C-Suite Profile - Allison McCoy
Content Director of G2E Conference
What life events or challenges that you’ve experienced (could be minor, could be major) – whether you’ve experienced them directly or via someone close to you, have had any type of impact on your ability to feel the healthiest you can feel from a mental health standpoint?
Growing up, I never felt like I quite “fit in.” I felt more comfortable around adults than around other kids my age and actually preferred being alone. I loved to read and would escape into the stories and lives of the characters I read about. When I was 16, my family moved overseas to Seoul, Korea. For me, it was a brand-new start – I could be anything or anyone (like the characters in the books I read) – no one knew me. I discovered a new “me” there but I was always… guarded – I never wanted to share any problems or issues I might be experiencing. And, as the middle child with two sisters, I felt my parents needed to focus on them. I’ve always been super close to my mom and I could always tell when she was concerned about either of my sisters. I never wanted to cause her any added stress or sadness so early on, I learned how to keep everything to myself. “Suffer in silence.”
My senior year of high school was the first time I experienced a true feeling of depression. There were some family issues occurring between my parents and sisters and I felt so alone. I still did not want to cause my parents any additional stress so I hid how I was feeling. I remember thinking how much better it would be if I just weren’t on this earth anymore… but I knew that it would devastate my family if I acted on that.
Over the next several years, I was on a bit of a roller coaster – mostly good days, but periods of serious darkness. Music was my therapy. My theme song was Lit’s “My Own Worst Enemy.” I do still love that song but for different reasons. In my late 20’s I felt like the only thing I could control was what I put in my mouth and I stopped eating – people around me started to notice I was losing a lot of weight. My depression grew – when I was at work, I would suddenly be overwhelmed with such sadness that I had to run to the bathroom to cry. I didn’t want to feel this way but I didn’t know how to find help. I didn’t know how to ask for it. At lunch one day, a friend of mine randomly suggested I meet with her therapist.
I remember the first meeting…I was terrified. But for about 5 minutes after I left, I felt like I could breathe. Then, suddenly, the crushing depression would overwhelm me again. I’d desperately hold on to the knowledge that I would see the therapist again in a week. It continued like that for many weeks – and I began to discover that slowly, the feeling of being able to breathe would last a few hours, then a few days. Eventually, I could make it through the whole week feeling “OK” until I had my session.
At some point, my therapist recommended I start taking an antidepressant. It took some time but together with my doctor, we found the “right” dose and I finally felt like I was on a level playing field! I still had ups and downs, but they were manageable… ”normal”…
Years later, I tried to wean off my medication (under my doctor’s supervision). I was ashamed – I didn’t want to have to be on medication for depression for the rest of my life! Pretty soon, I started to slip back into the darkness and I ultimately came to terms with the fact that I needed the “help” of the meds, and that it was OK. I mean, say I was a diabetic and I needed medication because my body did not produce enough insulin. This was the same thing – my brain didn’t produce enough serotonin and my medicine just helped me to get on that level playing field.
How did those life events/challenges listed above impact your ability to think, feel and function on an optimal level? If so, did this have any impact on work performance?
Through all this time, I managed to keep my head above water with my work, but my romantic life was practically non-existent. I didn’t feel like anyone could love me as I was – broken and with so much baggage. I wouldn’t let myself get close enough to anyone I dated because I knew they would ultimately discover that I was, in fact, unloveable. Ironically, I have one of the most loving families in the world. I guess I just felt like, “Well, this is my family. They HAVE to love me, right?” But frankly, I really knew they loved me for ME – I just didn’t feel like even they REALLY knew the true “ME” – whoever she was.
About 6 years ago, I met a man who intrigued me and we started dating. I found myself feeling at ease and comfortable with someone for the first time in my life. I knew “Tim” had struggles I saw how many prescription medications he was on, and I knew he struggled with depression and anxiety – I’d experienced a couple of times when he would shut down completely. I think I felt like I identified with him – I wanted to be there for him – wanted him to understand that I understood. And I fell in love with him.
He was self-employed and I ended up leaving my job and partnering with him in his business. We worked together every day, spent almost every night together. I loved what we did for a living and I loved him. Life was feeling pretty good. We’d been together for about a year and a half when his dad was diagnosed with ALS and passed away within 6 months. Looking back, I think that for Tim, that was his breaking point – he fell into a serious depression and pretty much stopped functioning. He was very suicidal, and I was struggling to keep everything together – to keep the business going, to pay the bills, to just keep the wheels turning – and scared every second I wasn’t with him that he was going to end his life. I lived in constant fear but did not know where to turn for help – for me or for Tim. There were days at a time when he couldn’t get off the couch. I canceled lots of plans, always making excuses that Tim “wasn’t feeling well.” I knew my family was concerned – I think they thought I was in an abusive relationship.
