Rising Above My Story of Depression and Anxiety

Rising Above My Story of Depression and Anxiety

by Karena Kilcoyne

I grew up in a violent home––think broken dishes, hurling insults, and hiding under the bed while my parents punched and kicked one another. Things didn’t get much better after my father was sentenced to the federal penitentiary when I was 12. My mother suffered from depression, anxiety, and manic episodes. She rarely left the bed once we’d gone through all the money Dad left us before he went to prison. I then switched roles with my mother, caring for her and my siblings, asking strangers for money, and buying us cans of soup and loaves of bread to quiet our growling stomachs.  

My parents’ routine abandonment split me emotionally into a little girl who believed she was unworthy of love and a maven hellbent on escape. And escape I did. I put myself through law school and went on to practice as a criminal defense lawyer.  

When I was 24, my mother died, and I adopted my half-brother, who was only nine years old at the time. And while I was already in survival mode, knowing that I was now responsible for raising a young boy rocked my already dysregulated nervous system and shifted me even deeper into survival mode.  

I suppressed all my pain, shame, and all the stories I believed about myself because of my trauma, and I went about life. I thought that if I chased success, if I checked all the professional boxes, I’d feel better about myself. I’d heal myself. I’d find joy.  

Spoiler alert––I didn’t.  

No matter my success or what I accomplished I still felt empty. Worthless. Depressed. Anxious. Unsure. Lost. Some suggested therapy, but I was afraid to unearth my deepest, oldest pain. I worried that bringing in out into the light of day would somehow pull me right back into the darkness. And so, I stayed bound up in shame and fear for years. For decades, in fact, I ran from who I was and lost myself deep in depression and anxiety.  

You see, I had these stories. Stories of abandonment, shame, and worthless that kept me shackled to the past and afraid of the future. I disassociated from the present, numbing myself with booze and bad relationships. My body didn’t feel like my own. It was just a vessel I inhabited that reverberated with fear—fear that people would find out where I came from and what I did to survive.  

Over those years, I dabbled in therapy. A little here after my mom died. A little there after a bad breakup. But I never invested myself. I never really opened up. I never shared the dark stories I’d written about myself.  

It wasn’t until years later, after my beloved Golden Retriever died, that I was finally ready to unearth all my shame and rise above my old limiting stores. When Finn died, my emotional floodgates opened and I grieved not just for him, but for my mother, my father, and my lost childhood. I was finally ready for therapy.  

I went here, there, and everywhere looking for the road to healing. In addition to traditional therapy, I tried every modality I could––breathwork, yoga, meditation, journaling, hypnosis, reiki, and more.  

After a while, my life began to take on meaning. I let myself feel. I unearthed pain, raw emotions, and intense feelings. I began to understand that I could celebrate the little things – what I call my “wins” – like getting out of bed, meditating for 10 minutes, doing yoga, writing in my journal. These are not minor feats, especially for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety.  

I’m here to tell you that therapy doesn’t work overnight. It took me years to rise above my old stories of shame and abandonment. Along the way, I learned that healing is a process, a journey, but it’s worth every bit of work it takes.  

After feeling completely overwhelmed when starting my healing journey, I wrote Rise Above the Story: Free Yourself from Past Trauma and Create the Life You Want as a guidebook for healing. I wanted to create a pathway to healing for those who need a safe space to feel seen and heard and unearth their pain. I want everyone to know that they aren’t alone in their trauma or their stories. In fact, 70% of us will experience trauma in our lifetime. But here’s the truth: we don’t have to suffer because of it.  

And one thing I know after decades of hurting and healing is that your past doesn’t define you—you do.  

In the book, I share all my stories with raw vulnerability as a reminder that while we all have a story, we also have the power to rise above it. Every single one of us. We deserve to feel joy and happiness. We should expect goodness and abundance. We are worthy of it all.  

I shared my journey with ADAA because I’m grateful for their work and dedication to helping those of us who experience depression and anxiety. They remind us that we aren’t alone in our journey and that we’re all connected not just in our pain, but even more so in our ability to rise above. 

Follow Karena 

@karena_kilcoyne on FB and Instagram.  Visit Karena's website.

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