For as long as she can remember, Brisbane-based photographer, Elissa, 25, has been plagued by anxiety.
As a child, Elissa distinctly recalls feeling “different and anxious” about things, with little to no reason.
During adolescence, her anxieties began to compound, and she often felt “down” or “upset”, mistakenly dismissing her moodiness as hormonal fluctuations.
In August 2011 however, nearly two years after completing high school, Elissa’s anxiety attacks grew more severe, and her mood became consistently low. After finally choosing to seek professional help, Elissa was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) both disorders that would ultimately lead to depression – an illness that has flowed throughher family’s veins.
This is Elissa’s story.
“I always felt different. Even as a child I had moments of anxiety.
“After high school, I really started to feel down a lot more consistently, and often experienced anxiety attacks. After a while, I began to think something more sinister was at play, so I visited my doctor, who diagnosed me with generalised anxiety disorder and BPD,” said Elissa.
Prior to her diagnosis, Elissa had met with a counsellor, a lady from her church whom she regarded as a mentor, who recognised the signs of depression in Elissa, and organised an introduction.
“Meeting with the counsellor really helped me, because I was able to share how I was feeling, without fear that people I knew would find out. It helped me to learn more about myself,” said Elissa.
It was the counsellor who encouraged Elissa to seek professional help.
Post- diagnosis, Elissa was prescribed antidepressant medication to manage her negative emotions.
“The medication really worked for me. Armed with medication, and support from my husband and family, I’ve been a journey of recovery ever since,” Elissa said.
Before commencing medication, Elissa likened her emotional state to that of drowning, where she continually felt defeated, and longed for someone, or something, to come and rescue her.
“I felt like I was drowning, and desperate to get to the surface and to breathe some air. But every time I got close, it was as though another wave of emotional trauma swept over me, and I’d feel defeated again.”
When she was battling depression, Elissa felt as though the entire world had slowed down.
“Everything became much harder than it should have been, even the easiest and most mundane of tasks difficult.
I felt as though my life had slowed down. ”
Today, Elissa maintains she has “mostly recovered” from depression, but is aware of her potential for relapse.
“I feel as though I have mostly recovered from depression, however, I still continue to manage the illness with medication.
“I’ve stopped treatment on a few occasions. But within a week on each occasion, I began to feel moody again, and to experience anxiety attacks. Nowadays however, I can recognise the negative emotions much faster,” said Elissa.
“It would take something very big and serious for me to slip back into a depressive state once again.”
Depression is no stranger to Elissa and her family. Elissa’s uncle on her mother’s side was plagued by severe depression following a severe car crash that left him with a brain injury, and eventually, to take his own life when Elissa was only six years of age.
Elissa’s aunt, on her father’s side, also battled with depression for several years of her life.
Upon reflection, Elissa maintains her depression was most likely triggered by changing circumstances in her life.
“Leaving high school and the familiarity of that environment triggered my depression. Having everything with which I was familiar change so suddenly, left me feeling very stressed, and uncertain. It was the combination of these feelings that caused my depression,” Elissa said.
Post- recovery, Elissa is continuing to make up for the time that she missed while living with depression.
“Today, I’m catching up. I’m aware of just how fragile and difficult to comprehend the brain is. I know that depression could be triggered by so many different things.
“Nowadays, when I start to feel down, I focus on my family, friends, faith, and my doctors, whom I know, will support me on my journey towards recovery,” said Elissa.
Elissa is participating in the Australian Health and Genetics Study (AHGS), a ground-breaking international collaboration exploring the genetic risk factors associated with depression, and how genes influence one’s response to treatment. QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute is leading the Australian arm of the research study, and Elissa genuinely hopes her contribution will allow experts to unravel more answers to help combat depression.
“I think depression is genetic, and I’m excited that researchers are working to better understand the illness, and to develop new treatments for the illness.
“If they can pre-warn, or even come up with a cure for people who are at risk of depression, it would be amazing,” Elissa said.
“Anyone who has a history of depression, or is currently living with depression, should participate in this groundbreaking study.
“Depression, in my opinion, is a combination of genetics and circumstance. While some families have depression in their DNA, I think certain circumstances can trigger the depression genes into action,” said Elissa.
Join Elissa, and participate in the Australian Genetics of Depression Study today – http://www.geneticsofdepression.org.au/