Kaitlyn Ramirez’s story is more than just narrative, it’s a call to action. Today, she proudly discussed her history with depression and self harm with me. Her story emphasizes the basic importance of kindness that you would think we would have learned by now.
Her depression started in middle school. She grew up on the East Side, in New York City, near the Bronx. This is where her middle school was located, and where her depression started.
Ramirez always felt out of place at her middle school. She didn’t quite fit in with the crowd. Ignorant peers referred to her as an “Oreo”—black on the outside, white on the inside. She says, “A lot of the people where I lived tried to act a lot tougher than they were. They would automatically have a fight with someone after a single disagreement with them.” Ramirez recalls having to dumb herself down to feel more accepted.
In the seventh grade, a few people threatened to jump Ramirez out of spite. Ramirez wasn’t scared, because she felt secure in the fact that her father was a police officer. On top of that, she honestly felt like she could hold her own ground. Even as early as the fifth grade, she became a victim of bullying. One day, one of Ramirez’s “close” friends inexplicably got angry with her. This friend then spread the false rumor that Ramirez was a lesbian, because she knew that her classmates would bully her about it. All but two peers stopped talking to her, and even those two refused to talk to her in front of others. “People are really immature in middle school,” Ramirez shrugged. She remembered thinking, “Okay, I’m not a lesbian, but I would never hate anyone that was. Because I said that, it made people freak out even more … And this shows the two completely different environments from my middle school to my high school.”
Ramirez went to a progressive high school in SoHo. She fit in a lot better with that community, which she described as “super liberal” and “hipsters” who didn’t care what she wore and that she was bookish. “People were a lot more accepting, definitely.” Even then, because of the bullying from middle school, Ramirez didn’t trust people in high school even though she felt more accepted.
The early bullying in the seventh grade had triggered depression in Ramirez, which drive her to self harm.
On cutting, Ramirez said, “It was my way of punishing myself. I knew it was socially unacceptable.” She started on her arms. Ramirez constantly wore sweaters, even in summer, to cover up the scars. Finally, one day, she was at her allergist with her parents and she had no choice but to reveal her scars. Ramirez said, “I was like, well, this is it!”
After her parents found out, they pushed her to see her school therapist, because she had no extra time with her extracurriculars and her daily three-to four-hour commute. She stopped self-harming for a while, but continued to relapse up until 11th grade. Instead of her arms, she used other body parts like the back of her knees during these relapses. “My thought process was always that it was my body and nobody could stop me from doing anything … My self-harm seems like such a long time ago and I don’t see myself doing it again. My parents are still afraid to have sharp objects around me, but you know, I’m okay now!”
Antidepressants proved to be an ineffective treatment for Ramirez. She remembers either feeling extremely fatigued or numb while on them. Senior year was difficult for her because she was on antidepressants. “My social nature is what keeps me sane,” she says. However, on antidepressants, she felt much less extroverted than normal.
She also remained undiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder until her last year of high school. “A lot of my teachers thought, because I was getting good grades, it wasn’t possible for me to have ADHD.” The school accommodated for her learning disability, which helped a lot with her academics and social life. “It helped me feel like I am not just a lot slower than a lot of people. I am able to finish sentences and have full conversations with people, so that’s really nice!”
Ramirez also had a goal to become more honest about how she was feeling. Now, she talks her parents when she feels low, even though this worries them. She just reminds them, “This is helping me. I’m finally able to talk about it. Even though I’m still having a lot of the same thoughts I did, but not the same coping mechanisms, I am trying something.”
I asked her what helped the most in her healing process. She responded, “Just knowing that people were really worried about me. Reassuring myself that people did care was a huge part of me being able to stop that. Them finding out that I would cut again would devastate them.”
She feels happy around the people here, even if she isn’t quite feeling happy as a person. “Everyone here is really helpful and I don’t think I have ever spoken this much about my problems. I’ve been able to tell everyone. I don’t know if that’s because of maturing or because the people here are great. The people here seem really sensitive to outside experiences and that’s a great part of becoming a part of a community.” Ramirez cites Leslie Hempling as a particularly useful resource for her. She meets with Hempling once a week. Hempling helps her with making to-do lists, ensuring Ramirez attends her appointments and with talking to professors.
Ramirez closed by telling me, “The smart thing to do is always to get help if you need it. It may not feel comfortable, but there is somebody out there who will be willing to help you.”