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World Mental Health Day

It’s World Mental Health Day, and that provides a great opportunity to be able to talk about mental health openly, and reflect on what the current world of mental health advocacy looks like. I still find myself in awe of how far humanity has come regarding openness about mental health; 50 years ago talking about mental illness was taboo, and even 10 years ago it was a touchy topic. Now, I am not here to say that we have succeeded in making mental health a topic that is completely transformed from what it once was. Stigma still plagues much of the conversation around mental health, and we have a long way to go, but for the sake of positivity I wanted to spend today reflecting on how I have seen the topic become more normalized.

When I was young, I honestly do not remember much talk about mental health. Sure, I was taught about emotions, but openly discussing one’s struggles emotionally and mentally were rare. The attitude toward mental health was much more dismissive, with many simply thinking that emotions were temporary feelings that came and went based on situation. Mental illness or chronic struggle was, in my experience, not taken seriously.

But as I got older, science began to truly discover the nature of mental health, and people began to realize the importance of talking about it. I was in middle school when I had my first real lesson on mental health in school, and it was life changing. For so long I thought that I was one of the only people struggling, as nobody was ever open about it. At that point, I learned that I wasn’t alone, and many other people have difficulties with their mental health too. From then on the conversation became more and more common. Suddenly I felt like I could confide in friends, and it wasn’t such a scary thing to say.

Now, mental health is a bigger conversation than it ever has been. A lot of people I know will openly discuss going to therapy (something I was always incredibly ashamed of), and posters from the high school guidance department are scattered across the school, urging kids to get help if needed and reminding us of the importance of taking care of your mental health. In health classes, its education is equal to that of physical health education. The topic of mental health is no longer something that people feel has to be kept secret like it was; humanity is much more accepting of those who struggle with mental illness. Like I said, there are still a ton of problems with how mental health is viewed. I don’t know if there will ever be a time when mental health stigma is completely eradicated or people are completely comfortable with discussing it, but I think we as a community have made an incredible amount of progress in advocating for mental health discussion and support.

Prom After the Pandemic

I’ve always been nervous about prom. Ever since I was young, I just couldn’t envision myself in one of those dresses, taking pictures, and especially having a date. When the pandemic started, I honestly assumed that we likely wouldn’t have a prom. The prom for the seniors that year was cancelled, and with nobody knowing how long we would be quarantined to our homes, prom seemed out of the question. As my body image became more negative, I doubted I would even feel comfortable enough to go, anyway.

Alas, this year school did open as normal, and in the fall it announced that there would be a prom. As it came closer, people scrambled to find a date to go with. Because we had been in online school since our freshman year, there was not an opportunity for many to explore relationships or meet people through classes. As such, many people ended up going with people they didn’t even know. For a while I feared that this would be my fate too; it seemed like I had no choice. But a few months before the prom, I actually met someone through a mutual friend. We began talking and are now dating, so I was able to get a prom date secured without having to go through the awkward process of asking my friends to play matchmaker, or reaching out to people I didn’t know.

Still, the entire process was strange. My friends and I had never attended something like a prom, as all possible formal dances we could have gone to had been canceled because of Covid. Many people were also nervous about such a big gathering, especially because we hadn’t experienced a party of that size in years. Prom is already a stressful event for a lot of people, and the ramifications of Covid limiting our social interactions over the past few years definitely didn’t help. Many of the people my friends went to prom with ended up separating and going to sit with other people, and everyone mostly gravitated towards the people they knew. It was an interesting experience, and though I am definitely not a prom type of person, I am glad I went.

After the night was over and I had some time to absorb everything, I began to think about the impacts Covid probably had, even after everything had returned to normal. Almost everyone I knew posted pictures on social media, which in itself isn’t abnormal, but the way in which people view its importance has definitely changed. I think because social media was the only way that people were able to communicate or see what other people were up to for so long, it has made social media an even bigger thing than it already was. Because it was what we used to present ourselves for so long, its importance to people has stuck.

The Increase in Teenage Mental Illness Needs to be Talked About

When I checked my inbox this morning, I noticed that I had received a few emails from the New York Times about how mental illness in teens is soaring to drastic levels. I was surprised to see a newspaper as big as the Times not only acknowledging this major problem, but writing extensively about it and even sharing the stories of some teenagers. Now, I’m certainly no stranger to teenage mental illness; for me, while this major issue is upsetting and disheartening, it is all I have ever known. Even so, I felt my heart drop when I read the accounts from people as young as 13, talking about their struggles with depression, anxiety, self harm, and suicide. I know first hand what that pain can feel like, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But I think the rawness of the article is a good launching point to bring more attention to this conversation.

There are plenty of things that can be named as the cause of the rise in teenage mental illness; stress about college, the pandemic, social media, the list goes on. It’s likely that all of these aspects are contributing to this increase. And while finding the cause for this situation is incredibly important, it’s also important to remember that the goal of spreading awareness about this issue shouldn’t be to find something to blame for it; it should be helping those who are struggling and being there to support and advocate. There can be a million different reasons why someone develops mental illness, and it’s different for every person. Mental illness is such an individual experience for everyone, and I worry that if this increase in mental illness is attributed to a single factor, in can feel invalidating to others and make people less motivated to explore other potential reasonings for this trend.

