Deanna Echanique is an artist and a former high school classmate of mine. She was 29 when I interviewed her in Washington, D.C., on 6/22/13.
I was bullied a lot in middle school. The girls on the bus were the primary bullies, but also the boys in my school, ‘cause I had developed really early so I had full breasts and I was 5'8". Everybody else was so much shorter than me and so they picked on me all the time. They would just gang up on me.
So, while I was having these problems at school, I was having a lot of problems at home. My parents were having a lot of fights. We went to family counseling, and my sister got involved in drugs and alcohol when I was 13. It was New Year’s Eve and I got a call from my friend’s house that my sister had overdosed and she was in the hospital in a coma. [These are] the kind of problems my family was dealing with, so I ended up just internalizing everything because my parents were frantic dealing with my sister, and all the anger and feeling worthless were just left inside to fester. I would kind of dissolve into online chat rooms and forums instead of making connections in real life. From 11 to 14, I tried to kill myself at least a half a dozen times.
We all went to counseling. I don’t want to blame it on my family because they did try. I was just unwilling to communicate.
We went to family counseling. My parents went to marriage counseling. We had individual counseling. My sister was on this whole concoction of antidepressants and antipsychotics, and I just had counseling. I never took any medication, but I never opened to anyone. Looking back on it, looking back on where I was and what I know now about psychology since I got my degree, I can see that I just wasn’t able to trust anyone enough to talk to them about what was really wrong with me. And nobody could help because I didn’t want to get help. I didn’t want to be helped. I felt that I deserved these feelings that I had, that it was my fault because I was ugly or I was fat or I was whatever.
That was at a point where I was questioning my sexuality as well, and having those feelings. I had a best friend that I was just head over heels for, but I didn’t know how to respond to those feelings. Nobody gave me any help on how and I never asked for it, so it just kind of became part of the bullying... I would sit on the floor of the closet and just think about how awful it felt. I would think about reincarnation. That was a big revolving circle in my head when I was feeling really horrible, the desire to escape. I felt like maybe death would be the escape, and then I would reincarnate into something different, something better.
I think the turning point in my bad feelings was in family therapy. We were going through and my parents were arguing and my dad yelled out and he pointed at me and he goes, “If it wasn’t for her, I would have shot myself. I would have gone to the backyard and shot myself.”
This kind of hits me full force in the background as everything bleeds away.
I hear my mom say, “Well, it’s good I sold it then.”
And then I learned two things. I learned a). that’s why I couldn’t find the gun when I went looking for it, and b). that I wasn’t worthless because I had saved my father’s life, and that he had been experiencing feelings of wanting to end his life as well. That was a really big bombshell to drop on a kid, that I was what was keeping my father alive and he was what was keeping me... That’s the point where it started getting better.
I still didn’t open up a lot, but I began to realize that there was more than just me, and I think a lot of my suicidal feelings were partially selfishness, that I didn’t feel that I got what I felt that I should get. I didn’t have friends. I didn’t have—my family was so messed up and my sister was having so many problems, and I felt that my life would be so much better. At that point I just thought I could end it and start again, whereas now I look back and realize that I can change things.
Art is really what kept me going. My ability to create and to make my own world and incorporate my feelings into it kept me going. It really pushed me, but I still got bullied throughout middle school into parts of high school. But I kind of learned that life is always challenging and it’s always gonna be challenging. Learning to adapt and overcome those problems became a goal of mine in adolescence. Instead of being so depressed, I became angry because I didn’t know how to channel those complex emotions, so I would just get mad and I would throw things, and it just kind of evolved. I went through years of therapy—anger management—three, almost four years, before I moved to Maryland. It’s really funny. My therapist would tell me, ‘cause I went through psychology, he was like, "Sometimes you go in to study psychology out of a desire to fix yourself and to learn more about yourself," and I think I did. I definitely did.
As I was kind of healing myself and after therapy, I thought about what I could do with myself, the art that I was creating, and how if died, I would never have been able to get where I am now. I look at my life now and I’m so happy. I have a husband. Yesterday was our six-month anniversary, on the solstice. We married on the winter solstice. My art career is on the verge of taking off, and I have this wonderful husband and wonderful house, and though life is still incredibly challenging, I feel that I’ve grown from my experiences and that I’ve become a better person and better able to deal with my surroundings.
