To my younger self: “You have to continue to believe that there is a reason for everything in life — because there is.”
I wish I could go back to my underclassman self and tell her this, so that she could understand that life lessons are waiting to be learned with every new experience. I wish my younger self knew that the people you meet, whether they vex your spirits or complete you, end up shaping the person you become. I wish my younger self understood that adversity makes you stronger and wiser. I wish my younger self believed that everything happens for a reason. I wish my younger self knew these things, so it would make the most challenging times of her life just a bit easier.
For months on and off during my freshman and sophomore year, I struggled with depression (yes, the mental health advocate has dealt with mental illness too). Everyday, for months on end, I felt like I was invisible. I was gliding through each day, not caring the slightest bit about what was going on around me. I isolated myself from my friends, making up excuses for why I missed Flex Times and lunches. I stopped going to swim practice, I lost weight and I simply struggled to get out of bed each morning.
I knew I had depression. I knew the signs and symptoms of a mental health issue – in fact, it was my job to be educated and look out for my peers; however when it came to getting myself help, it practically seemed impossible to practice what I preached.
I thought, “Why me? Why is this happening to ME? I am the one who helps others, not the one who feels knocked down herself.”
You see, that’s the thing about mental health—it can affect anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world. If you’re facing a mental health issue, it is imperative that you get the help you need and take care of yourself first. That’s what I did.
During second semester sophomore year, I started going to therapy every week. I began tracking my mood, working on getting my weight back up and focusing on my well-being for the first time in a very long time. I lightened my work load, participated in the activities I actually liked doing and began spending time with the people who would lift me up, not tear me down. After four months, I began to feel like myself again.
I know now that if I hadn’t dealt with my depression, if I hadn’t gone to therapy and if I hadn’t spent time reevaluating my life and the people in it, I would not be a fraction of the person I am today. I recognized that I am my best self when I make time to do what I love and when I am surrounded by those who support me for me. Rather than shying away from challenges, I learned to face them head on, work through them to the best of my ability and in the end I will learn from the experience. Everything really does happen for a reason, and I am grateful for it everyday.
This past year, I reflected a lot on my journey and the progress I’ve made. It is only now that I realized how far I have come.
I know I am not the only teenager who has struggled with mental illness. I also know I will not be the last. This is why, as a member of the Teen Wellness Committee at the Children’s Health Council (CHC), we have spent this past year collecting narratives from teenagers (like myself) about their experiences with mental health. Specifically, we wanted to be aware of how friends, parents and educators have either helped or hindered one’s mental health.
We collected quotes, narratives, data, self care tips and letters from contributing authors and compiled it into a book titled Just a Thought: An Uncensored Narrative on Teen Mental Health. The quotes are honest, the the lists of do’s and don’ts are accurate, the letters are powerful and it is all uncensored. We wanted your stories to be heard.
I know that each of you have your own story. You all have faced adversity and have been impacted by mental health at some point in your life. Know that we are listening to you. We value your story and want the people you surround yourself with to support you wholeheartedly.
We hope this book not only raises awareness about the importance of wellness, but also inspires a conversation about mental health. Most importantly, we hope this book shines light on the fact that you are not alone and that there are resources to support you.
To read Just a Thought (and the letter I wrote to my younger self), email [email protected] and remember, everything in life happens for a reason.