The “in-between” of mental health

Mary Walker ‘18

 

I remember walking into the therapist’s office for the first time in 5th grade. I really had no idea where I was or why my mom was dragging me to talk to some lady to help me with my “fear of storms.” All I knew was that something was wrong with me. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when I was ten years old. It sparked from my severe panic attacks from thunderstorms and tornadoes, then grew from there. I didn’t fully understand my anxiety and how everything connected. I didn't know why I got so nervous going up to talk to a new group of friends, or when the room would get too loud, or when I would have to go somewhere by myself. I always thought something was wrong   with me — that it was just me experiencing this anxiety. I didn't have a full comprehension of my mental health until I reached high school.

 

The transition from St. Anne’s to Colorado Academy was extremely smooth, with the help of C-Team field hockey. I instantly clicked with the girls on my team, who later became some of my best friends. But after the season ended and the back-to-school jitters had settled, I was left uneasy with who I was. I found myself trying to be someone I was not, squeezing into this box of the “status quo” and terrified to do or act differently from anyone around me. This was my anxiety telling me that I could not be different; that I was weird if I wore a crazy outfit or acted a certain way at lunch. I spent every day worrying about what people thought of me. It was draining. I lost all motivation. This constant anxiety sent me into a depression towards the end of my freshman year. I knew I wasn’t okay. I knew I needed to reach out, but I didn’t really know how.

 

When the topic of mental health comes up, we immediately rush to the conclusion of suicide prevention. I had the resources if I was suicidal, but that didn’t even cross my mind. On that scale, I was fine; but in reality, I wasn’t. It took a while to understand that it was okay for me not to be okay, but finally acknowledging that I wasn’t okay was the best thing I could have ever done. I eventually told my parents that I was struggling and started my journey to recovery. It was a long and excruciating and by no means perfect journey, but it was a step forward.

By the spring of my sophomore year, everything was starting to look up. My depression and anxiety were manageable, but then I tested positive for Covid-19 in March of 2020. I lost all contact with my friends for three weeks at least, and I had my setbacks. Being alone with my thoughts wasn’t easy (I don’t think it is for anyone), but it helped me grow. I did the hard work during this isolation, leading me to understand who I truly was and that it was okay for me to be unique. Because I had started talking to others about my mental health, a few had reached out to me. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t alone in this journey. I decided to start an Instagram page (@a.little.love.and.smiles) to do something with my voice and my story. I shared a video of me playing my ukulele (something that kept me sane throughout quarantine) and captioned it with a bit about my struggles with my mental health, saying it’s okay not to be okay. The amount of love I received from my friends and family was unreal. Through quarantine, I have continued to grow my page, spreading awareness to these prevailing issues teenagers face, and shining light on the parts of mental health that aren’t talked about as much. Many have reached out to me, feeling compelled to share their stories along with mine, ultimately helping us get one step closer to ending the massive stigma that surrounds mental illnesses. Remember, it’s okay not to be okay. One in four adults experiences a mental disorder. You are not alone. There are many professionals, both at school and outside, that are more than willing to help. It’s okay to reach out to someone you feel comfortable with to ask for help. We are strong. We are resilient.

When Mike Turner ’96 was airlifted out of Bolivia in 2008 in a military cargo plane, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever be going back. He had spent the past year in Bolivia as a volunteer in the Peace Corps but had to leave when the Peace Corps officially pulled out of the country. Once back in the U.S., Mike decided to go to graduate school at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs which propelled him into a career in climate change and international development. He then moved to D.C., to work for a climate change think tank before moving back to Colorado and starting a consulting business. For the past seven years, he has been working for the Colorado Energy Office, currently as its Director of Building Innovation and Energy Finance. In 2015, Mike and two friends from the Peace Corps went back to visit their communities in Bolivia and came across startling facts. In Bolivia, only 10% of young indigenous women vs. 81% of men go onto a secondary education. A number of conversations later, he and those same friends started a nonprofit called the Chaco Fund. The Fund’s goal is to “unlock the potential of young Bolivian women by empowering leaders, promoting self-determination, and creating advocates for rural communities.”  Their approach centers around women’s education, sending Bolivian women to higher education and providing for tuition, room and board, laptops, career development and job opportunities. The ultimate goal is that these women will use their education to benefit their communities. And it’s been working. Currently, the Chaco Fund supports four scholars who will bring leadership qualities back to their communities in meaningful ways. For example, hydrology student Maribel hopes to one day guarantee the water supply of her home village. Eventually, Mike hopes to be able to expand the Fund to more scholars and additional communities.

