You are here: Home » Case studies

Navigating Depressive Episodes With Social Support, Therapy, and Perseverance

“When I got home, I was burnt out and severely depressed. I couldn’t get out of bed for a long time. My fiance took me for walks, helped me bathe, and brought me bland foods. With the help of my psychiatrist and therapist, I was able to get on a course of therapy and medication that finally helped to bring me out of my major depressive episode. I wasn’t truly fully functional again until some time in 2011.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Catherine (Cat) Nguyen and I’m originally from New York City (Long Island, Queens, and Manhattan), but moved to San Francisco when I was 29 to pursue a career in photography.

After attending the Academy of Art University for a BFA in commercial and advertising photography, I started my business in San Francisco. Eventually, I became specialized in interiors and architecture, a passion of mine. 

While in San Francisco, I met my now husband on Match in 2005. We share our loves of good food, travel, art, and architecture. 

It has been a difficult journey; one that still has its ups and downs, but I would say I am happy now. 

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail

Don’t Miss Out On Happiness

Find happiness with this 10-step mental health cheat sheet.

What is your struggle and when did it start?

I have struggled with depression, PTSD, and at times anxiety over the course of many years. I believe I was undiagnosed with depression since childhood. I don’t remember the exact date that it started, but I do remember always feeling a heavy weight upon me.

We are an immigrant family from Vietnam. My father was very strict and believed in corporal punishment when we were young. He was moody and often had issues with anger management. I believe all of this contributed to my depression.

In 2009, I was working for a Canadian hospitality content company photographing hotels and casinos in the Pacific Northwest as well as throughout the Midwest. I had been on the road for months – three to be exact – without coming home. It was a blur of cities and towns changing every day. I was overworked and exhausted.

One morning in September when I had about 2 weeks left on this trip, I became violently ill. I had been subsisting mostly on iced lattes, chain-smoking, and little food. I was photographing common areas in hotels and casinos. It was the time of H1N1. I was diagnosed on the phone by a friend who is a doctor.

I spent two days in the hotel room without food in bed before my then-fiance called his parents and they set up a plan to come retrieve me from Indiana. I stayed with them in Michigan for a week before flying home to San Francisco.

When I got home, I was burnt out and severely depressed. I couldn’t get out of bed for a long time. My fiance took me for walks, helped me bathe, and brought me bland foods. With the help of my psychiatrist and therapist, I was able to get on a course of therapy and medication that finally helped to bring me out of my major depressive episode. I wasn’t truly fully functional again until some time in 2011.

That was by far the worst episode of depression I’ve encountered in my life, however, my mood does cycle over the course of time. I had a recurring history of being able to be super productive for long bouts then crashing and staying in bed for weeks at a time. The cycle repeated throughout the course of my 20s and into my 30s.

It has been a tough journey at times. When I am ok, I am often worried about when the other shoe will drop and the depression will return. With the help of a great local therapist, I have been able to develop tools to help better deal with downturns when they occur. 

I can go for long periods at a time feeling well and stable then something will either trigger me or my meds will stop working and need to be tweaked. I have learned to embrace that all things change. That the depression won’t last forever.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Depression is interesting to me. I haven’t experienced unhappiness so much as numbness. When I am depressed, it is painful and I retreat, which in turn makes it worse. My happiness seems but a dream from another time.

When things are at their worst, I am anxious about the smallest of things: going to the store, answering emails, picking up the phone, taking a shower, walking around the block, and trying to connect with loved ones. When depressed, I feel a lack of self-confidence. I beat up on myself. There is also an aspect of disconnection on all levels – from myself and others. 

I always tried to hide it and put up a good front. That takes a lot of energy. I don’t know what people knew. I am sure some suspected, while others just thought I was a flake who couldn’t follow through.

👉 Share your story: Help thousands of people around the world by sharing your own story. We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

There was no single moment when I felt better. It was a long road filled with lots of psychiatrists tweaking my medications and therapy – often twice a week. I even found an online support group for other people with depression.

I met another woman who is a decorative painter in another state and we struck up a friendship. She had already come out of her dark place and so was wonderful to message with as she gave me hope that I could get there as well.

The changes were definitely a result of my actions and perseverance. I didn’t give up though there were times when I wondered if the semi-catatonic state I was in would ever change.

The struggle in 2009 lasted until some time in 2011. There was no one thing that turned it around. Rather, lots of therapy and medication changes finally made the difference.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I strongly encourage that if you are struggling with depression you should seek out a licensed therapist and also perhaps look into a psychiatrist to manage medication. It can be discouraging to try so many different medications before finding something that works for you without severe side effects, but in the end, it is worth it.

What really helped me in therapy was learning that I should not isolate and push people away when things get tough. That was my natural inclination for years. “Who would want to talk to someone who has nothing to add to the conversation?” would often run through my head as justification. It was the depression talking.

Those who love you will support you. They may not always know what to say or even try to “solve” your problem, but their love is sincere. Take that and hold it within yourself. Let them know when things aren’t great so they know to maybe just check in with you.

It helps to know someone is thinking of you. What also helped me was consistency. I went to therapy and did the work every single week. Even when I felt I had nothing to say.

I also learned that despite whatever stigmas still exist about mental health, sharing that you aren’t well normalizes the story not only for yourself but also for others. It helps take away the shame of feeling like something is wrong with you. It eases away the isolation.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

At first, I only spoke with my best friend, a cousin, my siblings, and my significant other about my struggle. And even then, my boyfriend in my twenties did not understand my depression.

Now I am able to share with those around me when things aren’t going well. I find that it helps them to understand that I need some grace and patience during those times as well as whatever support they can provide. I haven’t felt comfortable speaking about my struggles with colleagues. I feel that this interview will help me with that.

At first, I didn’t fully understand my struggle, so I couldn’t talk about it. I also have a lot of pride and always wanted to be seen as strong. I felt like admitting I had mood struggles made me weak. I was ashamed in some way.

It’s deeply rooted in some cultural shame about mental illness as well as years of my father saying things like, “Now I have three crazy children,” and “Depression is an illness of first world countries.” Even though I didn’t agree with him and understand he has a limited understanding of mental health issues, it stuck with me.

I did not feel comfortable talking about my struggle with my parents. I am not close to them and my dad says unhelpful things like the above. I also did not feel comfortable sharing with anyone at work. I always put on a face. I wanted to be seen as competent and strong.

I did not feel it was ok to show that I had any weakness. Especially since I left home at 16 and was usually working with colleagues much older than myself. I didn’t want to give any reasons for someone to hold something against me.

As time has progressed and I’ve realized that sharing my mental health struggles actually helps keep me from getting worse and spiraling inward, it’s gotten easier to share with others. I think this interview is a huge step in being more open about what I’ve been through and continue to have to manage on a daily basis.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

You are not alone. Reach out to those who love you. Do not shut others out for fear of shame.

I wish I had known that it was ok not to shoulder the burden myself. I would have escaped the burden of carrying it all alone for years.

A last bit of advice: Give yourself grace. The kind that you would give to your loved ones. Those suffering with mental health often forget that they deserve kindness.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can read more about me on my site, or find me on Instagram @catnguyenphoto, and @Catherine Nguyen Photography on Facebook.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail Clean

This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

Want more interviews?

Continue reading our inspiring case studies and learn how to overcome mental health struggles in a positive way!

Want to help others with your story? We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

Leave a Comment