w4 and proud Slytherin. I was born in Texas, spent a third of my life in Missouri and now reside in the sunshine state of Florida.
If you knew me in high school, I’m sorry. I was your stereotypical cheerleader who was a die hard swiftie and jobros fan. I had a life size cardboard cutout of Jacob from twilight in my bedroom and honestly can’t tell you a thing about me that was unique during that time… and that was on purpose. My whole life I’ve been teased, then bullied, for being “different.” Sometimes it was that I was too tall for a girl (whatever that means), too smart, too blonde, too churchy, too much of a teacher’s pet and too nice. It got to the point that I found it easier to blend in and be one of the status quo then make any waves. I learned to stifle my sparkle and became ashamed of what made me, me.
This is the first time I can remember feeling like something was wrong – sure I’d experienced sadness before, but this was different. I was consumed. I was encompassed. I felt like I was being swallowed, was drowning and didn’t know how to tell anyone. I was ashamed because I thought it was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t strong enough or emotionally mature enough to handle my teenage years. I stuffed those feelings deep, deep down and threw myself into activities that made my sparkle come out in safe places that celebrated me.
Performing. That’s where I found my first community of people that accepted me, encouraged me and related to what I was feeling. I also learned that I wasn’t alone in my feelings of deep depression – most artists are consumed by it, yet have found a way to use it to their advantage (or downfall). It was here that I also saw various ways people cope with that sadness they can’t contain. I quickly learned that there were many vices people used to drown out their feelings of pain, shame and emotional turmoil… especially how destructive it could be when the proper outlets and help weren’t available. I knew that I didn’t want that for my life, but sometimes the depression I felt was deeper than my want to power through.
I limped my way internally through high school, a tumultuous relationship, a crushing dance injury and moving states with my family to escape it all. My last year in Missouri, I made a mess of things. I ruined friendships, relationships and any sense of decency I had left because I was drowning. I felt like I was screaming, but no one could hear me. It’s not actually anyone’s fault outright – you see, ten years ago was a very different time for mental health. I whole heartedly know now that all the signs were there of my severe depression and anxiety, but those are “adult issues” and ones that hadn’t been as common in teens. Even I couldn’t differentiate between my spiraling mental health, hormones or just a phase I was in.
When we moved to Florida, I felt like it was my chance for a fresh start – I had literally just run away from all my problems and triggers in Missouri, so I could create this new version of Amanda. I quite literally changed the way people referred to me; I used to go by Mandi by entire life up until I moved to Florida and even now when a family member or friend slips up I get a twinge of that old me. I moved out, started two jobs to pay for rent and applied to any college to begin my chance at an important and worthy life. I wanted to make everyone proud and regain their love for me that I had ruined (in my mind) because of the shit-storm I started in Missouri. I got into an advanced collegiate program, joined the honor’s college and knew that in the Fall of 2012 I could finally start my life for real.
College was just another version of high school, because I just began repeating old patterns. Sure, there was more flair – I traded cheer and dance for sorority events, bullies for eating disorders and shame for anger. The spiral was constant, but sneaky this time. You see, Tumblr depression culture was IN. No one noticed when you spent all night in the library drinking 5 coffees to power through your thoughts of taking an endless nap because “you were just such a great student who cared about their grades.” College was rough – and even though I met my now husband during that tornado, even he could see the signs and patterns of instability I’d created. Everything was personal. Everything felt life or death. Everything was at a 100/10. I was passionate. I was extroverted. I was bold… but I was also so alone in my thoughts. I truly think the only thing that saved me, was the structure. I thrived on routine and kept mine seamless in high school and college. Go to school. Do homework. Go to practice. Call boyfriend. Study. Go to work. Rinse. Repeat.
After graduating, I traded the structure of school for the structure of fighting my way into the animal training field. I studied, clawed into any volunteer or part time position I could and finally achieved my dream of being a dolphin trainer. I had made it. This was what all those years in pain were for – to get me here! I rationalized in my brain that every late night, missed holiday and sacrifice was worth it. I was here and would never feel sad again, because I had accomplished something few people do. While it wasn’t my ultimate dream job, it was enough that I felt special. I could walk into a room and know without a doubt that I was the person with the coolest occupation – and that was a drug that gave me such a high.
