Anxiety and social isolation: an interview with Kristina Pierce

Kristina Pierce* is the next brave woman to come forward and share her story of generalised anxiety disorder and major depression. Kristina was a silent sufferer for years before she was diagnosed, making her withdraw from society. After being diagnosed at age 16, she found an emotional support network made up of her friends, boyfriend and psychiatrist.

What mental health condition were you diagnosed with?
Generalised anxiety disorder and major depression.

When were you diagnosed?
I was formally diagnosed at 16, but I had suffered for about 3 years before this without diagnosis.

What do you believe contributed to your condition?
I was diagnosed with a chronic disease when I was 11. As I would have to manage this every day for the rest of my life and a future of long term complications, I began to get anxious. In addition I was a very introverted person, which made it very difficult for me to make friends when I started high school. With daily social isolation and teasing about things from how quiet I was to my weight, it started to take its toll and I became very sad. This led me to withdraw even more socially. I started to become more self-conscious and less confident. This made me more anxious about social situations causing me to avoid them at all costs. My withdrawal from the world made it feel that everything was pointless and that getting out of bed in the morning was just not worth it.

How long did it take you to seek professional assistance?
My parents took me to a counsellor when I was 14 but I was never formally diagnosed with anything. Rather it was just assumed that I was going through ‘that teenage phase’ and that ‘I’d grow out of it’ and I just ‘needed to stop feeling sorry for myself’. Two years later I was dragged by my parents to see a psychiatrist when I was 16 and had hit an all-time low and stopped going to school. I was diagnosed with generalised anxiety, particularly in social situations and later acquired major depression.

Which form of treatment worked best for you?
Seeing a psychiatrist as much as I felt the need to, to talk things through. Also have been on antidepressants since I was 16 and that makes some of the symptoms such as insomnia less severe. This makes it so much easier to cope.

Did your friends and family support you through your treatment? Who supported you the most?
Initially I had no friends to support me when I was first diagnosed because I had become that isolated and withdrawn from life. My parents supported me financially and physically (ie drove me to appointments), but I never really felt emotionally encouraged to keep seeking treatment or that it was ever ‘okay’ to be struggling with mental health issues. Hands down my psychiatrist was my biggest supporter because I felt she was the one person in my life that I felt understood what I had to cope with.
A year after diagnosis I slowly began to make friends. I made some really lovely friends during my final year of high school, whom I eventually could confine in about my struggles. I now have some close friends that I am truly blessed to have in my life, some who also have experienced similar struggles. I also have my boyfriend of two years whom is my rock. He always, without fail, puts me back together every time I fall apart. My parents are still unsupportive, however with a strong social support network outside of home, it affects me less than it used to.

Did you ever feel like people didn’t completely understand your condition?
Sadly yes. My parents do not understand at all. They think that I use anxiety as an excuse. I get told a lot that ‘it’s normal to get nervous’ or ‘be sad’. They do not understand how anxiety or depression differs from day to day anxiousness or sadness.

Were you ever made to feel guilty or selfish in regards to your condition?
Instead of guilty or selfish, I was rather made to feel very ashamed of struggling with anxiety and depression, through sly and inconsiderate remarks from family members.

How do you feel now? Has your condition improved or worsened?
It is so much better now than it used to be. But I still have a fair way to go.

Why do you believe this is the case?
I developed a strong support network with friends and a boyfriend. I also started volunteering at a children’s hospital, which put a lot of things into perspective. In addition it also gave me clarity about what I want to do as a full time career. I also got a causal job, which while was stressful allowed me to see how much I can actually cope with when faced with it. Also a positive outlook such as the belief that ‘things will be okay’, helped a lot. In addition I also made myself say ‘yes’ to more things i.e. to going out with friends and to not use as many excuses.

Do you believe that there needs to be more mental illness awareness initiatives?
Yes, I think it should be taught more in the school curriculum, both in dealing with it yourself and how to support another. I had a number of friends who struggled to cope during high school and as a friend nobody knew how to help. Hardly ever any professional help would be sought. Also protective factors for mental illness such as exercise should be advocated for.

What advice would you give to someone going through what you went through?
That it truly gets better, although you will not realise it on a day to day scale. One day you’ll look back and realise that you no longer experience such anxiety or sadness over situations that once did. Also that absolutely nothing is wrong with you. You are not weird. You are not weak. And you will get through this. You just have to get up and try.

*Name changed at the request of the interviewee

Contact one of these organisations for more information on mental health:

beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
Grow: 1800 558 268
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
SANE Mental Illness Helpline: 1800 688 382

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