Why This Trial Attorney and Ex-CBS News Journalist Launched Outlier

Outlier Founder & CEO Jessica Meyer discusses how her battle with clinical depression led to her new venture

By Stephanie Fairyington
January 12, 2020

Jessica Meyer, a trial attorney and former journalist at CBS News, was diagnosed with clinical depression at age 18 and promptly put on an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), a commonly prescribed class of antidepressant. The drug helped lift her depression, which manifested in flu-like symptoms and a generalized disinterest in the everyday pleasures she once enjoyed, enabling her to earn a B.A. in sociology at New York University, a law degree from Suffolk Law School in Boston and launch a career as a journalist and attorney. But it left her feeling like a shadowy version of herself. 

Through the years, however, anytime she broached the possibility that the drug might be having a dulling effect on her cognition and energy levels, medical practitioners dismissed her, not wanting to “rock the boat” she said, by risking the potentially adverse effects of changing her medication. After all, she looked like a success story in every way — but what looked like “thriving” to the outside world, felt more like “surviving” to her inner one. 

In her late 20s, Meyer felt ready to listen to her own voice, rather than that of the medical establishment and began tapering off the drug. Once she fully eliminated it from her system (it took an entire year to wean off) she made a chilling discovery.

“When I came off the SSRI, I no longer felt like someone had been putting a sedative in my coffee every morning,” she said.

Looking back now, she assumed her constant fatigue was a natural byproduct of depression, as was her inability to concentrate and focus, which also substantially improved once she ditched the drug. “I felt like I had been on this SSRI for way too long and that it significantly diminished the quality of my life,” she says.

That experience ultimately inspired her to launch Outlier, an online magazine dedicated to challenging and complicating standard fare approaches to mental health disorders, and other forms of human suffering.

“It’s not as if I’m anti-medication, because I’m not at all,” she said, emphasizing that she just wants to offer people alternative or supplemental ways to manage their psychological struggles.

In this first interview, Meyer introduces Outlier and discusses how the site will fill a large gap in the wellness realm and offer readers critical, even life-changing, information they won’t find at more mainstream venues. 

What’s missing or just flawed about our approach to mental health?

Well, for starters, it’s not working. It’s the leading cause of disability, the numbers are skyrocketing. The number of people who committed suicide last year is more than the number of people who died by car accident.  With all our advances, there is still so much suffering and there shouldn’t be.

There’s a lot of misdiagnosis and mistreatment. There’s a real desperation from health care professionals for new treatments– drugs only work for about a third of people up to a year.

I’m not pushing an agenda or my answers to these problems. I’m trying to sift through the noise and get people reputable and credible information. I just want people to know the truth so that they’re not just blindly trusting what their physician advises. 

What was the most effective form of self-healing for you when you were first diagnosed with depression?

I think the first step is learning to talk about it. It seems so simple and so cliché, but it’s 1000 percent true.  Telling my story, it’s a vulnerable thing, right? I’m well-practiced now. It’s vulnerable. It’s not always comfortable for me. It can be really frightening, but I believe in doing it. I’m a strong proponent of other people doing the same. 

We heal from hearing each other’s stories. The late great poet Maya Angelou once wrote: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Yes, I believe in the power of storytelling. If it means making you feel better about yourself or if it means your mind is open to a view you didn’t consider before, I’ve always been mesmerized by a story’s capacity to do that. 

In that spirit, do you plan to publish a lot of personal narratives on Outlier?

Yes, we want people to be able to come to the site and learn about different medications, different treatments and the latest data on what smoking marijuana does to you, for example, but I also want the content to be compelling and inspiring and help people feel better about what they’re going through and less alone. 

And lessen the stigma around mental illness?

Absolutely. These are invisible illnesses. There’s no test to prove you have something, or to show people the extent to which you are suffering. That’s what makes them so challenging to diagnose and treat, and it’s what makes it challenging for people to empathize with or have compassion for. The problem with that, is that we need compassion to get better. I promise you, the strength of your support system will directly correlate to your recovery. And how does one build that if they don’t feel safe to talk about what they are experiencing, even with their loved ones?

You’ve come a long way since your diagnosis 13 years ago. What are you doing today to stay on top of your mental health? 

I’ve incorporated self-care into my life so much so that I don’t even recognize it as self-care. Going to the gym, I do yoga, I meditate. I reread David Burns book all the time, it’s like my bible. I use a lot of tools. I believe in therapy. I believe in trying everything. See what works for you. 

And I’ve built a network of close friends and family who unconditionally love and support me and allow me to be completely vulnerable and feel completely safe– that’s critical for me.

Gabrielle Magid, the founder of Stronger Than Stigma gives a really great Ted Talk, where she gives some really great advice to people who have loved ones who are struggling: “All you have to do is show up; it’s the most undervalued job in the world. Don’t give up on that person, they need you.” 

About the Writer:
Stephanie Fairyington is a writer based in New York City. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN, TheAtlantic.com, Time.com, NewRepublic.com, and other publications. 

Outlier Disclaimer

This site is for educational purposes and not a substitute for professional medical care by a doctor or otherwise qualified medical professional. The information provided by Outlier Magazine is on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services.

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