Sophomore Tony Morse gains positive outlook from struggles with anxiety and depression
May 24, 2018
After dealing with anxiety all throughout his childhood, sophomore Tony Morse came face to face with both the anxiety and depression he experiences when someone reported to the school that he was self-harming in sixth grade. After that, he started going to therapy and using medication, along with trying to start opening up to others.
“Sixth grade is when I realized what I was going through. I definitely have dealt with it my whole life, especially the anxiety. There’s never been a time where I don’t have anxiety; it kind of just lives with me,” Tony said. “My mom talked to me about it because she struggled with the exact same things, and she still does to this day. I probably will for the rest of my life because it doesn’t just go away.”
With his anxiety weighing him down, Tony found it hard to open up about his struggles.
“I realized I used to not talk; I used to keep everything inside, which you really shouldn’t do. That comes with my anxiety because you really don’t want to talk, especially about your problems. My anxiety will overcome and be like, ‘You can’t do that.’ If you don’t talk though, and you just hold it all inside, one day it’s just gonna all come out. I’ve definitely experienced that, and I’m glad that now I’m able to be open up and talk to people because it really helps.” Tony said.
Although he at first struggled with opening up to his family, they play an important role in his process of dealing with mental health.
“Ever since [sixth grade], they’ve known, and they’ve been a big part of helping me. They’ll ask, “Are you ok? You seem down.” They’re always making sure I’m okay, and they’re always making sure they’re doing everything they can to make sure I’m in that happy place. Definitely having that support, especially in my house, helps a lot,” Tony said. “I think a lot about how if I didn’t have that kind of family things would be a lot different, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten through all the hard times. They definitely impacted me positively in this part of my life.”
Despite the support from his family, Tony continued to battle anxiety and depression, with middle school only magnifying his struggles.
“In middle school, I could never go to school. It was a huge difficulty for me with my anxiety. I just couldn’t walk into the building, and I couldn’t be around people. I missed a lot of school, and I just couldn’t put myself in that atmosphere. I feel like middle school is a rough time for everyone, but for me, middle school was the worst because that was when my mental health was at its worst. I’d get to first hour, and I’d call my parents and ask them to come get me,” Tony said. “I don’t think it was school as in learning because I love learning, and I love the idea of academics and getting your education, but just the atmosphere of everyone around me, all the eyes looking at me and all the people–I just could not put myself in that situation.”
Struggling with self-harm throughout middle school, Tony has now found better methods to deal with his mental illness.
“It’s like an addiction. Once you start, you can’t stop, and it can’t be justified. I don’t really know if I was using it to cope, or if I was using it for some other reason, but it was definitely a really hard thing to overcome. When you get into a routine of that, you can’t just stop. It was a huge struggle for me all the time for years and still to this day, but I’m a lot better with it now,” Tony said. “Back then, I would look at myself, and I didn’t think I would ever get through that, but I’m really proud of myself that I was able to overcome it. That was such a huge part of my life and a huge issue I had, but to this day, I haven’t [self-harmed] in a long time.”
Along with mental health struggles, when Tony came out as transgender in middle school, he faced judgment from some of his peers and struggled with gender dysphoria, but also embraced finally being able to be himself.
“It definitely was a huge weight coming off my shoulders because I felt like I could be happy, and I could express myself and be who I am. At the end of middle school and beginning of high school, I really struggled with it because back then, people didn’t really know what [being transgender] meant. When people don’t understand something, they’re scared of it, so it was really difficult for me to see all the people around me look at me differently and hear all the things that people were saying about me,” Tony said. “Before I started testosterone, I really struggled with my appearance and how I show to other people, and I definitely went through really bad stages with how I dressed. That was part of it because I was like, ‘I don’t know who I am.’ A huge part of my mental health was not passing and having kids at school be mean to me. Back then, my mental health was solely based around me being transgender and dealing with [figuring out my identity]. Because I was dealing with other things too, that definitely put a huge toll on me.”
