Meet Cory Elisabeth.
Cory is the owner of Koen Design. Established in 2015, Koen Design is an interior design company that focuses on simplicity and playful theme in their design. Many of her clients are Indonesia’s up and coming startups, such as Taralite and Berrybenka. However, in 2016 Cory was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and over the years suffered from bouts of depression even in the midst of leading and managing her budding design company. Now, after two years, Cory feels she has recovered from her anxiety and depression with help of her professional counselor.
KALM felt honoured to have the chance to sit down and talk to Cory to talk about her journey to recovery from her depression and anxiety. Both KALM and Cory hope our conversation can shed more light into the topic that is still often considered as taboo in Asia.
KALM: Hi Cory, do you mind telling us a bit about yourself?
Cory: Hi. My name is Cory, I’m an interior designer. I was trained as an architect, but what I do now is I have my own interior design company. I’ve been doing this for the past three years.
I guess I can say that I’ve recovered from depression. I’m not sure if 100% recovery is possible but I do feel that I’m healthy and I’m doing okay now.
Thank you for the introduction, Cory. So let’s start our interview. Firstly, KALM wants to know what made you finally realised that things were going out of control?
I think it started way longer but I didn’t know. But I noticed the biggest transition was when I returned from the U.S. in 2012.
So the reality is that I’ve been having depression for the past six years but I didn’t know it until three years ago when I decided to seek help because I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to build a company but I didn’t want to jeopardize my own health for the company. That’s why I sought help.
I didn’t know about my depression or anxiety until I sat down with my counselor. When the counselor diagnosed me, she said I was struggling with depression and anxiety. Mostly anxiety, but there were some symptoms of depression, too.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of trying to recover out of your depression and anxiety?
I remember taking some time to stop but that wasn’t three years ago. It was six years ago.
The first time I felt like I had depression I actually stopped for an entire year where I didn’t do anything in particular. It was 2012. But then I remember it was the New Year’s Eve of 2013 that I basically just look back and said to myself, “ I didn’t do anything this past year. I need to pull myself together.”
So, I got a job – two different jobs, actually. So on 2013 and 2014 I worked. But the real issues themselves weren’t addressed until I started my own company and felt that I needed to take responsibility of my own health. When I was working, I can slack off. I can still chill. Even if I didn’t do my responsibilities I would still be okay because it’s a company and there’s a team. But, starting my own company, I know that I have to take responsibility for everything. Things that I do or didn’t do will have an effect to the company.
So, back then my support system was my leadership team at my church whom I can talk to about my depression. At that time they didn’t know what depression was like. So they didn’t give me time-up or anything, basically I just did my responsibility as is. One of them was the pastor. He actually met me once a month. That didn’t help much because he didn’t understand what depression was. He was just accompanying me to talk and see how I was doing. He was just trying to care.
Another support system was my very close friend at church. She was the one who told me, “Why don’t you seek professional help?” I guess that was the turning point. It was a bit hard going from talking to a friend to seeking for professional help. I thought I didn’t need that. I thought I could just talk to a friend or somebody.
What was the process like trying to get the professional help your friend advised you? KALM know looking for a psychologist is not as easy as looking for a general practitioner. What steps did you take?
Basically, it was from reference. I had to open up to a few people about my depression, and they would come up with references for me. The next thing I do was doing background checks on them. I used LinkedIn, online reviews, Google. I had to go through the fee as well. From there, I narrowed them down by using my common sense and find the one that I see might fit with me. Then I just gave it a shot.
I specifically looked for psychotherapist, or a psychologist, only because I didn’t want to take medications. My psychologist later told me that she would refer clients with more severe conditions like bipolar disorder to psychiatrist because medications will be needed for their recovery.
Can you tell us more about your experience meeting a professional counselor for the first time?
When I first met my counselor, I already felt comfortable talking to her. So basically, in our first one-hour session, the entire time she listened for 50-55 minutes, and only talked for the remaining 5 minutes. From there, she was able to identify what was going on, what I struggled with, and what triggered my anxiety. Since in the span of three years I didn’t seek any help I was still able to go up from down, she assumed that I can still help myself. I guess that first meeting made me feel really comfortable because she just listened and observed, instead of trying to solve my issues.
The second time around, she pointed out to me what her finding was by evaluating our last session. She said something like,
“Okay, remember in our first session you said this and it causes your anxiety and depression. It occurred again, which means that it is your trigger and you have to watch out for that. You may experience episodes of anxiety and depression until you learn to adapt to it.”
I remember thinking, “Oh! I didn’t know that!”
In our next sessions, she would mention something like, “Remember you said this and it worked out? Have you ever tried that again?”
I said, “No, I have not tried that again.”
and she would reply, “Well, why not try that again?” and it worked!
So, I guess my counselor did a very good job at listening and pointing out what works and doesn’t work. What has made it more helpful was that there were no particular set of medicine or equation or chemistry that would definitely work. She just told me to figure out what works for me because she didn’t let me be dependent on her. She wanted me to train myself to be healthy and provided me with the tools to get there.
