Episode 4: Work Smarter, Not Harder

Episode 4: Work Smarter, Not Harder
Season 1

00:00 / 28:13

Kristen talks to a residence life professional from Canada in this episode where we discuss the issues with asking our higher education staff to work harder instead of working smarter. Listen in to learn more about their story, including how they first discovered their depression through physical symptoms and with the diagnosis of their primary care physician, and how they learned to care for themselves by recognizing the limits on their energy.


Show Notes:

Episode 3: Discovering It’s Depression

Episode 3: Discovering It’s Depression
Season 1

00:00 / 35:42

In this episode, Kristen talks with Gavin Henning about his experience with depression – including the long journey to discovering that the problem for him was actually depression. Gavin discusses his career in higher education from hall director to faculty. He also discusses how, despite his experience with depression, he’s been able to hold such positions as the president of both College Student Educators International (ACPA) and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS). He shares with us his experience trying to cope with his depression with alcohol abuse. Give this episode a listen to find out more about Gavin’s path in higher ed with depression.


Show Notes:

Episode 2: Anxiety as a Man of Color

Episode 2: Anxiety as a Man of Color
Season 1

00:00 / 40:33

In this episode, I talk with Sylvester Gaskin, who has written for us before at The Committed Project about his anxiety, his supportive partner, and his experience at conferences. We talk about having anxiety as a man of color, how our partners and network make all the difference in providing us the support we need, and what the positive aspects of having anxiety in higher ed can be. Sylvester also talks about why it’s so important that he not only share his story, but that he attach his name to it, as well, so that other young professionals of color can see that there is someone like them, and if he can do it, so can they.

I’m not gonna lie to you here – this one made me tear up a little. So grab your tissues and take a listen to our next episode.


Show Notes:


Show Transcript (PDF)

Episode 1: Counselors Have Depression, Too

Episode 1: Counselors Have Depression, Too
Season 1

00:00 / 27:38

In our first full episode, I get a chance to talk to a woman who is a Ph.D. student in counseling and experiences depression. Throughout her life, doctors have diagnosed her with a number of different illnesses, but as she has gotten older, they have begun to recognize that depression is the correct diagnosis. Continue reading

Having Mental Illness…Can Be Good?

In this closing post for Mental Health Awareness Month, Kristen reflects on what she’s learned during a month of posts by people she knows. And in that time, she discovers that having mental illness isn’t always a bad thing.  Continue reading

About the Author

Kristen Abell is one of the two co-founders of The Committed Project and is our Executive Director of Awareness and Advocacy. Kristen blogs frequently about the issue of mental illness, especially her depression, and this month The Committed Project featured her story during Mental Health Awareness Month. She is extremely relieved that this microscopic look at her life is over. She’ll continue fighting the stigma around mental illness in higher education as long as she can.

My Mom Has Depression

Aedan is Kristen’s 11-year-old son. He has known that his mom has depression for the past three years – ever since a particularly bad episode almost ended her in the hospital. Since then, he has had multiple discussions with both his mom and his dad about mental illness. His dad interviewed him recently about his thoughts on mental illness for this video.

Kristen in glasses smiling with Aedan in blue t-shirt, also smiling. Aedan's mom has depression - he talks about it in the video in this post

My Mom Has Depression

Kristen has written about her relationship with Aedan before and how mental illness plays a role. Read Kristen’s letter to Aedan about her depression.

Resources for talking to kids about mental illness

Talking to Kids About Mental Illness – American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

Should You Tell Your Kids About Your Mental Illness – PsychCentral

How to Talk to Kids and Teens About Mental Illness – U.S. News & World Report

About the Author

Aedan is one kick-ass kid. Seriously, not only does he understand mental illness and depression, he loves Harry Potter, Minecraft, and riding his Y-Fliker around the neighborhood. He also doesn’t like haircuts, just finished fifth grade, and would want you to know that he’s working on having his own awesome YouTube channel – as soon as he figures out all the technical stuff. He is loved dearly by both his mom and dad, and he’s just a good human being.

Using Depression for Empowerment

Sean and Kristen have been together for over fifteen years, and married for most of it. There is no one who has more insight to Kristen’s depression (besides maybe Kristen herself) than Sean. In the past few years, though, he’s seen a different side to the illness – he’s seen her using depression for empowerment. 

Sean makes kissy face at Kristen, who he believes is using depression for empowerment

Down in the valleys

For much of my relationship with my partner, I was able to see bouts of visible struggles with her mental illness. These were, for the most part, fleeting. They would come at periods of high stress, or sometimes even seasonally. There would be a period of adjustment, sometimes even a struggle to cope, and then Kristen would adjust and move on.