You see, to my core, I wanted to feel special, needed and important. Is it because that was stifled at such a young age by teasing and bullies, or just a narcissistic personality trait? Regardless, it was me. I liked being shiny. I liked when the glitter and sparkles surrounded me. It’s where I thrived and felt most myself – the spotlight is what I always wanted. When I was the center of attention I didn’t have time to focus on the darkness inside, so I stuffed it far down and wouldn’t let it have the oxygen it needed to grow. That was my plan: stuff, stuff and stuff some more so eventually it’ll just go away. Little did I know that it was about to all explode.
I jumped to a few more animal jobs before finally reaching what I thought was the top (which now I just chuckle at my naivety). On one October morning, I got the call I’d been dreaming of my entire life: I had gotten the position of killer whale trainer and my life was about to change. I reveled in every moment someone came up to me after hearing the news around work. I replied humbly, but on the inside I was screaming with pride. I started my new position and felt incredible – I was Amanda, the killer whale trainer. I wore the coveted wetsuit. I spoke on microphone in front of thousands of people daily. I had little kids requesting photos with me… it was the biggest ego fluff I’d ever experienced and I was loving every single moment. And that’s where the beginning of our story ACTUALLY starts. You see, it was at my highest that I truly felt my lowest.
Imposter Syndrome reared its ugly head. My eating disorders and body dysmorphia were in full motion. I was seemingly thriving, but internally I was barely surviving. Six months into my new position, I got a phone call I never could have anticipated… a company wide lay off, and my name was on the list. While any rational person could look at the situation and see that it was a business decision for a struggling company, I took it personal. I took it WAY to personal – because it shattered my entire existence, purpose and identity I’d constructed. You see, this image I’d created was becoming an alter ego… and when it got ripped away from me without warning, all that remained was the real me. She was broken. She was depressed. She was anxious. She was drowning and didn’t know how much longer she could tread.
So instead of facing those issues head on and getting to the source, I ran again. Running was easier than stopping. “Pivoting” is how I coined it – because after all, the image I had created was technically a publicity stunt. I had been an expert marketer and didn’t even realize it. I needed to be ahead of the questions, so I found a job that no one I knew in the animal field worked and charged head first into a new vision. I was now: Amanda, killer whale trainer turned elephant keeper. The girl who took a curve ball and made a grand slam. I was writing my memoir in my head of how bold and strong and courageous I was for finding the beauty in my awful situation. (humble much?)
I truly loved working with those new animals – it showed me how closed minded I had been on what it meant to be a trainer and how everyone had their own dreams that were just as special. I felt special again and finally felt like I had a voice within a company that listened. I learned how to lead a team and even got opportunities to help shape the next generation of trainers as interns. I was on a tv show, made amazing connections with the marketing team and even had plans to move up within the company… until 2020 and all it’s madness hit. I’ll keep this portion brief because it’s yet again a pattern that I repeated without learning from. I was furloughed. I felt crushed, unimportant and unworthy. All my feelings of severe depression, crippling anxiety and taking it extremely personal all came flooding back.
I finally am able to come back to work after things slowed down, but it felt different. I was full of anger that I couldn’t find the root of or shake. I had this enormous chip on my shoulder that was beginning to infect every aspect of my life. I became the most negative person I knew. I was the source of toxicity in my life and couldn’t find a way to stop. I complained, gossiped and created drama at any chance just to feel something, anything again. I didn’t know who I was and couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror. My face was in a constant frown and it took far too much effort to pretend to be happy that I just quit all together. An opportunity to leave that job for a completely different career arose and naturally, I jumped.
Can you see the patterns? Can you see that I desired structure, but on my terms and in my own specified dimensions? Is it making sense that I ran from each new problem and they were all compounding and getting to the point that I couldn’t keep them at bay much longer? Cause wow, it’s crystal clear to me now. I created this identity crisis in my head of leaving the animal field to help myself cope, because in all honesty, I don’t think I ever knew who I was. I don’t think I wanted to know who I truly was, because every time I was alone with my thoughts, I didn’t like who that Amanda was.
2021 came with a new “improved” version of Amanda. She was brave for leaving her dream job in search of a new dream. She was brave for calling out toxic patterns within such a coveted field. She was inspiring for forging ahead despite life’s unfair curve balls. She was special, unique and different all over again. To be honest, I really believed that and parts of it were true. But, parts were an image I’d curated like a perfect aesthetic instagram feed. Eventually I started trying to figure out who Amanda was, what she liked and why she was here. I began rediscovering old passions and hobbies. I found my voice in advocating for mental health awareness and loved creating a podcast that helped break mindsets. I had the incredible opportunity to begin authoring an inclusive children’s book series based on my animal career and tying in important messages.
