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Mary Anderson

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Depression A

 

Mary has called Washington Heights home for over 39 years. It’s where she pursued her career in nursing, raised her daughter, and evolved into the community leader that she is today. 

But before Mary was teaching classes, organizing volunteers, and helping her community get fit and eat nutritious meals, she worked on herself and her ability to handle and cope with the stress and trauma that life threw at her. Her desire to help others and give back to her community came from a long struggle with depression, one which she overcame through the support of friends and family, therapy and treatment, and a sense of purpose to her family and community. 

Volunteer with the YUM (Your Upper Manhattan Produce Program) at Isabella

When Mary’s daughter was a young girl, Mary was a single, working mother, raising a young child on her own. She felt overwhelmed by the ongoing changes and pressures in her life, including her demanding job as a psychiatric nurse. Ultimately, her stressors at home started affecting her work performance leading her to resign. 

Mary remembers not feeling like herself during this time, she says “I wasn’t eating a lot, I was very irritable. Without emotional, physical, or financial support at home, it became difficult for me to function on a day-to-day basis. I knew that I needed someone to talk to.” 

Frightened by her depressive and suicidal thoughts, Mary sought out therapy. With the rest of her family living upstate, being present for her daughter – both mentally and physically- motivated her through these tough times. When looking back at these difficult times, Mary admits that she likely needed her daughter as much as her daughter needed her. 

First protest at the age of 64, protesting with community activist Gail Brewer

In addition to seeking therapy, Mary got a new job, and since she wasn’t the head nurse, she was able to leave her work behind her when she went home. This helped Mary feel like “at least one thing was in place” and helped her dedicate her time and emotional energy to her mental well-being.  

Mary continued therapy for years and started on anti-depressant medication. She says that the combination of therapy, medication, and friends at her new job helped her through this hard time and prepared her for more to come. Therapy even gave her the tools and ability to create goals to successfully quit smoking. Mary thinks that therapy is a great option because it is important to have someone to talk to who is impartial, and does not view your life and your situation with bias or preconceived notions about you. 

The next few years were difficult; her therapist moved to another state and it was not easy raising a teenage daughter on her own. This caused a great deal of stress on Mary but she continued on medication and her time at therapy helped provide her with approaches to cope with the stressful situations that she encountered. Because of the foundation she laid with therapy, medication, and friendships, Mary had acquired the ability to think through stressful times with a clearer head. 

Retiring from St. Luke's hospital as a psychiatric nurse

“I’ll have occasions where I feel like I can’t handle a situation, but because of therapy, I can talk to myself and say ‘okay, you can do this, lets plan’.”

Mary also credits therapy to helping her talk about her problems and break down what causes her stress in order to create small steps to reach her goals. 

She says “if you think too far ahead, sometimes life can feel insurmountable but therapy helps break down life’s tasks into small and manageable steps.”

Mary, now retired, turns to exercise and her work in the community to motivate her and instill a sense of purpose. She’s highly involved with Isabella Geriatric Center where she is part of the 50+ Club which hosts a variety of educational events, trips, and activities including “Walking Works Wonders,” an exercise group that meets three days a week. Mary is also part of Community Board 12 where she is Chair of the Aging Committee, is a lector at Incarnation Church, part of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), and serves on the Board of Directors at Star Senior Center, among many others. These groups and activities are all free of charge and have helped Mary learn about her community and other cultures. 

Participant 50+ club's Walking Works Wonders group at Isabella

Throughout her journey, Mary has learned that living with depression is manageable. In some of her most depressive moments, she never thought that she would get better – but she did. She thinks that going to therapy is a great first step in learning to cope with depression but notes that it’s incredibly important to find a therapist that is relatable and not to give up on therapy if you’ve had a bad experience. 

She says “if you don’t bond with your therapist, it’s okay to leave that therapist and find another one.”

By sharing her success story, Mary hopes that she will be able to help others realize that depression is manageable and that there is hope. 

“There was nobody in my life that said to me, look I’ve been there, done that, this is what happened, and how I overcame it…. I want to help people who end up in the same situation that I was ... I want people to realize that they are stronger than they think.”

 

Story by Staci Carney

Video by Staci Carney

Subtitles by Juan Carlos Rodriguez

Special thanks to Jason T. Guzman for his support to make this video