(Trigger warning: This project includes quotes surrounding mental illness and addiction.)


ental illness is experienced, not seen. Those who struggle on a daily basis feel alone because their illness is internal. This project is meant to represent those with mental illnesses who feel like they have to hide.

Four individuals reached out to The Daily to share their experiences. This project discusses depression, anxiety, addiction and recovery. In order to fully show mental illness, we need to know what it looks like. It looks like this:

Morgan Bryant: creative media production senior


organ Bryant, creative media production senior at OU, was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder her senior year of high school. She decided to take medication for her mental illnesses after talking with her therapist.

“It’s been like an up and down kind of thing. Some days are better than others, like with anything.”

Bryant grew up in Norman, where she graduated from Norman High School. After high school, she attended Oklahoma City Community College for a year and half before starting her spring semester at OU in 2017.

When I was leaving high school, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t think I was going to make it to the end of high school. Me having the transition in my symptoms is what made me feel like I could handle going to OU.”

Bryant’s mental illnesses manifest in different ways. High-stress situations, like working on homework, can set off her anxiety. Driving to her job in Oklahoma City can make her think too much and cause her to be depressed.

“It kind of manifests when I’m alone. When I’m not surrounded by people who can distract me from it. I have had some pretty down moments when I’m stuck in my car.”

“Smoking was something that I tried to do to manage the anxiety, and unfortunately, it did help. That’s why quitting has been a bit of a challenge.”

Her room at home is always messy. At one point, she described it as “hoarders-level of mess.” Her mental illnesses would not allow her to clean her room due to lack of energy and enthusiasm.

“It wasn’t even like I had an emotional attachment to those things — I wanted to get rid of all of it. I just didn’t have the energy to do it. You don’t let your living space achieve that level of disgusting unless there’s something terribly wrong.”

Sierra Kihega: studio art junior


ierra Kihega, a studio art junior at OU, has dealt with clinical anxiety since she was around 10 years old. She was diagnosed with depression as a junior in high school. She did not realize her mental illnesses were becoming an issue until people in her life noticed changes in her demeanor.

The people who are meeting me now are meeting a completely different person than I would have been four years ago.

Social situations and group settings are when Kihega’s mental illnesses present themselves the most. She is not always sure how to talk to people, so she becomes anxious when she thinks people get the wrong impression.

“I’m really grateful for the things that I have and the opportunities that I have, but I can’t help that I have clinical depression or I have anxiety. Those things kind of follow me everywhere, and you don’t really know when you’re going to have like a panic attack or like a depressive episode.”

Kihega’s mental illnesses also manifest when she spends too much time alone. She can get anxious and self-deprecating if she thinks too much.

“It feels like you just have this wet blanket on your chest, your body just feels so heavy, and walking around day to day with that feeling on your chest and your stomach is like — it’s like being wrapped in like a layer of plastic wrap.”

Kihega knows the importance of talking about her mental illnesses, and she thinks expressing how she feels can help normalize the topic and reduce the stigma.

“It shouldn’t really seem that it should be a chore to do the things that you love, but kind of pushing yourself back into that makes you feel a lot better than you would even realize. Giving yourself some sort of outlet.”

Kelsy McMeans: finance senior


elsy McMeans, a finance senior at OU with only three semesters left, has been dealing with anxiety since the seventh grade. She had a panic attack during the spring semester of her sophomore year of college that led to a clinical diagnosis of generalized anxiety.

“I let all those issues define me, but then learning what it was and doing more research and realizing so many people struggle with it, it kinda gave me a little bit of peace about it.”

While she still struggles with her illnesses, getting a diagnosis allowed McMeans to explore treatment options in a non-judgmental way. She relies on her friends and family for support and she talks to a therapist once every two weeks.

“I think it’s important to find people who also go through the same thing because as much as other people try to understand it, it’s hard to understand that if you don’t deal with it.”

McMeans’ panic attacks can be triggered by situations that are out of her control. Whenever she is sitting in a row she has to be on the end in order to have an escape route. A social person, McMeans struggles to find a balance between wanting to be around people and wanting to avoid situations due to anxiety.

“For the longest time, I thought of myself as less than because of everything that I was dealing with. I thought that I was damaged goods. I was like, ‘why am I like this?’”

McMeans looks at her right wrist if she ever needs some reassurance. A tattoo reads “You are not your mind,” and it serves as a constant reminder her mental illness does not define her.

Just because I have some chemical imbalance in my brain or I’m prone to panic attacks, that doesn’t define me. I’m so much more than that. It’s something I’m proud of. Just how far I’ve come.

Phoenix Patten: non-traditional student, one-year lecturer Spanish


hoenix Patten is a one-year lecturer of Spanish at OU. He is 44 years old, has a Ph.D. and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety 20 years ago.

“I just wanted to die. I didn’t want to live.”

At a particularly down point in his life, Patten was presented a situation in which he could use methamphetamine. He was so depressed that shooting up meth was a relief.

“I saw myself making plans that would open a space up in the future to make it easy to access drugs — methamphetamine in my case.”

April 8, 2018. Patten took muscle relaxers, drank a couple vodka cranberries, and fell asleep on Monday night. He woke up Wednesday morning. After friends stepped in and tried to get help, Patten realized he needed to be heavily treated, so he went to rehab.

“There are tools and things that you can use to help you feel normal. Everyone has a right to feel normal and have a normal life.”

Patten sees a therapist at Goddard Health Center, is now off antidepressants, and takes medication to stop his meth cravings. He frequently looks down at his arms and reflects on the times there were needles in them, but he no longer has the urge to shoot up.

“I haven’t felt this normal and clear-headed and articulate since like the early 2000s — like it’s been, I feel like I have my life back.”

Going to the gym, interacting with people at the grocery store and even teaching his Spanish classes reminds Patten of things he used to dread. He is no longer scared of what people think or how people perceive him.

“You have a right to enjoy your life. You have a right to not be afraid. You have a right to not be depressed.”

Photos and story by Caitlyn Epes

Web design by Paxson Haws

Photos and story by Caitlyn Epes

Web design by Paxson Haws