The We Shall Overcome Series is a collection of stories from women who have faced hardship with courage.  We hope these stories inspire and encourage you as much as they have us.

Meet Jenna and her battle with Anxiety and Depression.   
Jenna Gladfelter
 When I was little, I was a bit of a neurotic, anxious kid. I was informally deemed the worry-wart of my family from the get-go, and my anxiety didn't improve as I grew up. But what did I have to be anxious about? I came from a beautiful family, with two loving parents and a fun kid brother. I was beyond fortunate that I hadn't experienced anything that could even remotely be considered "traumatic", and was given nothing but love and security. 
Nevertheless, my anxiety was real. I remember having panic attacks during my middle and high school years as I tried to fall asleep at night. What was I worrying about, you ask? Everything. Anything you can think about. My parents always told me I had an overactive imagination. I wish I could say I was like Anne Shirley, transporting myself to a beautiful world far, far away. Sadly, I was more of a doomsday, Eeyore type. And I can't neglect to mention my social anxiety. It was so difficult to me to go anywhere without a familiar face with me at all times - which I hated, as I liked to consider myself independent and be seen as my own person. On top of all that, I knew people in my life whose struggles with mental illness were much more prominent, and to lump myself in with them not only felt like I was being dramatic, but as if I were belittling their challenges. So I stayed quiet and did my best to hide my anxiety. 
  

"I stayed quiet and did my best to hide my anxiety."

 Fast forward to my junior year of college. Until this time, my anxiety was "manageable" in that I had learned to suppress it pretty well. However, my third year of college turned out to be more difficult than expected. Things were not as great as they'd been the previous years – I had taken a leadership position on a residence hall for the year, and my initial excitement soon turned to discouragement and isolation. My actual leadership role was to support my classmates spiritually, to pray with them and be a shoulder on which they could cry. But I felt anything but qualified, anything but available or able. Over the course of this year, my anxiety skyrocketed and coupled itself with depression. I cried more than I care to admit. And I want to be clear that I'm not the crying type. I'm not prone to random bouts of tears, so these floods of emotions felt abnormal to me. During spring semester, everything came to a head. I was feeling terrible and convinced myself I had a terminal illness -- irrational, but true. This lead me to have panic attacks throughout the day and at night. My mind went to dark places. I remember calling my mom one night at 2:30am sobbing and hyperventilating. She wasn’t sure what to do, and it was becoming increasingly clear that I was not all right.
That summer, I continued to spiral downward. I was working three jobs and an internship, which I liked because it kept me from being alone with my thoughts. But after a month of this schedule, I suddenly was no longer able to eat or keep food down (and if you know me, I LOVE to eat). A bit desperate, my mom took me to my primary care physician, and I was placed on an antidepressant. I was a psychology major at my Christian university, so I was quite familiar with the "to medicate or not medicate" debate. But at that point, I was drowning, and needed someone to throw me an innertube. Immediately. 

" I was drowning, and needed someone to throw me an innertube. Immediately. "

Circumstantially, my next year at college was great. I was living with four of my closest friends in a beautiful townhouse off campus. Our place was a revolving door, with friends coming over for girls’ nights and movie marathons. We'd make midnight snack runs to Sheetz, and laugh until we couldn't breathe. I had an amazing class schedule and relatively light workload. And yet, I was still depressed. When I look back at that year, I cannot believe how much I slept. Not due to laziness or boredom; it was just so hard to get out of bed. We all know mental illness holds a certain stigma – depression maybe worst of all. "Just go exercise", "just be happy", "what do you have to be sad about?" That's my short list of things that are incredibly unhelpful to people struggling with depression. Because oftentimes, it has nothing to do with circumstances; and we fail to talk about the indescribable guilt and shame that comes when you know you have been blessed with a wonderful life, family, and friends. 

"Oftentimes, it has nothing to do with circumstances; and we fail to talk about the indescribable guilt and shame that comes when you know you have been blessed with a wonderful life, family, and friends.."

