Today’s #SameHere Hero: Ryan Sparrow (It’s inspiring to see someone who deals with mental health and emotional challenges and just rocks it proudly as: “this is who I am.”)
“I come from a family that has a long history of depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. At a young age, I was acutely aware that depression and anxiety posed a big risk for me, because it’s so deeply embedded in my genetic code. From as early as 7 years old, I can remember hearing horror stories about my paternal grandparents’ mental health struggles — my grandmother’s repeated attempts to drown herself in the backyard pond, the fights, negligence, and internalization of monstrous feelings that broke my father’s family.
My parents promised me that would never be my life. As I got older, however, I watched the combination of depression, anxiety, and alcoholism unravel my family’s life. My father’s unwillingness to seek help or treatment resulted in divorce from my mother, and a second divorce from my step-mother. I honestly don’t know whether the family trauma or my genetic predisposition was the bigger contributing factor to my own depression, but by the age of 18, I found myself in a really dark place.
My freshman year of college I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Looking back, it’s almost funny I even sought professional validation, because it was so clear I was suffering. My depression made me feel exhausted. Too tired to focus on anything, my doctors prescribed drugs for ADD just to give me that boost to help me do basic tasks…however as many know, those stimulants often exacerbate the anxiety – helping with one problem but turbo charging another.
When I wasn’t sullen or just empty, I was panicked. I developed a pretty costly hypochondriac tendency, and routinely suffered debilitating panic attacks at the sign of any malaise. It’s funny to me today, but I got to the point where I seriously believed I had scurvy, because I kept eating a lot of ramen. For weeks, I bought large smoothies from Jamba Juice with every vitamin boost. I thought I would die if I didn’t fill myself with those healthy supplements.
To top it all off, the combination of depression and anxiety also led to a pretty serious eating disorder. Eating disorders are terrible for anyone who has them. For me they’ve never gone away. I’ve had good days and weeks living with my depression, but I’ve never had a good full hour managing my eating disorder.
I decided I wanted help when I studied abroad my junior year of college. I was completely alone in Spain. More alone, more free, more invisible than I had ever been. It was terrifying. My mental health took a dive in the middle of the program. I was miserable, angry, delusional, and often drunk to dull those other feelings. I remember standing over a bridge and wanting so badly to jump off. But, suddenly, I didn’t. I don’t have an explanation for why I changed my mind. I think I was just really lucky.
I credit yoga, meditation, and exercise as things that helped me better manage my mental health. I think probably the only thing more mind-boggling than depression is the transformative power of exercise and meditation on the human brain and CNS. Apart from those methods, I try to always remember to be easy on myself. Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese” taught me that.
I decided to share my story, because I think it’s important for people to share openly with one another. We should be able to talk about our mental health like we talk so routinely about the weather. My mental health struggles are a part of who I am. I feel my best when I can be myself, and share myself with others. I think everybody does. Even though it may not seem comfortable to you at first, it’s the healthiest thing you can do, and it’s rewarding. So, #SameHere and I hope this helps and convinces some of you to share too!”