I can remember with crystal clarity the first time I spiraled into depression — and also what it took to get out of that deep hole.
It was 2004. I was a young reporter in Alaska. I was thrilled to be on an adventure living in a remote place, chasing my dream of being a big-time reporter, and doing it in a way that felt bold and brave. Everyone questioned my decision to move to Alaska, most of all my own family. I had never been there before. Why would I move so far away? Isn’t it cold? And dark?
I soon learned many people choose Alaska for the adventure. I reveled in telling people in the Lower 48 stories about the depth of the dark, the bitterness of the cold, the different strategies to deal with black versus brown bears while hiking, even as I struggled to make my way in the newsroom, to get better at my craft, and to make friends and fend off constant loneliness in this dark, new place.
My career break came one night when I was watching the evening TV news in the editor pod, as editors combed through the stories in their queues. A man came forward to share about his sexual abuse from a well-known local priest. The Catholic sex abuse scandal had been sweeping the country, and Alaska was no longer immune.
I was tossed into writing a quick story. The next day, I was tapped to work on a bigger investigation into the priest and his victims. I was pulled off my usual beat, and was now working with the project editor. I was thrilled.
My job was to identify and talk to victims, while my editor dug into documentation and what Catholic leadership did (or didn’t do) when sexual abuse was reported. I heard terrible stories of abuse and trauma.
When our multi-story Sunday piece was finally published, we won all the accolades you could in Alaska. I was proud. I felt like I was making a difference in the world.
A year later, I was at my desk, working on my regular beat. I answered a call from a source. The news: the original victim who came forward had committed suicide. I stood up, shaking, still wearing my headset, to tell my editor.
I went into survival. I had to work with my editor to get a front-page story out, all while suppressing the raw clench in my belly and desire to crawl home and cry on my couch. I had to try to talk to his family, the people who had told me things most of their friends and family had never known.
I also remember the moment I ignored my gut. My editor told me to cover the memorial. I knew, deep down, that this was a terrible idea. I knew I shouldn’t do it.
But I was 26. I was young. I did what I was told.
That memorial service sent me into a spiral as deep and dark as December. I went back to work, but I wasn’t mentally there. My mind was in a fog, sitting on my couch, wondering what on earth I was doing. Why was I doing this job? Why was I writing about people’s worst moments? Why was I so affected by this human I didn’t really know, and yet knew too much about?
It was the first time in my life I realized I needed help. I found my way to a therapist who specialized in trauma. I cried my way through weeks of therapy and learned terms like vicarious traumatization. I slowly started to recover. I also decided it was important to protect myself. I would never let my job affect me like that again.
It was my first time being so depressed I couldn’t function. It also was my first time learning what it takes to get back to being myself again.
Next week… the second time I spiraled into depression.
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