8/29/18 #SameHere Hero: Alex Fox

Today’s SameHere Hero story was written by someone not long out of college, but with an eloquence rarely found in that age group. In addition, he didn’t spend his high school and college years chasing after the same dreams and activities as most of his peers. These differences came with challenges. For instance, he didn’t do the “hang out with a best buddy thing” that most young people his age and younger do, but I think you’ll agree the differences are positive. An accomplished musician, academic, and gifted athlete, today’s Hero has a tale to tell with a reminder that it can be easy to develop a myopic focus on a passion, that often can leave us in an unhealthy/unbalanced place.
Today’s #SameHere🤙Hero:Alex Fox   “I was raised in a highly competitive family in upper-middle class Fort Lauderdale, FL. As I entered my teenage years, I began to realize that I was substantially unique amongst my family & peers. While others tried out for sports, my passion was classical music. I loved the violin, & later the viola, as much as any basketball or soccer ball.
I spent 8 yrs as a competitive sailor, trying to balance the demands of both sport & the arts. For me, music was an avenue of expression in ways words could never provide. I was often sad & frustrated that people just could not understand my points of view, & as such, my friend group was small. That being said, I never felt lonely, because I knew very well that my musical talents would take me places others could not dream or imagine.
I did in fact reach some of the highest points in music. As a freshman in high school, I won first chair in 3 out of the 4 orchestra auditions I took. One of those took me to Carnegie Hall in my first season as Principal Viola of the Florida Youth Orchestra. At that point it become demonstrably clear that I had a future in music. My potential yet untapped, I focused in two areas — my viola & my school work — & shunned most others. I socialized when there was a gap between commitments, but driven by my parents & their successes, I wanted to work my hardest to reach even higher.
Yet still, I continued in sports. I ran track & cross country — the only non-contact sports available to me — & earned a varsity letter in each during my senior year. That senior yr proved as definitive for me as any yr to that point. I made the choice to apply to colleges both on my academic merits & my musical abilities. I wholeheartedly rejected the conservatory style of teaching as being short-sided & lacking depth. Thus, my choices as a musician were somewhat limited. Auditions at places such as Juilliard, the New England Conservatory, & many others, while on the table because of my talent, never earned a chance in my heart. I wanted to learn about the world & be a world-class musician at the same time.
I landed at a place that I can only describe as a “love at first sight” relationship. The University of Michigan accepted me with open arms. Their School of Music, Theatre & Dance has an impeccable track record of success at the highest levels, & the academic rigor almost certainly speaks for itself.
Arriving at Michigan, I was full of ambition & ready to challenge the notion of what a classical musician could be in the modern world. I studied as hard as ever, practiced countless hours a day, & even got a few hours of sleep. I wanted to prove to myself & others that I was worth the scholarship I had received. Unfortunately, the very faculty member that just a few months earlier had been ringing my phone daily to recruit me to Ann Arbor had changed face. I was not valued by my teacher & lost standing amongst my peers because I was not getting the level of instruction needed to reach the next level.
I failed a year-end jury, which is a required step to move on to the next year of school. My strong grades still in check, I petitioned the School to let me continue, & they agreed on the condition that I repeat the jury at the end of the following term. I dodged that, & many more obstacles on my way to graduating in 2015 with a Bachelors of Music with Highest Honors. I proved to be worth the half tuition scholarship I received. The emotional toll, however, was much deeper.
I suffered through my high school & college yrs with what I know now as Major Depressive Disorder. I was not diagnosed until August 24, 2016 (yes, I have memorized that date), over a year after I had graduated from Michigan. My passions led me to work harder, but my body simply could not keep up. I skipped meals, slept less, & spent more hours in the practice room. While friends enjoyed beers on the porch, I went to rehearsal for that weekend’s run of opera performances. By the time I left Michigan, I was in the dumps emotionally. I couldn’t sleep, every day tasks felt like chores, & my shiny new job looked like nothing more than a way to keep my mind occupied.
I had suicidal tendencies for about 18 months before I finally sought help. Never was I in direct harm, but I very carefully considered how easy it would have been to end my own life. At that point, I realized that I was in a place where I could no longer help myself alone. I needed help.
I woke up one Saturday morning feeling particularly sad & decided to get out for a run to see if I could shake off some of the worries. I ended up having a full-on breakdown just a few miles into my scheduled 10 mile effort. I cried my way home & just felt grateful that no one asked me if I was okay, because if they had, I’m not sure what I would have said. I called one of my closest friends & told him I need to go to the emergency room but I was too scared to go alone. He drove the hour to my place, picked me up & sat with me for 4 hours while I got various tests done. I left with a prescription for a sleep aid (trazodone) & an appointment in a few weeks to see one of the University’s psychiatrists.
My psychiatrist treated my depression with a combination of group therapy & pharmaceutical interventions. The two-pronged approach, while aggressive, proved to be the ideal step for someone in my situation. I avoided hospitalization (my greatest fear) & managed to get my life back on track very slowly but surely.
My group therapies were all based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy & furnished at the University of Michigan. Pharmaceutically, I began on sertraline (Zoloft) while continuing with the trazodone. Zoloft did not have the desired effects so my doctor swapped that for escitalopram (Lexapro), which proved much more stable for me.
I continue to practice meditation & careful breathing exercises that were taught in my group therapy sessions. These non-medical interventions are some of the easiest ways for me to quickly relax, much in the same way an inhaler might for an asthma patient.
I am also proudly a competitive runner. I completed the Detroit Marathon in a personal best time just 3 months after my diagnosis, & while I have now moved away from the marathon distance, I continue to train & compete at the age-group level.
I had many people who were immediately concerned with my well-being, but the overall response to my public sharing has been gratitude. I want to show people what depression looks like in a “normal” person. I am a 25 year old graduate student in public health. If it can happen to me, mental health complications can happen to anyone.
I have had multiple people confide in me that they sometimes experience similar feelings to mine. I am able to guide them as a friend because they know I have been down a similar path to their own. I am eternally grateful to have been able to share my experiences & now #SameHere🤙 Story with others.

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