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How Therapy, Medication and Baking Help Me Navigate Depression and OCD

“I was hospitalized for my eating disorder and my depression several times throughout my college career struggling with the will to live… I was desperate to be “normal” but my brain really got in the way of that.”

Hello! Who are you?

My name is Dayna Altman and I am a Boston-based mental health entrepreneur, author, and speaker.

Outside of my work in the mental health field, I am engaged to my incredible partner, Sam. He is the most supportive, compassionate, and funny person I have ever met. He and I are getting married in September 2024.

We have a cat, named Reeses, but Reeses was Sam’s cat before I entered the picture so she certainly likes him more than she likes me. But after several years of living together, my hope is she understands I am here to stay!! 

I am lucky that my passion is ingrained in the work that I do. I live and breathe my business, community building, and authentic connection plus I get to do that every day through my work. 

I do consider myself happy, although I don’t think anyone has ever asked me this before. Given that I live with major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and am in eating disorder recovery, I haven’t really given myself the chance to reflect on whether I am happy as I have felt my brain chemistry has always made the decision for me. 

However, deep into my recovery and treatment, I do feel happy. I have so much gratitude in my heart for the life that I have. I think knowing that my life could have taken shape in a very different way given the severity of my mental illness makes me extra appreciative that I have had access to support that has allowed me to come to a place where I do feel happy, but more than that: fulfilled and aligned in my purpose.

My work makes me happy as does all of the love that I am surrounded by. Sometimes that can be hard to access as I can feel alone in my “big feelings” and mental health struggles, but taking a step back, I believe that I have so much at my fingertips and that makes me so happy. I am very lucky. 

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

The fight of my life is my battle with mental illness. I am diagnosed with major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and an eating disorder. I have struggled with my mental health my whole life.

Growing up I was a very anxious kid, always worried about school and my family, caught in a web of anxious thoughts and big feelings, I was always told I was “too much” and that made me feel very lonely and brought about a lot of shame.

Although now I know that my mental health battles are the name for my struggles, I didn’t have the language for this until I went to college. 

Growing up in my community, no one talked about mental health. Therapy was always seen as shameful and I didn’t want to believe there was “something wrong with me.”

My only reference to mental health treatment was what I saw on TV… I thought that was reserved for “crazy people..” and I certainly didn’t want to admit how much I was struggling. 

When I got to college, my life as I knew it began to fall apart. My first time away from home, without my support system, the anxiety I had felt my whole life was not anything I could push down anymore–it was all-consuming. The friends that I made early in my college career brought me to the counseling center and introduced me to help.

Very quickly I was thrown into the world of therapy and medication as I was not only diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder which is an anxiety disorder but also depression and an eating disorder. I was hospitalized for my eating disorder and my depression several times throughout my college career struggling with the will to live… I was desperate to be “normal” but my brain really got in the way of that. 

When it comes to the root of mental health struggles, they are generally a combination of both “nature and nurture”–meaning a combination of genetic and environmental factors. I believe that is certainly the case for me. Many mental health conditions run in my family genetically and I believe my experiences growing up also contribute to these struggles. 

My real treatment for my mental health began in 2010, so I am now fourteen years into my recovery. Recovery for me is ever-evolving and I don’t think I will ever consider myself fully recovered but I am okay with that.

I know this is the fight of my life and it is one I am willing to continue with, especially as I can help others in the same position, that has always been a major motivator for me even before I created my own organization, I was always looking for ways to help others who struggle like me, I never wanted anyone to feel as alone as I did and that continues to be my guiding principle in my work and in my life. 

I find now my mental health struggles tend to be the most difficult in the face of change or uncertainty. This is certainly difficult as so much of my career as a speaker and entrepreneur revolves around uncertainty, but I am getting better at embracing the unknown. It is certainly very hard but given that I know my trigger, it is helpful to get ahead of it. 

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

Unfortunately, at my worst moments, my struggle has led me to feel like I do not deserve or want to continue living. This is an incredibly hard experience to explain to those who haven’t experienced it but my favorite way of articulating this experience is talking about looking at a wall.

When you are up close and looking at a wall, that is all you can see, having depression doesn’t allow you to take a step back and see the house or the building the wall is a part of, all you can see is what is in front of you and it is bleak. 

It can be very scary to explain this and be honest about my struggle at times in fear of scaring other people. A lot of times my brain goes to this place when it is overwhelmed with no intention of hurting myself, so that can be a tough distinction to explain.

Sometimes I get so overwhelmed my brain is programmed to “go there” and that can be scary to share with those around me and certainly make me feel like I want to hide. 

When I have struggled the most, I have certainly wanted to hide this but I also know that healing happens in relationships and community, it is not a solo act. So every time I struggle with this, I always push myself to be honest. I know that is what I would want if I had a friend who was feeling the way that I have. 

Something else that has been incredibly helpful is recognizing that I did not choose this. This struggle is nothing that I can control and that helps me take some of the shame away from experiencing the feelings that I do.

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

Although I continue to struggle with my mental health, the turning point that allowed me to transition from being hospitalized and debilitated to someone who could be in the world, was the relationship that I cultivated with my therapist, Dena. 