Some periods were more difficult than others. Sometimes Kristen could see the valleys approaching, and sometimes I helped her take stock of where she was at. In all of this, my partner found a way to pull through it. Again, some episodes were easier to manage than others, but she always managed to find her path forward. Even in some of her darker times, I always admired her ability to keep pushing. She was resilient. She found a way.

Turning the darkness into light

I think that resilience helped to change her relationship with her depression. Looking back, it seems like one day she decided she had enough of dealing with depression on her own. She made some amazing connections and met new friends who brought strength to her struggles with mental illness.

To me, it kind-of seems like she just decided to face her depression head on. She was no longer finding a path through a dark time. Instead, she decided to turn around and bring some light to others.

Using depression for empowerment

Now, it seems like Kristen has some command over her depression. I compare it to the way that announcers talk about a pitcher having command over his or her fastball. I think Kristen has been able to exert a similar control. By turning around and facing her depression, she has empowered herself and many others to talk about mental illness more openly. She is using her depression for empowerment.

The number of people I’ve seen reach out to her to talk about their own struggles or struggles with their family members is amazing. Depression will always be a part of Kristen’s personality. It’s part of who she is. But instead of just finding peace and adjusting, she is using that relationship with depression to empower herself and educate others. Kristen knows there will be tough times, but I think the resources she has created for herself and others are something truly special.

About the Author

Y’all, Sean Grube is the bomb-diggity. He is a director of housing by day, and an amazing and loving and supportive partner and father by night and day. He goes to all the Boy Scouts stuff with his son so his partner doesn’t have to, and he does all the cooking, so he’s pretty much your dream guy. Most importantly, if he didn’t support his partner as well as he does, she would have a much, much more difficult time getting through those valleys. He is her heart.

Helping My Friend Tear Down the Wall of Depression

What do you do when your friend experiences depression? How can you help? Kassie – one of Kristen’s oldest friends – writes about their friendship while experiencing Kristen’s depression.

Kristen standing next to Kassie - friends despite depression

It feels strange and somehow illicit to write about someone else’s depression. Like I’m wandering into territory that isn’t mine to share or discuss. Even when it’s someone I’ve known and loved for twenty years, it feels somehow invasive and presumptuous to write about. Even when that dear, dear friend has invited me to write about it. It still feels wrong.

Maybe it’s because mental illness is such a personal experience and such an individual experience and for so long such a stigmatized condition. If you have cancer we’d gather together and bake lasagnas and offer to clean your house and drive you to chemo and watch your kids. But if a friend has a mental illness, what do we do? Do we ignore it? Do we hide from it? Do we wait to reach out until you’re having a “better day” or you’re in a “better mood?” Are we hesitant to ask “how are you doing?” Would we hesitate if it was cancer? Nope.

Depression Can Create a Wall

It can be hard to feel close to a friend who struggles with depression. No matter how long you’ve known and loved that person, or how well you know them, or how many times you’ve sat at their kitchen table and shared a meal and a large glass of wine and talked and talked and poured your hearts out into each other’s ears, depression is a wall. Sometimes that wall is tall and strong and overwhelming, and you cannot get through or around that wall to find your friend on the other side.

Stone wall in front of flowers - Wall of Depression

Sometimes, though, the bricks in that wall have been knocked down a bit and you can see your friend on the other side, working to take the bricks down with their limited energy, struggling one by one, yanking them out, to try to reach their loved ones and to see themselves on the other side. And some days that wall is just a small garden edging that you step right over to stand face to face with your friend, and offer them the hug you know they desperately need, that you need too.

Helping to Tear Down the Wall

And that wall changes weekly, monthly, yearly, up and down again, sometimes thick and impenetrable, sometimes barely noticeable, just a small barrier like a red brick trim meandering around a flower bed.  But the wall is there. It’s always there. They are always facing it and measuring it and figuring out where they stand with it. And as a friend you have to work around it, always knowing your friend is there on the other side, using all of their energy to fight against it and just keep going some days.

So you push against those bricks too. You climb that wall, you help dig out that masonry with your fingertips to reach them on the other side, you don’t disappear, you stay and help them fight it however you can. You listen. You check in. You push when you think you should. Because this wall isn’t your friend’s choice, it’s your friend’s burden. And yours too, because you love them. Their sarcastic humor, and passion, their advocacy and bravery out in our sometimes dark, gnarly world, all of that is on the other side of that wall, always.

Depression Doesn’t Disappear

And you know if you haven’t talked in a few weeks, the wall is back and strong again. And you check in. You call. You push. You ask hard questions if you must. Even if your friend is married to a wonderful spouse/partner, they still need you to listen and hear them and give them a heads up if you are worried about them. And be there. Show up. Because they can’t fight that wall alone. And the fight, the effort, the struggle only strengthens your friendship and your admiration for them. So stick with it, fight it out, ask how you can help, and show up. Keep showing up. They deserve it, and so do you.