After trying out many different therapists, Tony finally found one who specializes in transgender mental health who he connected with and opened up to.
“It’s definitely nice to have a person like that because it’s different than talking to a friend who talks to your other friends, and there are some things you can’t say to them because maybe they’re part of the issue or you just don’t feel comfortable. At the same time, it’s not a stranger, but it’s this one person that you build a connection with that’s based on you. All you focus on is you, which is sometimes all you need to do. It really puts you in that place where you kinda have to talk. It definitely has helped me a lot by having that person that I can talk to openly about anything, and they can’t tell anyone. Sometimes all you need to do is just listen to them and know that they’re right,” Tony said. “I hated therapy the first time and did not want to go ever again, so then I changed people. It takes finding that one right person that you can really talk to. It definitely takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of work on your part because if you don’t try, it’s not going to go anywhere. Trying is a huge part of recovery.”
Now, Tony feels comfortable and confident with his identity, even at school, making it easier for him to focus on other aspects of his mental health.
“Last year in high school, I could not use the guy’s bathroom because of my anxiety. I was scared that every single time I’d walk in, someone would beat me up or something. Nowadays, I have no problem with that, and I just go in like, ‘Hi I’m here,’” Tony said. “After starting testosterone, and my whole appearance changing, my confidence was brought up a whole lot. I definitely feel a lot better at school, and I feel a lot better doing everything. I feel like I’m a much happier person than I was last year and the years before, and having the support of my friends and my family helped me get through it.”
The change of atmosphere from middle school to high school also aided Tony in realizing that what other people think about him doesn’t matter. It allowed him to find close friends he trusted.
“I was really scared after middle school to go to high school because I thought it would be even worse. I thought, ‘if I couldn’t do middle school, I can’t do high school,’ but it’s a completely different atmosphere. I go to school every day now. My family will make jokes about it all the time, like, ‘you’re still going to school?’ because I would never go,” Tony said. “I realized that you have to be in school for 12 years of your life and probably more than that if you’re going to college. You really need to realize it’s not about the other people. It’s not gonna matter what I wore or how I looked; it’s just not gonna matter. All that matters is your brain, your mind and your mental health.”
Although being in high school allowed Tony more freedom, he continued to struggle with his mental health. In October of last year, he attempted suicide.
“I’ve tried to kill myself multiple times, and the most recent time was back in October. I almost died this time, and that’s the moment that I realized that I want to get better. I saw how that was affecting everyone around me. That even affected one of the most important relationships I had. I had this best friend, and I completely lost them after that,” Tony said. “The times before, I saw how people were upset about it, but it never really hit me until this last time like, ‘Oh sh*t, there are people who care about me.’ It made me really realize not only to not do this for other people but also for myself.”
After that, Tony decided that he needed to make his mental health a priority and focus on trying to get better.
“It hit me, and I was like, ‘Okay, this is a huge issue, and if you don’t try, it’s just going to keep happening, it’s gonna just keep going, the same things are going to keep happening and you’re never going to be happy.’ So, I was like ‘Why am I always so sad all the time?’” Tony said. “I realized it was because I wasn’t trying to be happy. I really needed to try to be happy and that’s what I do now. I push myself to go out and do things, and I really think positive. I try really hard, which has helped me a lot because I realized that I need to try and want to get better, and that realization helped me a huge amount because my relationships are a lot better now.”
For Tony, trying to get better means constantly talking to his friends and family about his struggles and emotions.
“If I start to think negatively or realize I’m feeling down, I will text one of my friends and talk to them about it, but it wasn’t a thing where one day I just started talking. I’m still working on it by reminding myself that these people do care about me, and these people do want to hear about my problems,” Tony said. “You just need to remind yourself that what you’re telling yourself is not true. You do matter, and your feelings are valid. With the close people, it’s not them feeling bad for you, and it’s not because they feel like they have to, it’s because they want to help you. They want to help you because they care about you, and they love you. Believing that people care about me definitely has been the hardest struggle for me. Without talking to those people I don’t know where I’d be right now, what I’d be doing or if I’d even be here.”