I met Dena when I was in treatment at a hospital for unrelenting suicidal ideation. I was so lost and overwhelmed by my feelings. I remember when I met Dena, it wasn’t an automatic connection. When we started working together, I found her to be very business-like and challenging. She really wasn’t going to sugarcoat things for me, which is not how I generally feel supported.

However, once I realized the way Dena was showing me that I could be challenged and find the answers inside myself with her guiding me (not her telling me what to do) it changed my life forever. 

I have continued to work with Dena for the last twelve years and our relationship has certainly evolved. She has been a very maternal figure for me and supported me as my “ride or die”, she knows me better than anyone and she still supports and cares about me, this has been so transformative in my recovery. 

I have often attributed all of my progress to Dena but she always reminds me that I am the one who put in the work. She was the guide but it was me who did the work and made the changes. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I believe the two most helpful things that helped me work through (and continue to work through) my mental health struggles have been medication treatment and therapy. 

I know taking mental health medication is very controversial and it is also a very personal choice. I know when I began mental health medication I was certainly unsure if it was the “right decision” given the stigma around this “crutch”.

However, I have come to learn and realize that medication actually helps me do the work in therapy that I am being challenged to do. It really takes the edge off my anxious feelings and has allowed me to live my life fully. 

Finding the right medication was certainly a challenge, but I am so lucky to have such a wonderful psychiatrist, Stacy, who sat with me through the whole process and never made me feel alone. 

Similarly, last year, I engaged in TMS therapy. TMS or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is a type of therapy for major depression. It is a non-invasive form of treatment where the patient receives electric pulses that strengthen the part of the brain that resists depression.

TMS was very scary for me to embark on, especially because I never heard anyone ever talk about it before. However, it was so incredibly helpful for me and although it may not still be known widely it has helped me so much. 

Additionally, talk therapy has been life-changing. My therapist is trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and also internal family systems therapy. I have found both of these techniques to be helpful in my recovery as have her kindness, empathy, and support.

I am so appreciative of the work we have done together and I would encourage anyone considering therapy to give it a try. I know it can be so difficult and scary to start, but you have no idea how helpful it can be! 

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

A big part of my life and mental health recovery is living my life as “an open book.” I have not only thought and believed that my story can help others but also believe sharing my story has helped me personally.

It has given me purpose and allowed me to feel less alone in my own journey. It also gave it validity and helped me heal. It continues to do so as I continue to struggle.

I will say though, it can be difficult to share with my family. I am so lucky that my parents support me in sharing my truth but I also know that we did not experience my childhood the same way. Thus, when I am writing a book or even on social media, sometimes I feel embarrassed or scared wondering what they will think.

This is also very much tied to the mental health struggles that run in my family. I feel as though I am the only one, really speaking openly about them when there are others that certainly exist. This also sometimes makes me feel lonely and shameful but I like to think about the people I have helped and that gives me hope! 

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

One piece of advice I would love to pass on is that there is no threshold to seeking help. For a long time I used to believe that things had to be “bad enough: for me to ask for help or advocate for my needs, but I have realized asking for help is incredibly brave and nothing I need to be ashamed of. 

I have heard similar reservations about seeking support from other people in my life. Feeling they are too old or young to struggle, they have resources so of course they shouldn’t need to ask for things, but wanting to help is plenty to go seek it! 

I also wish that I knew that therapy or “help” can come in many different ways. Whether it is individual counseling or medication management, exploring a treatment like TMS, or group therapy, there are many resources there to support you! People want you to succeed, I want you to succeed! 

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

Books that inspired me to be an author and advocate:  

This book inspired me to write my own memoir. I was so taken by the way this book was written and the lessons I learned through vignettes of Glennon’s story. 

This book helped me let go of perfectionistic tendencies, especially when it comes to being an advocate. 

Podcasts that make me feel less alone: 

This podcast covers a range of topics on being human, mental health, and empowerment. Listening to this podcast makes me feel like I am listening to friends. It makes me feel less alone in my experiences. It is my dream to be on this podcast as a guest! 

Jay Shetty has very meaningful conversations with a variety of people on his podcast and I love being able to hear the stories of celebrities and influencers I admire and get to know them more personally. 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I created my own organization called Bake it Till You Make it LLC. This is a community-based organization that uses baking to cultivate authentic mental health storytelling in a way that is vulnerable but also fun and accessible.

I began this organization in 2019 while working adjacently at youth-based non-profit organizations after earning my graduate degree in Public Health. In 2022, I made the switch to full-time entrepreneurship. It was certainly a leap of faith and full of challenges but I am so proud of the work that I have done since I have focused solely on building my brand and spreading my message. 

You can find me on the following platforms:

Is there anything else you think we should have asked you?

I hope you know whatever you are going through you are not alone. I know how isolating mental health struggles feel, especially in a world of social media and access to the “highlight reel” of everyone’s lives but please know, there is nothing wrong with you, you are human and it is okay to ask for help! 

💡 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. 👇

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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.

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