September 3, 2021
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.