Megan Armstrong: Anxiety and depression make a bad secret

06/17/2014 5:35 PM

06/17/2014 6:46 PM

Friday afternoons were spent behind a locked door. We slumped in dark blue beanbags. This was support group.

Outside, silence means nothing is wrong. In support group, conversation forces us to confront what society coaxes us to ignore.

I believe anything is possible with honest conversation.

Because of that, I’m telling my story.

Spring 2010 felt like December. Rain came down in sheets, smothering the Blue Springs High soccer field. I wore gloves, long sleeves and sweatpants over my uniform. But I couldn’t hide anymore.

I doubled over on the bench. My coach asked what was wrong. I told him my stomach hurt. He could understand a stomach ache and he urged me to go home.

I should have been contributing to my team, but nobody as lost as I felt can help anybody win. Instead, I coiled in the passenger’s seat of my mother’s Ford Explorer. The rain smacking on the windows only added to the chaos.

Mom’s right hand stroked my back gently

“What is happening to me?” I cried.

At 17 years old, I quit soccer and started therapy.

Stimulation infects New York City, much like depression and anxiety sabotaged me.

I moved in with my cousins, Dirk and Jillian, on May 25, 2013, to intern for NBC Sports. I spent afternoons locked in our Brooklyn apartment’s bathroom, staring lifelessly into the mirror.

I’d work at night on a national radio show, returning home around 1:30 a.m.

One night, a Post-It from Jillian sat on the counter: “Don’t forget to pick up the laundry tomorrow. I love you.”

“Tomorrow,” I sighed to no one.

Tomorrow came and went only to be replaced by more vaunted tomorrows, sprinkled with sporadic reminders of life’s wonder.

On the Fourth of July, I gazed upward over the Hudson River. As fireworks combusted into beauty, I hoped I would one day, too.

On July 19, I walked through a door millions of people dream of entering to spend time at ESPN.

And yet, night after night, I stared into the darkness wondering why anyone believed in me.

I returned for my sophomore year at University of Missouri, lost in August’s smog.

Behind my locked bedroom door, I attempted suicide on Aug. 22. A kaleidoscope of friends and family’s faces flickered behind my eyelids. I stopped when I remembered a voicemail from hours prior, urging me to get help.

“Do your boy a favor, alright? I’ll never ask you for anything, except this once. You know what I want you to do. Go tomorrow. Tonight, if you can. Go see someone. Alright?”

I stopped.

The disease tricked me into believing I’m nothing. I behaved as though my actions meant nothing and other hearts were as numb as mine. But their love won out. I wanted to protect my loved ones, but I hurt them more by shutting them out.

In the following months, my truth blossomed.

My roommate Molly and I dug into conversations. I couldn’t show her my bruises, but I told her about them. In April, Molly chipped away my guard.

“I’m not frustrated because of the person you are, Megan,” she said. “I’m frustrated because I can’t help no matter what I do.”

All she wanted — all anybody wanted — was to be let in.

On May 23, Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall called me.

We shared our journeys with mental illness.

“If we want change, people have to be bold and tell their story because it affects all of us,” he told me.

Revealing vulnerability is scary. What if loved ones don’t understand? Or worse, what if they don’t want to understand? What if they leave?

But Marshall is right. Out there is where splendor lives within experiences, passion and people. Those people harbor vulnerabilities, too. While therapy and medication aid my happiness, relationships are our purest tributaries.

My door is now open.

Megan Armstrong, a junior-to-be at University of Missouri, is a Blue Springs native who is interning for The Star’s sports department this summer.

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