The other really important thing that I learned throughout this process was that you don’t have to keep shitty people around, that a lot of my negative feelings, especially going into late middle school and high school and early college, was toxic friendships, friendships that would feed my depression or my anger instead of help me. As an adult, I realize that I can choose my company and I didn’t really have that choice as a kid, ‘cause you have your peers, the people who ride on the bus with you, you know? You’re all stuck there together. But as an adult, I don’t have to take it, and I think that was one of the big takeaways from growing out of—I guess I wouldn’t say growing out of, but evolving from where I came from.
Des: You mentioned you were in therapy but you had these attempts. What did your parents do?
Deanna: Actually, they never found out. I never talked to them about it. I never told them. At one point, my mom saw a scar on my wrist. She asked me what had happened and I said I just fell, and she accepted it for what I said it was and didn’t further question. But it had never been to the point where I was hospitalized, so they never found out. At that point, I felt that I was a failure at... It was like, I can’t do this. And the last time was when I went looking for the gun and didn’t find it.
Des: Did your parents encourage your art?
Des: Even in high school, you were really amazing.
Deanna: Thank you. Yeah, that’s one of the things that my parents, I think, always encouraged my art. My dad was always willing to go and buy me new art supplies. I think I was 11, and one of the best Christmas presents I got was a full set of Prismacolor colored pencils, and I still have those. I still have them. The box has been destroyed long ago and they’re in a Huggies box. But my parents have always supported my art and it was a really important outlet for me.
Des: Do you deal with any kind of depression or suicidal feelings now?
Deanna: I have a lot of anxiety. I recently—well, recently as in the last two years—lost a lot of weight, and I’ve noticed an increase in street harassment. I’ve had an exponential increase in the amount I’ve been harassed on the street and that negatively impacts me an incredible amount. It's something I never thought about because I was overweight for so long that the majority of the harassment I received was fat shaming, whereas now it’s all sexual.
I fight these guys off at the bus stop. It’s never gotten physical, but I find that social media is really helpful. I’m in contact with Collective Action for Safe Spaces and Everyday Sexism, and just being a part of that online community is really helpful when it comes to dealing with the anxiety of being harassed. It’s all new to me, so I can see the difference in the quality of my life before I lost weight as to now. So, while I was unhealthier before I lost a lot of weight, I’m now being harassed regularly.
I do have a lot of anxiety, but not the anger issues I used to have. I think about death regularly, but never to the point where I actually want to do anything about it. The last time I contemplated was when I was in an abusive relationship, and I lived on the tenth floor. We can leave that there. But I left. I decided it wasn’t worth it... I didn’t want him to have that and so I left, and I’m so much better for leaving.
Des: Tell me more about the anger management therapy, ‘cause it seems like that’s what kind of balanced you out.
Deanna: Yes. I was searching for a good therapist for a long time. It’s so hard, because you have to find someone you click with. If you don’t click and you don’t open up, they can’t help you. I went through six or seven therapists until I finally found...you know, it’s so sad. He changed my life so much but I can't remember [his name]...
What he told me is that anger is a secondary emotion. You become angry because you can't deal with the primary emotion. For me, it was depression, anxiety, and feeling worthless. Until I began to deal with the primary emotion, I would become angry. He trained me to stop myself at the primary emotion before I became violent and angry. [He taught me] breathing exercises, which have helped me on numerous occasions, just to bring myself back down. That’s not to say I don’t get mad, but I don’t get door-kicking, dish-slamming angry anymore, wall-punching, etcetera, because I can cope better.
I went for three years. I have a lot of guilt issues that we were unable to cover. I have to go through the search again, now that I have health insurance, to find a therapist to deal with the guilt because I’m finding that the guilt and the anxiety are becoming a problem to where I believe that I’m probably gonna need to see somebody again, which is... it kind of leads into current events because it makes me so happy that the Obama administration is realizing that mental health is a serious problem and that, instead of ostracizing and alienating people with mental health problems, we need to embrace them and help them.
That just changed an attitude from 'mental health problems should be shameful' to 'it’s a problem that a lot of people have because we live in a complex society.' It’s something that needs to be dealt with. It’s just as important as physical health. In fact, I’d like to argue to say it’s more important.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Deanna: No, not anymore. It’s funny, I think about it and I’m like, 'I’m way too happy and I’ve accomplished so much and I have so much more to accomplish.' Although I occasionally find that I dwell on death, I think that’s just a part of my personality where I think about it a lot, [but it's] not necessarily me. I am paranoid of car accidents, but I don’t think it’s ever an option so much as a thought back here and I occasionally think about it. It kind of grounds me, knowing what I was to where I am, but no. I love life too much. Love it, especially now that I know how to deal with it.
If you’re feeling suicidal, please talk to somebody. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
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