June 8, 2023

Ending the Silence: My mental health story

Prechter Program research participant, Wendy Ascione-Juska wrote about her mental health journey for NAMI Washtenaw County. 

This article first appeared in NAMI Washtenaw County. 

My name is Wendy. I was born and raised in Ann Arbor and graduated from Pioneer High School (more than a few years ago!). I went to the University of Michigan and got my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Women’s Studies, as well as my Masters in Social Work. I currently work as a Community Outreach Coordinator at U-M. My favorite hobby is performing onstage in community theater. I also like reading, going to movies, and spending time with friends and family. My husband and I recently adopted our baby daughter, and we are currently living and loving the life of tired parents.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been dealing with depression. In high school, I remember shutting myself off in my room, not wanting to talk to anyone, and having trouble focusing. I had some good days too, but I always felt like depression has been in my life. I didn’t really get a diagnosis until I was in my 20s, when after grad school I moved away to Arizona and started working at a non-profit. At first I loved it; I loved the independence, being in a warm climate, and just being in a new place. A few years after moving there, I had a bad breakup. My boyfriend broke up with me by moving out of state. That’s when I first sought professional help for depression. I was 26. I saw a therapist and was prescribed an antidepressant. I started to feel better and decided on my own to stop taking medication. Then, on a Thanksgiving weekend when I was 27, I was attacked by a stranger in my home. A week later, someone who I thought was my good friend sent me an email accusing me of manipulating her and told me never to contact her again. Those two things (one big, one smaller) caused me to go into a deep depression. I would cry all the time, I felt like I was not going to ever get better, that my life was now only sadness and pain. I wasn’t suicidal, but I just didn’t want to live. I wanted the pain to go away. I had a hard time finding help. I remember going to the phone book and going down the list of psychiatrists and being told that they had a six month or longer wait. I ended up taking a leave of absence at work to go home to Michigan to recuperate. I sought treatment with a family medicine doctor in Michigan. I had several diagnoses at first: depression, generalized anxiety, PTSD. I got prescribed an antidepressant for depression and was able to feel well enough to return to Arizona.

Taking medication helped my depression, but my mood shifted very quickly. I felt “high” and on top of the world. I talked quickly, didn’t sleep well, and was acting irresponsible. I was spending lots of money that I didn’t have, I was being promiscuous and acting very self-absorbed. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was having a manic episode. Then, my grandmother died and I went back to Michigan for her funeral. My family (my parents and my brother) noticed that I wasn’t acting like myself and staged an intervention with two of my friends. They convinced me to go to the ER and helped me get into a psychiatric hospital in Detroit, where I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder...

To read Wendy's full story, check out the article here!