Readers share their stories of mental health struggle and recovery

As part of the annual Longevity Project, we’re asking readers to tell their stories of mental health struggles and recovery in an effort to destigmatize the serious health issue. Submit your story at

Here are some of the stories our readers shared:

When I was a young child, my mom always called me her happy child. As I became a teen, I became a worrywart. Many years later, after hardships I needn’t go into, I became depressed.

Many people think of depression as just a severe sadness, telling the depressed person to lighten up, get over it, put on a smile. Depression is much more than that. It is driving to work on beautiful fall days and wanting to slam your car into a certain concrete slab every day. It steals your energy, making all your tasks seem overwhelming. It is crying for hours, unable to stop. It is being so weak that your speech is slurred and you cannot — not will not — get out of bed. It is hearing that someone was killed instantly in an accident and being envious of that person.

That is when I called my insurance for a referral for help and was told that the next available appointment was not for six weeks. I made a snide remark like, “If I jump off a bridge, I won’t need an appointment.” They got me in.

I knew my children deserved a better mother, and I deserved a better life. I knew I wanted to be a happy, caring, productive member of society. I have been on medications for depression and anxiety pretty much ever since. My depression is not completely gone, and it probably never will be. The nicest thing anyone can call me is upbeat because I work hard every day to put a positive spin on everything. The effort pays off.

Some people have a low thyroid or diabetes or high blood pressure and need to take medication. My body doesn’t make enough happy hormones to keep me functional, so I have to take medicine. That is a small price to pay for being able to live, show kindness, work and enjoy life in these beautiful mountains.

I have learned some of my triggers and have also learned that time spent in nature, especially hiking in the woods with my friends or my dogs, helps to keep me in a good balance. For others who are fighting mental health issues, I hope you have friends who can make you laugh and dogs who love you even when your feet stink.

Remember, it really does get better.

— Marsha Harvey

Madison Shapiro

I have struggled with mental health issues for about 12 years now. I have been officially diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I was always a firm believer in handling my issues myself and that it would be weak to ask for help. So for years, I refused to get help. There was, of course, also the shame in feeling the way that I did.

Those were the darkest years of my life, and I didn’t start seeing the light until I started medication and seeing a therapist. I cannot begin to explain how medication has changed my life. It can be scary; I’m not going to lie. The thought of being on medication for the rest of my life terrified me. But all I ever wanted was to be stable — no more highs and lows. Being on medication gave me that. I no longer experience manic episodes and no longer think about killing myself.

It’s so important to know that just because you feel this way does not mean there is something wrong with you. I was so sure that no one would love me if they knew I was bipolar and was on medication. But I’m now married to the best guy in the world, who supports my mental health journey and decisions. I can talk openly with him about my OCD intrusive thoughts, he helps calm me down when my anxiety is elevated, and he knows my triggers.

It’s such a hard journey, but man does it make you a more compassionate and understanding human being. I am proud of how far I have come and am not ashamed of my mental health struggles.

No one should ever be ashamed of it.

— Madison Shapiro

Mandy LaRie Hope

Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and a constant feeling of failure — this has been my internal reality for years. It wasn’t always there, rather accumulated through various events until it became so heavy that I had to withdraw from my life for a bit and figure out how to relate to these new emotions and perceptions of mine. I sort of just shut down. Everything felt difficult, even simple, everyday tasks, and no matter how many times I would tell myself to get up and the rest would happen naturally, it didn’t. I reached out and found a therapist, hoping that something could shift. And in time, it did.

I have performed in and trained others in circus arts for 10 years, but it wasn’t until this newer reality in life came in that I was able to sit back and see it in a different way, realizing the benefits beyond physical health and fun. Circus is an all-inclusive, noncompetitive and engaging way to move the body, release trapped energies and reconnect the brain and body to the here and now. Juggling creates an opportunity to rewire the hemispheres of the brain, crossing the two sides, just as we did when we were young children in early growth and development. Clowning transforms failure and the fear of failing, for the clown never walks a straight line to success. In the clown’s journey, the audience witnesses the ongoing failed attempts, and in that is afforded relief from their own failings, and the ability to laugh and honor the clown’s journey — and in turn their own.

Circus is my medicine. In the circus arts, there is no “I can’t” but rather “I can try.” There is no competition among one another, instead there is a loving support to be your best and personal motivation to keep going. And my favorite part, the costumes! It is so nice some days to put on the face of another character and be them. It really takes the pressure off having to be enough for others, especially when that pressure only comes from within.

I am so grateful to be back home in the mountains and working with The Salida Circus Outreach Foundation as their newest outreach coordinator. Being able to teach again is great, but my new understanding of why circus is needed for the mental health of an individual and a community is such a blessing. Showing others that anyone can circus, honoring where that student is in the moment and guiding them to the next place makes me smile.

Salida Circus is truly circus with a purpose. I have reconnected to my purpose, been granted the permission to be and share myself with the world around me again, and given permission to others in a nurturing and healthy environment.

— Mandy LaRie Hope

Joey McKenna

Last summer, I was able to come to Breckenridge with my husband, who had Alzheimer’s in the late stages, and he got lost three times. I want to praise the Breckenridge police for kindly helping me find him each time. One time, the police notified the bus system, and a driver spotted him walking out of town.

Please don’t hesitate to get help when your loved one has mental health issues.

— Joey McKenna

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