$22,000. That’s how much Parker Stava ’17 raised in only ONE week at Regis Jesuit High School for “Wish Week”.  Wish week is a week’s worth of daily fundraising events to serve the Make-A-Wish mission and help grant wishes to kids suffering from critical illnesses. As a member of the Make-A-Wish Youth Leadership Council in Colorado, Parker advocated for months to implement a “Wish Week” at Regis.  Things stalled because of the pandemic but in March of this year, he got the go-ahead to move forward, with only five weeks to plan and a $10,000 fundraising goal. He and a few other students got to work – they recruited sponsors, organized “themed” days throughout the week, complete with games and activities, created “wish kits” (merchandise and schwag to sell as part of the fundraiser), crafted opening and closing ceremonies, and shaped marketing through social media and community newsletters to raise awareness. By the end of the week, Parker and his team of eight people had surpassed their $10,000 goal with over 60 donors online and $5,500 from sponsors. Watch the closing video to see a very special guest and hear more about Parker’s amazing success!

 

At St. Anne’s, there were few spaces where Dan Lovato ‘10 felt most in control, powerful and safe – the music room with Mrs. Gilbert; drama with Mrs. Casperson; and English with Mr. Amend. They caught the theater bug from Mrs. Casperson and ended up starring as the lead in almost every play. They were the only member of the tap-dancing club and a key member of the jazz band. These spaces meant a lot to Dan, who identifies as non-binary, queer and mixed-race and now uses the pronouns they/them. Unfortunately, in their early years, that identity often made Dan a target. As a result, Dan said in an interview with VoyageLA, “Resilience was a trait I developed early and cultivated for most of my life.” Dan has channeled that resiliency into poetry and performance, used as forms of self-care. At the young age of 25, Dan has a successful career in writing, performing and poetry, a trailblazer for those who may not see themselves on stage or on screen. They want to make sure that everyone knows their voice matters.

After St. Anne’s and high school at Kent Denver, where they were captain of the Speech and Debate Team, Dan Lovato ’10 decided to attend Whitman College in the Northwest and double majored in theater and politics with a big focus on performance and queer theory. Dan is currently living in Los Angeles working towards their MFA with a focus on playwriting and acting. They hope to eventually lead a bicoastal lifestyle working in New York and LA after completing their masters. This past year has also been good to Dan; despite the pandemic, they have been able to expand their audience through a weekly virtual POC Open Mic Night. Follow Dan on social media to see how their story unfolds in the years ahead @pastichequeen.

