My 'Joey's Story' — clinical depression

Stacey Hartley • Jul 22, 2019 at 12:00 PM

When Lavin and Tom Schwan presented “Joey’s Story” at the Monroeville Athletic Complex — the circumstances of Joey Silcox’s death by a fentanyl overdose — I expected to be moved by their experience.

I’m the same age  — 25 — Joey was when he passed; or maybe even the fact that I too had a beloved Joey in my life, in my younger brother.

But what I didn’t expect was how the screenshot of a text message sent by Silcox would shake me almost to my core.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t extremely enthusiastic tonight,” said Silcox’s mother, Lavin Schwan, as she recited from the message. “I just get uncomfortable in those situations.”

As I was sitting in the bleachers, surrounded by so many people who were emotionally connecting to the Schwan’s heartbreaking account of losing their son to drug addiction, I was hit by a jarring realization: I’d seen those words before. What’s more — I’ve sent texts just like that before, more than once.

I began to replay everything I’d heard Mrs. Schwan say about her son’s behavior and personality.

“Everything seemed to be going fine. (They) would come to birthdays, barbecues, family get-togethers, but would always end up leaving early . . .” That’s me.

“(They were) always engaged, always involved. … Very social.” Again — me.

I identified the sickly familiar feeling that came with Joey’s mother’s description of her child — Silcox suffered from mental illness. And by the feeling in my gut, he suffered from clinical depression — like me.

The lies, hopelessness and alienation that plagued relationships in my life played through my mind like a movie: ducking out early, showing up late to family events or missing most engagements altogether, not responding to calls and texts with seemingly little explanation. I don’t know why; I just couldn’t.


Realizing I had a problem

I knew I suffered from a depressive disorder; I was diagnosed soon after experiencing personal and behavioral changes in college that ended up derailing the plans for myself that I had in mind. 

I went from being known as a driven and highly involved student — a social butterfly, a flirtatious individual who would hang out with my friends and dance until I dropped — to someone who stopped leaving her apartment and inviting people over. I began avoiding interaction with others that I used to be so outspoken with.

Physically and mentally, I was experiencing an array of symptoms that made me feel more like a couch-bound invalid than a contributing member to society.


So what happened?

Well, it was Wednesday — in fact the first Wednesday of my junior year in college — and I was sitting in a course that was right in my academic wheelhouse. The professor gave everyone our first assignment that would be due on Friday and despite feeling like I had the course “in the bag” when I first walked in, something happened.

As the professor moved on to the next topic, I was overcome by the sensation that four huge metal walls were coming down around me. Her words were being drowned out by a sound almost exactly like the one the Death Star makes when it charges in preparation to decimate an entire planet, in “Star Wars.”

Then it felt like like six layers of soaking wet wool blankets were being dragged over my body from head-to-toe. I didn’t know what was happening; I was disoriented, wondering if I was having a heart attack at 21 years old.

As soon as class ended, I tried to book it home to my off-campus apartment that was less than a 10-minute walk away. But every step felt like I was trudging through two feet of water, with cinder blocks attached to my feet.

I made it home after barely managing to key my way in and headed to my bathroom when the world went black. Sometime later, I regained consciousness on the floor, only to struggle to my feet and careen into my walk-in closet dizzy, sweating, hyperventilating, sobbing.

That would happen at least three times a week, every week for months, until a close friend majoring in psychology urged me to seek help, so I started seeing a therapist regularly.


More symptoms

While the counseling was helpful in identifying what I was going through — panic attacks, largely stemming from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), clinical depression and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), it didn’t mean I was out of the woods.  

It started with a sensation of a 10-pound pit in my stomach filled with of nausea and indigestion (not to sound like a Pepto-Bismal commercial), covered with fire and needles that wouldn’t. Go. Away. I lost my appetite; my friends had to remind me to eat and when I did, everything turned into cardboard once it hit my mouth. 

Then I couldn’t stay focused in my classes — which I’d thoroughly enjoyed— to the point where I felt a persistent brain fog. I couldn’t speak with my peers or even make eye contact.

At night I would have recurring nightmares consisting of the worst, possible scenarios, regardless of the situation: social settings and life-and-death situations. Once I woke up drowning in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after a plane crash landed, only to watch the flailing passengers around me get pulled below the surface, one-by-one until I was the last one left. Going on the run or into hiding, being rounded up and shot by a firing squad. Feeling intense heat and pressure as fiery asteroids struck and other apocalyptic-level events unfolded.

There was no escape, no waking up just before the worst happens, but being trapped in it instead. 

I would wake up exhausted, unable to get out of bed most days, despite having exams and other commitments. My friends and boyfriend would coordinate shifts of who would show up and do what they could to pull me outside.

But even with the patience and support of my loved ones, the sickness persisted. After countless doctor visits, medical scans and blood tests, psychiatric evaluations and counseling, the sickness remained.

That was in 2015. Four years later, I’m typing this up from my dream job and recently have become a homeowner, yet the sickness remains.

Every second I spend at work I’m sweaty, tense, nauseous and terrified that every word I say and write and think is stupid or wrong. The people I meet see a confident, competent individual, but the truth is working up the strength to function daily physically attacks me constantly. 

Honestly, I could go on; but at this point, I’ll wager that there are those out there who can relate to some aspects of this story. And if even one person can, I hope they can finally know that what they’re going through is real, and that their struggle and journey are valid. 

So seek help. Talk to someone. Try not to self-medicate. Like Lavin Schwan said at the end of their presentation of “Joey’s Story”: surround yourself with a support system that loves you and has your back even when though this illness will alienate you from those around you. Take everyday one step at a time and do what you can to continue.

Some mental health resources are:

Stacey Hartley is a staff writer for the Norwalk Reflector. She can be reached via email at [email protected].

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