Life was great… until the summer. The high of being an entrepreneur and trailblazer had begun to wear off and my structure was fading. I was feeling my longest friend, depression, creep back in – this time at a ferocity I had never encountered. Before, I could cope via a dance party, binging my favorite tv show or grabbing an iced coffee and screaming punk rock songs (we all find serotonin differently, ok). But this time, none of that was working. I asked my primary care physician for help – the anxiety and depression meds I had been on for years weren’t helping. I begged for every test she could think of and that I could google. I honestly had convinced myself that it was all a thyroid issue, a faulty IUD or an awful coincidence that all these symptoms were piling up at an unnerving rate.
I was searching for answers, but every test just kept coming back negative. All my bloodwork was clear. “You’re just depressed and overweight, Amanda. You work from home now in the middle of a pandemic… everyone is in the same boat as you” was the last thing my doctor said to me before I stormed out in tears. I felt like no one was listening to me. I could feel myself fading. My whole life was swirling around me and I had zero control. I was exhausted by just existing. It took every ounce of effort I had to continue working… which left nothing when it was time to be a friend, sister, daughter or wife.
I can distinctly remember the first time I thought “everyone can’t feel the way I do, all the time… how are people still alive?”
I made a choice: I wanted to stick around. Despite my brain telling me that I didn’t matter, that I wasn’t worth the oxygen and that people would be just fine… I chose to fight. I called my primary care and asked for a referral to a psychiatrist. Everything I’d learned in college was pointing to some undiagnosed mental health disorder and it was time to get a professionals opinion and on the correct medication. Even at my lowest, I knew that upping my depression meds like my doctor was SHOULD have made me feel better – not worse. Right?
A week before my psychiatrist appointment, I took the online questionnaire that I knew would help them diagnose me. I answered questions ranging from history, mentality, thoughts and even experiences I’d been through. I remember being terrified of answering too honestly, because I didn’t want to get sent away to a facility for being that mentally ill… but I decided to answer truthfully. I needed help, and I was finally low enough to scream for it.
I walked into the office and sat down, anticipating a long list of what made me unhealthy because I had clearly made everything up in my head just for attention. I held my breath, hands clasped. She walked in and sat down, took a big drink of water and asked me how I was… “NOT GOOD. I’M DROWNING. I’M EXHAUSTED JUST BY EXISTING. HELP ME,” I screamed internally but answered with “fine.”
She called me on my bs right then and there.
We began talking about my symptoms and answers to the questionnaire I took a week earlier. She told me that in the depression category, I scored a 30/30… “good! a 100%,” I thought. But she went on to explain it meant I was severely and undoubtedly depressed. She diagnosed me with Major Depressive Disorder. I was relieved. While I always knew I had depression, I thought it was just a product of my experiences or environment – not that my brain was literally chemically unbalanced… that made it so much easier for me to rationalize and accept.
Next, she shared my score for the anxiety section: 29/30. “Honey, you’ve got pretty severe anxiety with no direct correlation,” she said. Basically, I was a textbook case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This made sense to me. I knew that the way my brain over analyzed, re analyzed and functioned couldn’t be how anyone else existed. It was clear that certain pressures sent me into anxiety attacks while having zero affect on others. It was another sigh of relief for me… and I thought we were done. Nothing I didn’t already know and couldn’t handle.
Well, we weren’t done. She went on to ask about the vivid and sever nightmares I answered about, situations that brought them on and her concern for my apparent lack of sleep. It turns out that not everyone wakes up screaming in the middle of the night? Not everyone sweats in their sleep while kicking and screaming? Not everyone became an insomniac because they were afraid of sleeping? And, that not just someone who had “big T traumas” as she titled it, could have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD??? Me???? Sure, I could think of some “little t traumas” in my life, and one or two “big Ts” – nothing like being a war veteran or living through a terrorist attack. She explained that my brain was under stress for years and began blending the lines of danger and reality, to the point that it couldn’t tell the difference. My constant anxiety, coupled with life experiences and a high stress career were the perfect recipe for something called Compassion Fatigue – which created proxy symptoms of PTSD. I could combat them while awake and convince my brain that my thoughts weren’t reality… but when I would sleep, my fear receptors took over.
Cool. I could swallow that. I could rationalize that – it all made sense when I looked back at my life and even the thought of seeing so much death and sickness within my short lived animal career. But when I looked at her and made the comment “so where do we go from here?” she just chuckled.
