When Laura Grace Dykes was 18, she found herself sobbing on the phone in her dorm room at Baylor University.
On the other end of the line her mother was asking, “What is wrong?” to which Ms. Dykes responded, “I’m wrong.”
What her mother didn’t know at that moment, but would later find out, was that Ms. Dykes had just attempted suicide.
Her parents, who were packed and ready to travel to Fort Worth at the time, changed plans and drove to Waco.
“We went there and found her pretty much a … devastated girl in the grip of deep, dark depression,” her father, Green Acres Baptist Church Pastor David Dykes, said.
As Ms. Dykes describes it, she miraculously survived. She was hospitalized in Waco and had to undergo treatment, but her journey with depression was only just beginning.
Ms. Dykes, now 35, and her father are among five people slated to speak at this year’s Peace of Mind Conference, presented by The Samaritan Counseling Center of East Texas.
This year’s theme is “Mental Health Challenges Facing Today’s Youth and Young Adults: Benefits of Early Intervention.”
“Adolescents and young adults are vulnerable on so many fronts and mental health is no different,” said Patty Garner, interim executive director for the Samaritan Counseling Center of East Texas. “That’s why we are focusing this year’s Peace of Mind Conference on that particular age group.”
Topics to be covered include legal and public policy issues facing today’s families; the increasing number of people being diagnosed with eating disorders; and the challenges specific to parents of young adults with a mental health diagnosis.
A panel of attorneys, including Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran, will answer questions about the legal matters involved for parents attempting to help their young adult children navigate today’s mental health system.
Ms. Dykes, who is mother to an 8-year-old, said she and her father plan to discuss their family’s journey following her initial diagnosis with depression and what it has been like for them as a family to live with her condition.
Once diagnosed, Ms. Dykes said there was a part of her that didn’t want to accept it. She said she didn’t want to believe that her reality had been false, that there had been a bit of insanity to her life.
That said, she moved into recovery mode quickly, with the first step being a move back to Tyler.
Her initial treatment regimen involved three days of counseling per week and regular visits to a psychiatrist.
She lived with her parents in Tyler and after several months of recovery began working at a local doctor’s office.
It took time to find the right medication, doctor and counselor, but she did, and she consistently has used medication and therapy to help manage her depression.
Ultimately, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Tyler and spent time in graduate school at the University of Oklahoma.
Ms. Dykes said she has experienced five full-blown depressive episodes in the past 16 years. She typically spends a year and a half sick and a year and a half well, she said.
Every episode is different. Some involve suicidal thoughts. Others come with extreme anxiety.
For the past few years, though, she has been well longer than ever before since her initial episode.
A huge part of Ms. Dykes journey is her family. She said they have always taken her mental health seriously and will do whatever they need to help her.
In the past this has included her mother traveling to stay with her for extended periods of time or her sister buying her a plane ticket to come home when she needed a break or a change.
It was her father who encouraged her to turn her blog posts into a book, which she did.
“Confessions of a Chronic Depressive: A Record of Struggle and Perseverance” came out last year and features a collection of her posts, providing an inside view of her experience with chronic depression.
“Writing has been very therapeutic for me,” she said. “It helps me feel less shame to talk about it.”
Beyond that, though, Ms. Dykes believes her words can help others who are in similar positions, especially those who may be suicidal.
“Talking openly I think it helps people reach out for the help they need at certain times,” she said. “I try to be a voice for people who don’t feel comfortable being a voice, but need a voice.”
At last year’s Peace of Mind Conference, Ms. Dykes read a chapter from her book. In talking with one of the organizers, she decided it would be good for one of her family members to talk with her during this year's event.
David Dykes said seeing his daughter’s journey has made him more empathetic and he has given her book to dozens of people.
“As a parent … you just love all your kids and you love them unconditionally, and you hurt when they hurt,” he said.
He said the entire family was there to protect Ms. Dykes and let her know they were going to walk her through the recovery process.
“We’ve never given up hope and never give up on her,” Dykes said, adding that he defines hope as “Having Only Positive Expectations.”
Presently, Ms. Dykes is in a time of transition. In August, she moved back to Tyler from Tacoma, Washington, a change she thought "would help me reform my life in a way that would help promote balance.”
So far it is working. She has been at a full-time job for about three weeks, is about to move from her parents' house to an apartment and is meeting new friends and reconnecting with old ones.
“I am happier and healthier,” Ms. Dykes wrote on her blog. “I am more productive and more content with myself. I do still have days where I can’t stop asking myself, ‘What am I doing?,’ but they are fewer and farther apart.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Peace of Mind Conference
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Green Acres Baptist Church CrossWalk Conference Center, 1607 Troup Highway
REGISTER: Admission is free because of sponsors, but online registration is required
Ron Honberg – The senior policy advisor for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will speak about the legal and public policy issues facing families today
Sara Upson – This registered dietician will talk about the increasing number of people being diagnosed with eating disorders
Mike Veny – A man who has overcome a lifetime of mental health challenges to become a professional drummer and one of America’s leading mental health speakers
Laura Grace Dykes – Will speak together with her father, Pastor David Dykes, about the challenges specific to parents of young adults with a mental health diagnosis
David Dykes – The father of Laura Grace Dykes and pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church, will speak together with his daughter about their family’s journey.