Although he emphasizes that you shouldn’t depend on others for your own happiness, one person who Tony can open up to and be comfortable with is his girlfriend alumna Adina Flowers.
“Adina struggles with the same things as me, and it’s sometimes hard being in a relationship with someone who struggles with mental health too. It’s hard when you’re down and they’re down where you physically can’t get up and try. It’s like, if you can’t try for yourself, how can you try for that other person? It’s a solution of working together. You need to work on yourself and work together on talking to each other because I talk to her all the time about mental health,” Tony said. “It’s great having that person that you feel comfortable talking to because you know that they understand. Having her in my life helping me realize how good of a person I am, pushing me to do things that are out of my comfort zone, helping me with my anxiety when we’re hanging out and go somewhere and having someone that knows what to do in those situations really helps you. Having that person who knows what to do in those situations and really, deeply cares for you, and you feel the exact same way as them, really helps me feel better when I have a panic attack, or when I get down on myself.”
Taking medicine also helps Tony deal with his mental illness every day.
“I started taking medicine in like sixth grade, and I’ve been through a lot of different ones because medicine works differently for every person because your body is different. The medicine that I got put on right after the last hospital trip has worked better for me out of all the other ones,” Tony said. “I take medicine every morning, and when I skip a day on accident, you can definitely tell which is kind of crazy that something like that can do that to you. If you stop for a while, you can tell how you’re going downhill again, and you’re like, ‘Oh wait that was important I need to do that.’”
Because he struggles with being alone and having his thoughts turn negative, Tony benefits from owning pets.
“Throughout my whole life, I’ve always made sure I had an animal with me, like a rodent. When I am in those situations where I’m sad and alone, getting that animal out and caring for it really helped me have some sort of purpose and really did help my mood go up. I think having therapy animals is something I’m going to continue to do for the rest of my life,” Tony said.
Despite the support system Tony has built, he still struggles with seeing how his mental illness affects the people he cares about.
“Probably whenever I get at my lowest, and I have to see everyone around me dealing with that too because I just can’t help myself. There’s nothing I feel like I can do on my part. You just really have no energy anymore, and you see all the people around you, and it’s just like, ‘woah.’ I don’t want to hurt the people around me, and I don’t want to make them sad, but I have to realize that that’s what comes with mental health,” Tony said. “I have a really happy life; I have an amazing girlfriend, I have great friends and a great amazingly supportive family and I’m accepted at my school. So people always ask me, ‘why are you dealing this, why are you so sad, your life seems fine,’ but it’s really not about the life you have, it’s about your mind and how your brain works.”
Thoughts of other people’s judgment and opinions still go through his mind each day, but he works on reminding himself that that’s just his anxiety.
“I’m constantly thinking about what other people are thinking about me and what people are saying. That’s always in my mind. Every time I walk through the hallways, I’m like, ‘they’re looking at me, and they’re talking about me.’ That’s definitely a big struggle in school too because I feel like every single person has something against me, but I have to remind myself that that’s not true, and it’s just my brain and my anxiety telling me otherwise,” Tony said. “I haven’t completely overcome it, and it’s still gonna take me more years and a lot more trying, but it’s about time and yourself. Everyone moves at a different pace.”
With a more positive outlook on life and support from his friends and family, Tony continues to face the challenges his mental health throws at him.
“I try really hard to think positive all the time, and I really have a positive and happy outlook on life and the future. Honestly, when I was younger, I didn’t think I would be 16 years old, but it’s crazy to think that I’m gonna be 17 in like six months. I’m growing up, and I’m making it there,” Tony said. “I really didn’t want to try, and I really did not believe in myself. I really didn’t think I would make it, but the fact that I am and still continuing to really blows my mind. It’s really all around finding yourself and taking those steps to be happy.”