When Bryn Taplin ’17 started handing out her lino-cut prints at school, she was just doing it for fun. They became so popular a friend suggested she start charging for them; eventually, Bryn created her own Etsy shop. Her first customer was in Oregon and she’s sold over a dozen prints, stickers and patches since opening (she’s even sold a Beatles poster to Mr. Amend – pictured here). Bryn is currently a senior at Colorado Academy, pursuing her interest in the arts; she loves graphic design and digital is her favorite medium. Bryn draws inspiration from artist Eva Malley looks back fondly on her art classes with Mr. Sigler at St. Anne’s. Before going to college at University of Vermont, Bryn plans to take a gap year in Banff as a ski guide for six months. She also hopes to travel around the U.S. and work as a freelance graphic designer. We can’t wait to see what’s next for Bryn!
After spending two years at Gonzaga University in Washington, Willis Wood ’96 moved back to Denver and took a year off. He needed to regroup and reevaluate what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. After a little soul searching, Willis decided to apply to Loyola Marymount’s entrepreneur program within its business school and graduated a few years later with a degree in business administration and minor in entrepreneurship. Willis eventually moved back to Denver in 2007 after spending time in LA and started his own company, Trade Show Emporium, a trade show exhibit design and production company, which he sold last year. In 2013, Willis started another company, RiNo Sign Works, with business partner Brian Dudzinski. Their first client was The Source in the RiNo neighborhood. Brian recently moved to Salt Lake City and opened up their second shop. They currently employ 12 people and have worked with several St. Anne’s-related businesses including Mythology Distillery and Footers Catering. Willis doesn’t think of his product as a sign but as a piece of artwork, creating signage that customers consider an extension of themselves and their craft. Their work covers everything from the design, creation, fabrication, installation and permitting of the signs. When he’s not working, you can find Willis with his wife Carolee and golden doodle, Jackson. Jackson and Willis are part of the Canine Airport Therapy Squad at DIA interacting with travelers to calm their nerves before flying. And Jackson even has his own Instagram account (@dood.its.action.jackson).
When he stepped onto the medical school campus at the University of Colorado as a member of the Class of 2014, Tom Seibert ’99 didn’t expect to know anyone. He was a zoology major at Miami University and originally, didn’t think about entering the medical field. That was also true of Brooke Thurman ’00, an anthropology major at Northwestern and of Christie Osborne ’99, who double majored in chemistry and English literature at University of San Diego hoping to pursue a career in the music industry. Sarah Jenkins ’00 majored in neuroscience as an undergraduate but took a few years off before starting medical school. Coincidentally, these four St. Anne’s alums started medical school at exactly the same time, in exactly the same place. They were all part of the Class of 2014 at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Sarah and Brooke studied abroad together during college and then became medical school roommates and now their husbands are good friends. Christie and Tom both went to Mullen High School but hadn’t really kept in touch since graduating. Now all four are living in Denver and working in the medical field. After completing a residency with another St. Anne’s alum, Jen Hissett ‘92, Tom spent time practicing wilderness medicine in Utah and now works in emergency medicine in Aurora. Sarah spent her residency at UPenn and is now a hospitalist and assistant professor at CU’s medical school. Christie spent her residency in pediatrics at the University of Colorado with Brooke’s husband, then did a fellowship in pediatric infectious diseases and is now finishing a second fellowship in pediatrics critical care medicine (pediatric ICU). She is also expecting a baby in March. And Brooke, who just had her second child a few months ago, works for Kaiser at Skyridge Hospital as an obstetrician/gynecologist. They all look back fondly on their time at St. Anne's with positive memories from their teachers, many of whom are still here today.

As a physician, “I appreciate everything the community is doing to help hospitals,” says William Comfort ’99 who works as a doctor in the emergency room and ICU in Greely and Fort Collins hospitals. After graduating from St. Anne’s, Will went on to Kent Denver and then majored in chemical engineering at CU Boulder before going to medical school at University of Colorado Denver. He spent his residency in Detroit before moving back to Colorado in 2014. He looks back on his teachers at St. Anne’s as some of the best he’s ever had and says he almost felt like a “celebrity on campus” because of his grandfather, John Comfort, Head of School from 1980 to 1994.  John “set a clear example that a person should use their ability to help the people around them. He helped so many kids during his career; I am very proud to be his grandson.”

 

And Will is following in his grandfather’s footsteps by helping others as a doctor on the front lines. The northern Colorado hospitals where Will is working do have PPE stocked but he’s had to reuse his N95 masks (unheard of a year ago) and the hospitals have had to double up patients in ICU rooms with patients being transferred from two states away. Fortunately, Will received the vaccine in December (pictured here).

 

When he’s not working, Will enjoys skiing and snowboarding at his favorite resort, Winter Park. He is learning to SCUBA dive and is a big Broncos fan. Will also loves taking his dogs to visit all of the dog parks around Denver. Currently working on plans to pursue humanitarian work outside of the country, Will is hoping to join Doctors Without Borders in the near future.  Will is one of St. Anne's many heroes during the pandemic and we thank him for all his work.