About the Author

Kassie Sands has been one of Kristen’s best friends since way back in the college days – for reference, that’s a long time. She works in the nonprofit world and Kristen suspects that some day she’ll be an author. Also, she’s pretty freaking amazing.

How Does It Look to Have Mental Illness?

Sometimes the best way to understand mental illness is to see how it affects just one person. During May, we will explore how it looks to have mental illness through the experience of Kristen, starting with her own discovery of her depression.

Kristen sitting at table with son sitting on table and husband sitting on other side - I have mental illness

When we started planning for the 2017 Mental Health Awareness Month on the blog, I knew I needed to dig a little deeper into my experiences with mental illness. So I went to my journals, looking for an idea of when I realized I might have mental illness. There were a number of mentions of being depressed or upset in my journals – as there likely are in the journal of most teenage girls. But every once in awhile, something peeked through that sounded like there was something more to it. If you can ignore the melodrama of a teenage girl, you can get the occasional glimpse…

…I’ve screwed up so much lately that I might as well screw up some more. I feel miserable. I feel like shit. I guess there’s a good reason for that, though. I feel a deep depression coming on. A deep and long depression. (7/28/92)

That is a journal entry from when I was 15. People often ask me when my depression started. I don’t remember for sure, to be honest, except that I spent a good portion of my teenage years feeling pretty similar to what I’ve described here. I think I hid it well – most of the time I felt like I didn’t have a choice – I had to go to class, I had to make straight As and do the school play and be captain of the swim team and play the piano and make it into the honor society and and and… It’s not that I didn’t enjoy those things – many of them I did enjoy. But I also never felt like it was an option to let myself sink.

I Might Have Mental Illness

When I got to college, I began to be able to explain these feelings a bit better in my journal – and to others. My sophomore year of college was particularly difficult at times.

All I feel like doing any more is sleeping. I don’t want to go to class, and what’s more, I don’t care that I don’t want to go. At this point, I feel like dropping out, to be perfectly honest. But every bone in my body is fighting for my life. I cannot let this overtake me. I have to maintain some control of my life. I just don’t feel like doing anything but sleeping and crying. I know I’m depressed. I just don’t know what to do about it. (10/21/96)

At that time, there were no ads on TV for various antidepressants with their ridiculously long list of side effects (I mean seriously, have you ever really listened to all the possible side effects? No wonder people are scared to take meds for their mental illness). I didn’t know that people like me – people in the midwest state of Kansas, people who did well at school, or people who had friends – could be depressed. I assumed that, well, I don’t know what I assumed – I just didn’t think it was an option for me.

Seeking a Diagnosis

The spring of my junior year of college, however, things really came to a head.

I’m really  hurting right now. This is worse than I’ve been in awhile. I hardly got out of bed yesterday. The only reason I’m up now is because I have to work. I feel so alone. I can’t tell my mom how bad I feel…D’s been a big help, but I feel like I’m worrying him too much. If I could pretend like I was fine and fool him, I would. And I just can’t tell {my other friends}. So yes, I’m lonely.

I don’t know what to do. It’s taking every ounce of strength I have to get out of bed and go to work and to class today. And it’s so hard to talk to people. I just want to stay in my room. And yesterday I finally cried. And cried. I just sobbed. I almost couldn’t stop. And when I finally did, I fell asleep out of exhaustion. I don’t know what to do. (4/8/98)

Fortunately, it was around this time that a friend of mine divulged to me that she struggled with depression and saw a therapist. For whatever reason, that conversation allowed things to finally click for me, and I made an appointment with my doctor, who put me on an antidepressant. It would be this acknowledgement of my illness, more than anything else up to this point, that would help set the course ahead for me.

Living Life with Mental Illness

Maybe it was the fact that it was our family doctor, and not a psychiatrist, that prescribed the medication that helped me start to view my depression as an illness – not as something wrong with me. Don’t get me wrong, I still occasionally get mad at myself because I have mental illness, or think I’m weak or not enough. But I have been armed with the knowledge that those thoughts are simply not accurate. And that has allowed me to come to terms with my illness in a way that I suspect many of the people with whom I interact are not used to seeing. I think it’s for that reason, more than any other, that I’ve been able to become an advocate for others who have mental illness.

Before you get to read or hear from other people talking about my mental illness and me on the blog this month, I just want to say that I appreciate those of you who have been on this journey with me so far, and I look forward to those who will join me in the future. I hope to continue stomping out stigma with all of you for a long time.