Social Worker, Taylor County Human Services
Living with depression, anxiety, OCD, and eating disorders

Debbie Merkel lives with several mental health conditions including Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and OCD, and has also survived suicide attempts. But Debbie does not let those labels or events define her. Through therapy, practicing self-care, and accepting herself just as she is, Debbie is now using her education and experience to spread hope and help others.

Debbie’s Story

What is your mental health condition and how has it impacted your life? 

I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and have a history of eating disorders. To me, these are just words or labels. They do not define me. But, until I received the right treatment, they consumed me. I bought into the stigma and felt ashamed. For decades, I denied and hid having these conditions. Now, I feel empowered. I am no longer ashamed and have the ability to relate to others on a much deeper level. I’ve been there—I know. And I’m using my education and experience to help others.

When were you first aware of your condition and what was your most difficult time?

As a young child, I felt “different” from everyone. My first suicide attempt occurred when I was in eighth grade. I continued to struggle until my freshman year in college when I was diagnosed with depression and bulimia, and prescribed an antidepressant.

The most difficult time for me occurred after my mother died. I started to experience severe anxiety attacks, the depression worsened, and the eating disorder returned and morphed into anorexia. I hit rock bottom after I was chaptered to a psychiatric unit following a near fatal suicide attempt.

What help or specific strategies helped you to get well and move to stability? 

I began EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy and started practicing self-care, which for me, included setting healthy boundaries and expectations for myself.

Having previously been an “overachiever,” which I learned was to make up for my feelings of inadequacy and not being “good enough,” I began accepting myself just as I am—as an imperfect human being. I started to appreciate my qualities instead of focusing on my perceived flaws.

I stopped “following” certain people or what I call “fake accounts” on Facebook and Instagram, and filled my feed with real, body-positive, and life affirming people and accounts.

I have forgiven those who have hurt me AND I have forgiven myself. I practice self-compassion and I allow myself grace.

I keep a gratitude journal, which I refer to and reflect on when my thoughts start to get dark. I make sure to get plenty of sleep and rest. I engage in activities I enjoy such as painting, singing, spending time with family and friends, and especially with my beautiful granddaughter.

Instead of aligning myself with diet culture—restricting and feeding into my eating disorder—I take the anti-diet/HAES “health at every size” approach (I highly recommend reading the book, Health at Every Size by Lindo Bacon), and accept and appreciate myself.

I also found hope.

What words of encouragement would you give to someone struggling with a condition similar to yours?

Always, always, always have HOPE.