Brenda Castro

An effervescent homecoming queen and valedictorian once said to her peers, “Don’t feel guilty or give in to laziness but do something and find yourself a worthwhile goal. [...] Each experience, wonderful or horrible, shaped you. The negative ones bring you strength and wisdom. The future lies ahead to improve yourself as much as you want.” A few years later, a chronically-depressed, agender PhD student on medical leave wrote, “I wish I knew what to do. I wish I could kill myself. I wish I could painlessly die. Already. If I was hospitalized…. Ugh. I need help. [...] I want to stop hurting.” This is me.

Depression used to sound pathetic to me; I imagined that if a person put in effort in their life, they should never become depressed. As a teenager, I decided that my purpose in life was to help others, so I would always have a reason to live. Then, with my own chronic depression, my emotions were ruining my life. I tried meditating, exercising, veganism, volunteering, focusing on work, journaling, blogging, adjusting my sleep schedule, therapy, medication, crying with my friends, and so on. During one summer, I read the entire textbook for an upcoming close relationships psychology class to cope with my pain. I read over thirty books on topics such as positive psychology and acceptance and commitment therapy, hoping that someone would suggest something new that worked for me. While working towards a Joint Computer Science-Mathematics degree, I studied psychology for self-help, for my breadth classes, and, unexpectedly, for fun.

As I learned to help myself with depression, gender dysphoria, and polyamory, a friend pointed out that I had become more effective in helping others. He sparked the idea that I could use my soft skills for my career, and I realized becoming a therapist felt meaningful in a way no other job had. At a computing conference, I asked old and new friends for feedback on my desire to change careers; they all agreed I should pursue therapy. I still struggle with confidence, decisiveness, and anxiety, but, as I learned from Russ Harris, I can do something that is important and challenging even if I am feeling anxious or depressed.

As I had been volunteering on 7 Cups as a listener, I have gained further confidence in myself and my choice in becoming a therapist. 7 Cups is an on-demand online emotional wellness service. I was initially nonplussed by their rule to not give advice. If a member reached out to me with an issue, I instinctively wanted to help them solve it. Instead, by listening, empathizing, and reflecting, I am learning how to support someone without taking any power away from them. One member wrote in our conversation, “It's the first time I felt like a listener got me completely. I feel so understood. [...] I feel better after talking to you. You are one of the best listeners I encountered here.” Another reviewed me: “very resourceful listener with useful insights.”