After undergrad, I was accepted into a two-year Master's program outside of Washington, DC, in which I lived and worked with adults with developmental disabilities while earning my degree in Human Services. I could go on and on about this time in my life and the things I learned, but I'll just tell you that it was as rewarding as it was challenging. At work, I was beyond fortunate to have coworkers who quickly became friends, as we navigated the challenges of our Master's program together. Yet in my personal life, I had severely isolated myself from a community outside of my job. I worked every other morning, every other evening, and every other weekend. When I wasn't working, I was either in class, knocking out homework, or sleeping. My schedule was so rigid and I kept so busy, it was easy to dismiss the effects it was having on me. I could still feel my anxiety, but my medication kept it at bay. The best way I can describe it is as if someone had shot Novocain in my chest – I could feel the stress, anxiety, and panic attacks as they came on, but I was numb. Compared to what I had experienced before, this seemed preferable. If I needed an increase in my dosage, my doctor would give it to me without hesitation. Each time she renewed my prescription, she'd gently advise that I couple medication with therapy. I'd smile, nod, and even squint my eyes a bit as if I were genuinely considering it. But I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to deal with whatever was going on in my mind and my spirit. 
  

"I wasn't ready. I wasn't ready to deal with whatever was going on in my mind and my spirit."

Another graduation came and went (yay!), and I was offered a program director position at the nonprofit agency at which I'd been working. My classmate/coworker was also staying on at the organization, so we decided to find an apartment together. We landed a beautiful two bedroom in a suburb outside of D.C. with easy access to the Metro (SCORE!). I started my new position with hope and enthusiasm, despite knowing full well it would be a challenging transition. Our agency was undergoing a great deal of change, and a lot of people weren't happy about it. I fully intended to stay in that position for two years, to get the experience as program director and four solid years at one organization. But after six months, it was clear I couldn't stick it out. I was emotionally burnt out, and my old friend, Depression, had made himself known again. For months, I cried myself to sleep, cried when I woke up in the morning, and fought to find the will to get myself out of bed. I had never quit a job before, and it felt wrong to leave after all the training they gave me. I loved my clients, my coworkers were so supportive, and my roommate had become a close friend. In spite of all that, I couldn't continue the way things were. I knew I was heading for an even darker place, and I didn't feel comfortable asking for yet another higher dose of medication. 
      

"For months, I cried myself to sleep, cried when I woke up in the morning, and fought to find the will to get myself out of bed."

In the spring of 2016, I took a week-long vacation to Texas to visit one of my best friends. We set off on a five-day road trip around the Lone Star state, and I found myself moaning and groaning far too much about my job. After removing myself from work for a week, I realized I couldn't go back. I couldn't get locked in to another lease the next month. The day I came home from Texas, I started searching for jobs in NYC. Thirty applications and three weeks later, I had landed a job in the greatest city in the world. 
 
Upon moving here, I resolved that I would be kinder to myself. I'm fortunate in that my new coworkers are fabulous, and I love my job. But I also made a point to finally start seeing a therapist and learn new ways to cope with my anxiety and depression. I got plugged into my church, found community, and dared myself to explore my new home. And during this time, I've stopped seeing myself as a victim, and instead as an overcomer; because this may be a page in my book, but it's not my story. 
  

"I've stopped seeing myself as a victim, and instead as an overcomer; because this may be a page in my book, but it's not my story. "

I write this because I know there are others who have experienced similar struggles and seasons in life. Friend, if you can relate to this any way, I urge you to push forward, one day at a time. You're stronger than you think. If you can, change your circumstances. If you can't, make sure you're surrounding yourself with family and friends who love you fiercely. Find community. And please, don't be afraid to ask for help.  

Jenna was born and raised in farm-country Pennsylvania. After attending college in Virginia and grad school in Maryland, she worked her way back up the East Coast to New York City. Her first job out of school was working with adults with developmental disabilities which she found to be incredibly rewarding.. Now she finds herself advocating for the rights of senior citizens in NYC.

Inspired by books penned by strong, comedic women such as Tina Fey, Carrie Fisher, and Jenny Lawson, she hopes to one day write a book herself. Among her family and friends, she's known for her Julie Andrews obsession, leaving umbrellas everywhere, and knowing useless pieces of trivia. In her spare time, she loves to try new restaurants, binge-watch Netflix, wander through botanical gardens, and eat insane amounts of popcorn.