Very nice! Can you tell us more about what are the things that works and helpful for you?
There are a few things. So my counselor understands me and help me figured out what works for me. She then reinforced it for me to do them.
So she would say, “Okay, remember when you’re anxious and panic-attacked? Tell Henry – he’s my fiance, by the way – to stop you and just breathe.”
So that’s what he would literally do when I have my panic attack, he told me to stop and just breathe.
For my depression it is a bit different. It is more self-condemning so she told me to just let it all out on paper. She told me,
“Think of it as you are punching someone in the face but this time do it to the paper with all your anger and frustration. Do whatever you want with that paper.”
So I would really dump everything on that paper. Afterwards, I don’t even remember what I write anymore, so it helps me get rid of the bad thoughts and emotions. It’s like if I linger on those negative thoughts it will still be there but when I put it down on paper, it goes away.
Another interesting thing I noticed is that my depression usually occurs in the morning and anxiety at night. So you can see that my productive hours is the time in between. That’s when I told myself to do most of my work. My gameplan for anxiety at night is that I must not go to bed past 12. When it is nearing midnight I will have to take some melatonin and lie on my bed.
So, overall, what worked for me is having structure.
So, Cory, how often do you meet your counselors?
I first met my counselor every 4 months. After I felt better it becomes once every 6 months. However, now that I am almost getting married I meet her once a month. But sometimes I do find that monthly meetings aren’t helpful because it made me think about it too much.
She also said if I have a problem don’t necessarily contact her right away. She wants me to first handle the panic and will follow up with me weeks later. This way I can process it first. She is not the type that give on-call service but she does schedule her appointments by sense of urgency. A suicidal client can schedule just days after.
Sometimes she also monitor me through online chat. So for example,I would text her, “I’m having a difficult day,” and she will asked what happen so I can tell her my story. She would then say something like,
“Okay, why don’t you calm down. My next free schedule is ….”
One time when I texted her that I feel I can’t even get out of the house because of my depression she responded by saying,
“Okay, for the next 15 minutes why don’t you try to get out of bed? Just sit down. Then within the next hour, why don’t you try to get showered? Do you think you can manage to just get to your car?”
She broke it down for me to small chunk of activities that I thought to myself, “Yeah, of course I can!”
Afterwards when I see her in person we would make a game plan.
She would say, “ Maybe the next time this happens when I’m not around, you can make a timeframe that works for yourself to slowly get out of the house.”
So I made my own gameplan. For example, in the morning when I just feel I can’t pull myself together I give 9:30 AM as my cutoff time to simply get out of the bed. Since I usually wake up at 7:30, that’s already plenty of time for me to slack off.
You mentioned that you meet your counselor more often right now because your wedding is coming up soon. It is now once a month instead of once every 4 months like when you were going through your depression. Why is that?
Preparing for a wedding is hard work and has a lot of stress involved in it. Entering into marriage life also require a lot of transitions. That is why I need help even more. For me, counseling is like going to the gym, when you have to prepare for a race, you got to exercise more often!
Wow, that’s certainly a good way to think about counseling. How about your fiancee, Henry? How has he been helpful through all of this?
I think what was helpful especially from my fiancée was that he listened.
Whenever I needed him, he listened and follow through with what I told him I need. When I said I needed space, he gave me an ample amount of space – not too long, though. He would actually check on me and ask, “Is this long enough?” and I would answer, “Okay, it’s been long enough, I can go out now.”
Space for me was important because I am an introvert by nature, so I recharge by being alone with myself. However, if I’m alone for too long I would also feel depressed because it would make me feel like no one cares or understands.
Every now and then, even after I recovered from my depression, he would still check on me.
It is encouraging to hear that getting counseling really helps you in your recovery. It’s also good to know that there were people who tried helping you. However, is there anything they do that was not helpful at the time?
I guess what was not helpful was friends trying to cure me. Saying things like, “Why don’t you just go do this and that and it will be okay?”.
Also the stigma. My depression was often perceived as laziness, “she just couldn’t pull herself together”, or, “she’s just too emotional.” People perceived me as weak because I couldn’t deal with my own stress.
What do you think would’ve made it easier?
Honestly, I don’t know.
Looking back, what would you have told a younger Cory in the past?
It’s okay to feel low at times and feel sad. It really is okay. Looking back, I think what triggered the depression was my own self-judgment. I was so hard on myself, so I led myself to depression. When I allow myself to receive my own weaknesses and flaws I am giving myself grace and not judging myself so hardly. So, yeah, be okay with whatever condition you’re at and things will be okay.
Thank you, Cory. This will be the end of our interview. Do you have any advice for those who are currently undergoing what you went through?
Don’t be afraid to seek for professional help.
The stigma is that if you seeking a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist it means you are crazy. That’s not true! It’s just being healthy.
When you’re sick, you go to the doctor. But when you’re mentally unhealthy – I’m not saying that you’re mentally ill, but let’s say when you’re not feeling well inside – you should go seek help, too!
By the time this article is posted, Cory would be happily married to Henry, her fiance of two years. Congratulations, Cory!