“Amanda.” She replied. “We’ve only just begun. You see, those are all byproducts of what’s actually going on underneath all the coping that you’ve managed to do for years.” I sat there holding my breath – she saw me more deeper than anyone I knew, and she’d only just met me and read answers on a page. CRAP. I made eye contact, let out my breath and asked her what she meant.
The next part was all a blur, but something I think I’d always suspected deep down. You see, it runs in my family’s genetics. I studied it in college and can remember sitting in the lecture hall thinking “um, I do that. I feel that. Am I that?” Media had depicted it (incorrectly). Artists sang about it. And someone in my family died from it.
Turns out, it’s been hiding all along. Turns out, it’s been dropping hints all along. Turns out, a lot of how I’d been feeling made perfect sense and was a textbook Bipolar 2 case. Turns out, this was the first time I was overwhelmingly grateful that I wasn’t special – that I was textbook – because it meant I finally had answers. Turns out, the reason I was spiraling out of control while upping my depression meds, is because they were the wrong meds. Turns out, all my symptoms were pointing to this, I just needed the right person to decode it.
I sat there. Stunned. Reeling. Shocked. I slowly started replaying clips from my life where I could see that maybe it wasn’t just a personality trait, but a mental disorder. Maybe that’s why I could go until I crashed, farther then the average person? Maybe that’s why I got these incredible bursts of creativity, energy, detailed organization and extroverted-ness? Maybe that’s why when those moments faded, I could barely pull myself out of bed? Maybe that’s why the majority of my 20’s felt like that scene in Twilight where Bella sits in her chair and the seasons keep changing around her, but she’s a statue? Bipolar 2 was actually why.
Naturally, I cried. Feelings come out my eyeballs, regardless if they’re happy, sad or angry. I called Kev. I called my sister. I called my best friend. I called my therapist and immediately went to process with her.
Here’s the actual point of this story: she didn’t believe me. She wanted a different opinion. She said that there was NO WAY – she specialized in mood disorders, and would’ve seen the signs in me. But that’s the funny thing and why I’ve decided to share this novel of a story.
People only know what you tell them.
Read that again please. People only know what you tell them. People only know what you show them. Your therapist can’t read your mind. Your primary physician can’t read your mind. Regardless if you’re screaming inside like I was, people only hear what you tell them.
I’m telling you this, because I got scolded by everyone in my life that I called above (once I had clearly processed and accepted). Kev knew the majority of my feelings because he sees me so deeply like no one else can, but he didn’t know everything. My sister knew I was struggling, but I didn’t want to burden her with my problems because she was fighting demons of her own. My best friend was in the dark, because talking about my problems seemed so selfish compared to what the world was navigating. My therapist was only told the things that I had already processed so when she gave me homework or challenged me, I was one step ahead and never felt vulnerable… Because again, I needed full control.
It’s been four months since I walked around the mall alone, because if I was in public I wouldn’t burst into tears for no reason. Yeh, that’s how unregulated my emotions had become. I was a tsunami of moods that changed quicker than my fashion sense – to the point that kev didn’t know what version of me he’d get. It’s been four months since my last suicidal thought. It’s been four months since I had to consciously pull myself out of bed. It’s been four months since I’ve faked a smile or lied about being “fine.” Now, I’m on a cocktail of meds that actually serve me and my needs. I sleep amazing. My depressive episodes are less life altering and my manic episodes feel regulated. You see, I love my medication. For the first time I actually feel like I’m the one living my own life.
I feel like an active participant instead of convincing everyone around me that I’m living. I own my emotions. I own the rollercoaster and waves that come, because they are what make me special. It took time to process, grieve and unlearn the societal norms around mental illness… I had tackled depression and anxiety, but PTSD and Bipolar 2 were new beasts that came with awful stereotypes. I realized that my disorder didn’t define me, but if anything it gave me new purpose and a reason to keep advocating.
Again, it’s days before my 29th birthday and I’ve just written what I think is going to be the premise of my memoir someday… My favorite thing that was said to me, mid sob, was “Amanda, this isn’t the end. This is just another powerful chapter in your story that will change someone’s life someday.” (If you don’t have a kev in your life, I really suggest you find one. Wow.) I’m sharing because I’ve finally processed, accepted and own who I am – fully. I’m sharing because in the midst of this crisis, I had never felt more alone even though I was surrounded by so many supportive loved ones. I’m sharing this because I learned some valuable lessons about letting people in and allowing others to help.
I’m sharing this, because I never want anyone to feel the way I did.
Thanks for reading – this was cathartic to write.