By Hannah —

I’ve always felt emotions so deeply, seemingly much more than others. Anxiety found me even as a child. I’d cry hysterically to my mom because I was afraid of death and feel sick to my stomach for weeks before sleep away camp. Once my teenage years hit, the darkness of depression started to seep in. These intense emotions were frightening, and so I hid them away. I felt completely alone, but I couldn’t let anyone know what was going on inside of me. As a teenager, being seen as anything but completely “normal” and “cool” was my biggest nightmare. So I bottled it up.

Emotions never stay hidden for long. The anxiety and depression I was feeling would lurk under the surface until they erupted and overcame me. Moving away for college was the catalyst that took my depression from manageable to all-consuming. I was constantly uneasy and on-edge. Every time I tried to eat, tears would strangle my throat. My mind was berating me with insulting questions like, “Why can’t you just get it together?”, “Everyone else is having fun and succeeding, why can’t you?”, “What is wrong with you?”, “How will you ever make any friends?”

After months of fighting myself, I finally reached out for help from the student counseling services as my school. It took months to work up the courage and another month to get an appointment, but when I finally gave myself a break and accepted that I needed help, it became more manageable.

My therapist asked me ten questions, of which a “yes” to five would diagnose me with depression — I got nine. But she didn’t tell me I was crazy or wrong, instead she made me feel like it was actually completely normal and everything would be okay now that we had it figured out.

That day with my therapist was not the day my illnesses went away–far from it. It was the day I started learning how to work on my mental health. And since then, I work on taking care of my mental health every day. Just like I take care of my physical health by eating, exercising, drinking water, and seeing a doctor, I take care of my mental health by taking my medicine, using healthy coping mechanisms, and seeing a therapist when I feel I need help.

I’ve learned that everyone has mental health, and everyone has to take care of their mental health. That might look a little different for me or may be seen as more difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible. It’s a skill I had to learn and because of that I’m able to understand what others are feeling and encourage them to stay strong. What I’ve been through, and what I’ll continue to go through, with my mental health has given me my greatest qualities: my strength and empathy for others.