Constantly beat up at recess and picked last for teams in elementary school, Jess felt like she was missing some quality that would help her determine which group of kids to make friends with. She noticed the other students tended to hang out with the kids who dressed the way they did. She didn’t fit into any of the groups. In middle school it was harder and she felt lonelier. Should she make friends with the kids who smoked or the kids who didn’t? There was no one she really related to.
Jess was a good student and took karate after school so at home everyone assumed she was okay. One afternoon, when she was 15, Jess was called into the living room where she was told her dad was moving out and her parents were getting a divorce. Jess was broadsided by the news. She never saw it coming. Jess immediately called her best friend, upset and in tears to confide her pain. Her friend said she had a lot of ‘especially hard’ math homework and she had to go. Jess had no one to talk to.
When she felt increasingly isolated in high school Jess bought some razors just to cut her skin a little at her wrists – to make her outsides match the feelings she felt inside. She was angry about feeling worthless and not fitting in. She took that anger out on herself. By cutting herself Jess tried to make her body match what she felt she deserved.
It all came to a head when she went to college out of state and a lot of new people came into her life. She drove a bus for work and had passengers who sexually harassed her, spit on her, threw up on the bus, and were totally disrespectful. Sometimes her college friends – those in the same dorm – would show up drunk on the bus from their night out on the town and also treat her poorly. She had confided about cutting herself to her college roommate. Gossip and disapproval spread through the friend group. She felt alone.
Her boyfriend, who really was an amazingly bright spot in her life, suddenly and unexpectedly decided to break up with her over the phone. She was on Christmas break. She drove 4 hours to his home to talk and find out why. He gave no reason and refused to talk or interact at all. Angry with herself, Jess felt hopeless and out of options. If she ended her life she wouldn’t be a burden to anyone. Her family wouldn’t have to pay for college anymore, just a simple funeral. She imagined her roommate and ‘friends’ happier without her, even doing better in school because she wasn't there.
As she rummaged through her boyfriend’s bathroom she found a lethal combination to O.D. on. Fortunately Jess did not have a weapon. As she prepared herself, a thought crept into her mind: 'If no one else is going to treat me well, then I will treat myself well.' Incredibly angry, she walked out of his house and left.
That moment eventually led her on a path to become a clinical psychologist with a specialization in depression and suicide prevention. Today, Jess is trained in QPR suicide prevention. Jess knows how all-consuming depression is. She works long hours as a counselor. She’s also aware that while an isolated hour, working one on one with a therapist makes a big difference, the rest of the hours in a busy life are spent surrounded by people who simply do not understand. Most people don’t seek counseling because that hour of ‘secret conversation’ can be associated with shame. Jess knows keeping depression secret won’t save any lives.
"I don't think anyone wants to die. At some point people see themselves as such a burden to others. And with so much anger at themselves, they feel it is the only way to make things better."
A friend said to Jess, ‘Depression sounds like a Monster! What would it look like?’ That night Jess created The Fuzzy Project to make depression relatable to everyone. Jess created a comic strip in which fuzzy is that monster who owns ‘his girl.’ She’s found a fun way to show what that inner monologue feels like. Fuzzy is attracting a community of like-minded people. Jess wants everyone to have a supportive place to go online to meet other people who relate to them. She wants a strong community so people can step out of the closet of their depression. And she wants to help people make friends, find connection and share their own stories and drawings. Community, in Jess’s experience, is the solution. Community needs to be available all the time. Jess wants to create a large network of people who can trust and reach out to each other at any time.
Visit www.thefuzzyproject.com to follow Jess’s work.