The next 4 years, I focused on Tim’s mental health. It’s not my place to tell you his story, but for me, it was years of doctors and phone calls and struggles to find answers and solutions. I learned how truly broken the mental healthcare system is. I’d thought it was hard to find help for myself with some comparatively minor issues. This was like a full-time job! Swimming upstream without a paddle is an understatement. I finally shared with my family some of what had been going on – they were relieved of course to an extent but still concerned. They were supportive but they just didn’t understand. I tried to help them understand – I tried to find a comparison for them to relate to – what if I was in love with a man who had cancer? It wouldn’t stop me from loving him!! I still felt so alone… I had so much else on my mind – so much to do – I rarely thought of myself.
How did those events impact you emotionally/morally? Did they influence the way you view mental health?
I felt extremely overwhelmed. I was simply trying to get through each day and could not allow myself to feel anything. I had nowhere to turn because as difficult as it was to find help for Tim, I had no idea where to go for help for myself. Again, I realized, all the time and energy and effort and money it was taking to find help – all that time, he – and I – were suffering. I knew I wanted to find a way – any way – to help dissolve and eradicate the negative stigmas and judgments around mental health issues.
What methods or practices have helped you become more mentally fit, optimizing the way you think, feel, function overall?
Somewhere around 10-12 years ago, a friend introduced me to a woman who did Reiki. I went to see her and after a 3+ hour session, I had my first breakthrough in quite some time. I worked with her off and on for about 2 years. Then, about 2 years ago, I started working with a woman on dream analysis (I have VERY vivid dreams!). She’s become a vital resource for me – she’s my therapist, life coach, touchstone. I’m a true work in progress – I’ve learned about and incorporated many rituals for spiritual and emotional healing and it’s been enormously helpful.
I’ve found that the medication I take works for me. My boyfriend has his own “recipe” of medication that’s been working for him. But we’re also both working on bettering our emotions and mental health through diet, exercise, breathing, meditating, light therapy – and, I’d be remiss if I did not mention our dog – Jasper. He’s been instrumental in our balanced emotional and mental health!!!
Why did you decide to share your story (whether previously or on this site for the first time)? Who were/are you hoping to help and how?
Personally, I never felt I could share how I felt. I thought it was just the way it was for me – that it was just how my life would be. After spending so much time and energy and …time – searching for help for my boyfriend… I knew my life was somehow meant for something more significant.
Then I saw a friend’s post on LinkedIn about how he was getting involved with #SameHere. I reached out to him immediately. I knew I had to get involved! I used to say that if I ever won the lottery, I would create a foundation to try to “fix” the mental healthcare system. I wanted to do something to help erase the stigma around mental health, to build awareness, and to find ways to make it easier for people to get the help they need. Well, looks like I don’t need to win the lottery now – ha ha!!
If you have told your story before, how did people react when you went public? If you have not previously shared your story, how do you think people will react?
I’ve never shared my story before. Just typing it out here is so scary. I have never felt more vulnerable and that is THE MOST UNCOMFORTABLE I’ve ever felt. I don’t know how people will react – but that’s the “fear” talking. I hope no one reacts with pity or feels sorry for me. I hope I don’t disappoint anyone. But on the flip side, the statistics don’t paint the full picture – ALL of us have, at some point, felt alone…sad…vulnerable…depressed. I have to tell my story if I have any hope of making a difference. I have to open up and be vulnerable if I’m going to be true to this organization and this movement. You hear people say, “If I help just one person, it’s worth it.” I always felt like that was – I don’t know…an exaggeration. But it is entirely true. If my story can help even one person reach out – for whatever reason – and realize they are not alone and that there is help out there…and if I can somehow be a catalyst to make it easier for someone to find that help – then it doesn’t matter how anyone else might react to my story. It’s worth telling. This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It’s taken me a long time to be able to put these words on paper, and even longer to be able to release them to share with the public. But, I hope to cancel the fear. For anyone to be able to ask for help and not feel afraid or ashamed or weak. We are all strong – just sometimes need someone to remind us.