Emily Burris opens up about personal struggle with depression, anxiety

Human Interest

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Editors Note: Emily Burris recently opened up about her struggles with depression and anxiety on social media, and was blown away by the response she received. She wanted to share more of her journey in the hopes it helps someone else with their own.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Quick question for you: How many conversations have you had over the past year that start something like this:

“Hey! How’s it going?”

“Oh, you know, 2020 just won’t quit!”

You laugh dryly and sigh, “It’s a lot, but… I’m hanging in there!”

No, I haven’t been spying on you. We’ve all felt it. And in my case, it was all too easy to roll my eyes, sigh, maybe make a Groundhog Day joke, and push it all aside.

That worked for a while, anyway.

For years, and certainly throughout all of 2020, I was always ready with an excuse about why I didn’t feel great. There were always new projects at work, always a big new story to cover, never enough hours in the day to get things done. I was busy, and busy was a good thing. That constant stomachache? The occasional racing heart and shaky hands? Proof that I was just hard at work.

Plus, I had way too much to be happy about, right? In the last couple years, I’d successfully moved across the country for a great new job, been promoted, and was spending my days off training for races and falling in love with my new city. I didn’t need down time!

In truth, I didn’t like downtime, because that’s when the heaviness set in. The gnawing, sinking feeling that I wasn’t enough. Not smart, productive, or capable enough for my job. Not a good enough friend, partner, or family member. Competing negative thoughts would race around each other, creating futures that were only real in my mind.

I’m just hard on myself, I’m a perfectionist – but that’s a good thing, right? It was all inside, and I worked hard to keep it there.

Then slowly, the world outside started to change. A virus, exploding into a pandemic. An endless ticker of headlines holding fear and heartbreak. Financial uncertainty, isolation, social upheaval, devastating wildfires, attacks on the industry in which I’ve built a career. The heaviness got heavier, and harder to shake.

One evening last summer, I was in the middle of anchoring a newscast when my world came to a screeching halt – my younger brother died unexpectedly, and our family was shattered.

It’s hard to figure out how to keep going when the world you know has changed so drastically and permanently. After a while, it feels like everyone else’s world just kept spinning, while yours stopped.

I took a few weeks off and told myself the best way to feel better would be to get back to my old routine. More work, more distractions, re-engage with the world around you. Catch up.

That may work for some people, but it didn’t work for me.

Small talk with coworkers was exhausting. I was angry, and impatient. I no longer felt empathy for the people whose stories we told. An outdoor happy hour with my pandemic pod took all my focus and effort.

I realized this wasn’t going to get better on my own, and I needed something to force me to deal with everything I was pushing aside. I started therapy. After talking through some of my issues and getting a better understanding of my journey, I learned I had depression and generalized anxiety disorder.

I remember telling my therapist “Right now, I don’t know when I get out of bed each morning what kind of day my brain is going to let me have.”

When she suggested medication, I froze. Me? On an antidepressant? Sure, I feel sad, but is it really that serious?

What I now realize, is that I had no idea what options were available to me. I didn’t really understand what help can look like. Despite offering support to friends and family over the years, and encouraging others to seek help for their mental health, I was facing all the same fears, misconceptions, and stigma surrounding mental illness that I’ve reported on so many times!

I started talking to friends and family and was surprised to learn how many other people I know have taken medication for anxiety and depression. I talked with a psychiatrist about my options and voiced my concerns. I asked about side effects, how things worked, and what to do if things got worse.

I learned that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in this country. It’s estimated that 40 million adults struggle with some form of anxiety each year, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America. It’s not uncommon for people to suffer from both depression and anxiety disorder, and it manifests differently for different people.

What really surprised me, was learning that despite anxiety disorders being highly treatable, a little more than a third of people suffering get treatment.

Some of those statistics may be outdated at this point, as new research points to increasing rates of anxiety and depression, and more people taking medication amid the pandemic.

I was one of them. I spent a couple weeks feeling dizzy, and anxious as my brain adjusted to medication. Then things started to change.

I felt more even. Unexpected problems at work started to feel manageable. Things stopped feeling so personal. I’d been worried that taking something would snuff out my ability feel anything, but in actuality it was quite the opposite. I started feeling emotions – happy, positive emotions – that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I won’t lie and say it’s been a magic pill. I still struggle some days, but it’s nice to finally have more good days than bad ones.

It might not be this way forever. The CDC estimates that more than half of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life. Your mental health can change over time, and there are so many different factors that can affect mental illness. Right now, I plan to stay on my medication, and continue working with a therapist and a psychiatrist to manage and improve my symptoms.

I don’t know if the heaviness got lighter, or I got stronger. But I know that if I’d been able to hear more stories of success – from people who needed help, got it, and started to get better – I would’ve reached out for help sooner. I wish I had, and that is why I’m sharing this today.

My experience is not the same as anyone else’s, and I don’t share all of this to offer any kind of medical advice. I just hope that if someone out there identifies with anything I’ve expressed, they feel empowered to speak up.

It can get better. Let’s start sharing that side of the story.

If you or someone you know is struggling, there are lots of online resources and places to start. Consider visiting the following websites for information, help to find a therapist, and free online tools to help:

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can seek help from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States by calling 1-800-273-8255 or visiting SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

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