A grateful — and unfinished — story of depression recovery

Hi, my name is Joanna and I deal with depression,  panic disorder, agoraphobia,  generalized anxiety, ADHD, migraines  and IBS.

My mental health challenges started when I was very young, but became  noticeable to others when I was 12. I was selfmutilating  and someone from school anonymously  reported it. I was called into the guidance counselor’s office and my mom was called. I started therapy and was referred to a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, it did not go away quickly. Since I was diagnosed in 1995 I have been on probably  30 different medications,  seen many different  therapists and psychiatrists  and have had roughly eight in-patient hospitalizations. I attempted  suicide several times, two of which which were nearly fatal. 

In high school I had a hard time going to school so a specialized education plan was set up so I could graduate. After high school I went between colleges and various jobs. About six years ago I lost my job at a bank after my medical leave expired. At this point I could barely leave my house due to my panic, agoraphobia, depression  and IBS.

I applied for disability at my parents’ urging and with their help. I was denied, but shortly after, I appealed, and was approved  without needing to go to an attorney or go to a hearing — a huge relief since I had a hard time leaving my home.

I have found my path of recovery. What really made a huge impact was finding a meaningful relationship and support from my husband. He helped me see I had many strengths, was talented and had purpose despite my mental health challenges.

My husband, stepdaughter, and the son we had in 2012 motivated me to do the things that I had learned over the years that are effective and needed for recovery. Examples include going to therapy, finding forgiveness,  using relaxation  techniques, exercising,  engaging in hobbies, being mindful and pushing  myself to do exposure therapy. I have also become very good at recognizing early symptoms and taking measures and steps so I don’t spiral out of control.

Despite my challenges and because of them I have achieved many accomplishments. I graduated  high school in 2002 in the top 15 percent of my class. I have been married to my husband almost five years. I have a beautiful stepdaughter who is in fifth grade and an energetic 4-year-old son. I started going back to school in the spring of 2013 with the goal of getting my bachelor’s degree in psychology and helping others with mental  health issues. I graduated  in June and was immediately hired by Mental Health America Sheboygan as lead peer specialist for Open Door. I design and write loomknit  patterns that I sell on various online sites as well as maintain my own YouTube channel on various  loom knitting techniques.

I haven’t had any recent  major psychiatric hospitalizations, I am no longer housebound and I am optimistic about the future; my story isn’t over yet.

Joanna Brandt is the lead peer specialist at Open Door, a peer support  and recovery center for adults with mental illness, a program of Mental  Health America in Sheboygan County (MHA).