Another major fact (and one that is often not discussed) is that many more people are reaching out for help, and getting diagnosed. Though stigmas around mental health today are certainly a major issue, it used to be much more significant. As such, many people didn’t seek out treatment and therefore were not considered “mentally ill”. Fortunately, it has become more accepted to get help for your mental health, and more people are being accounted for. While I think that this is not the full reason for why we are seeing such an increase in teenage mental illness, it is entirely possible that there were also many people struggling previously that were simply not included in statistics as they hid their suffering.

While I think that this and everything I mentioned before (school stress, COVID, social media, etc.) have significantly contributed to the increase in teenage mental illness, I want to take a moment to focus on the people behind the statistics. It’s easy to read an article about mental illness impacting a demographic and become desensitized; after all, most of the time it is discussed through numbers. But I believe that this information only proves that we need to make a bigger effort to support individuals. As mentioned, mental illness comes in different forms with different causes and experiences for everyone, which can make the task of working towards decreasing rates of teenage mental illness daunting. And no doubt, it is; but helping even one person, though it may seem insignificant in context of the major issue, can change someone’s life. It may only subtract one person from the thousands struggling with mental illness, but small change is change nonetheless.

My Thoughts on Trauma

I hear the word “trauma” a lot these days. It’s become somewhat of a popular way to describe an event, and is used more loosely, just in normal conversation. If i’m being honest, the word used to scare me a little; every time I heard it, my stomach dropped a little, and there was an uneasiness that would settle over me. That feeling was even worse when someone described events in my life as traumas, and I felt almost unworthy of that label. I thought that trauma was just for war veterans or people who survived an accident, and comparing things that happened in my life to that seemed ridiculous. But as time went on and my interest in mental health grew, I began to acknowledge trauma and really try to understand what it means. It can be easy to become confused with all the different google pages, blog posts, and online influencers all seemingly having different definitions of what trauma can and cannot be. But I think that really understanding what trauma is and how it has impacted my life has been one of the biggest steps I have made in my mental health journey.

I still feel really uncomfortable talking about the things in my life that I have considered traumas, as to me it feels like it isn’t significant enough, or somehow doesn’t qualify. Regardless, I want to talk about it both for myself as a way of processing and for other people, as I hope that sharing my own traumas can help people begin to acknowledge theirs without guilt or shame. I know trauma is different for everyone and thus people view/deal with it in different ways, but these are just my personal experiences and what resulted from them.

I think my biggest trauma has been my experiences with my father. Now, I know that trauma is normally thought of as a singular event, but it can also be from a time period or relationship with someone. In 2018, I essentially ended my relationship with my dad; as such, I have had a lot of time to think about how living with him and our relationship impacted me. My parents got divorced when I was very young, and after that we started seeing him on our own once a week and every other weekend. Everything that happened with him is very complicated, so I won’t get into all of it, but it was really difficult. He was a very angry man, verbally and emotionally abusive, and as my psychiatrists/therapists say, likely has narcissistic personality disorder. I cannot speak for him or how he views his behavior towards my sister and I, but looking back on my childhood now and learning to see the situation for what it was, it really was traumatizing. I remember grabbing my sister’s hand whilst running to my room, locking the door behind me and standing in front of her as a shield, as we both cried in fear. I remember the sound of the thuds as he punched the wall or the table, or the roars that sounded almost inhuman. I remember being nervous to be at home alone with him, and the change in his eyes when I did or said something he didn’t approve of, and my stomach dropping because I knew what that shift meant. I know that no child should ever have had to go through that; but if I’m being honest, it took me a log time to get there.

Trauma is interesting, in that for a lot of people it is difficult to accept. It’s hard to say “That changed me forever,” or “this was really something bad that happened to me”. I had to work through years of manipulation and gas lighting to understand what happened to me wasn’t normal or okay. It isn’t normal to freak out when you hear one of the songs your dad used to play on guitar on the radio. It isn’t normal to be absolutely terrified of almost any male authority figure, and it isn’t normal to hate yourself the way I was taught to. In therapy I have began to unpack the connection between my low self esteem and my relationship with my dad. It was then that I really began to realize how much that experience changed me as a person. I know that is common with trauma; a lot of people talk about the ways in which it changed their behavior and thought processes. But I think, especially for someone like me, it’s so incredibly difficult to accept that something like that changed you. I will admit, I am an incredibly stubborn person; I hated the thought that he changed who I was, and I felt like I let him.

I dealt with this in a way that I think may be a little controversial, but i’m going to say it anyway: I stopped telling myself that my traumas made me stronger. Because, in all honesty, it didn’t. It broke my heart, gave me countless sleepless nights, and trust issues. Instead, I say that I was the one who made myself stronger. I picked up the pieces, I put myself into therapy, I taught myself how to trust again. I worked to make myself stronger. Saying that trauma “made you grow” or “it happened for a reason” are, in my opinion, invalidating. Surviving trauma is not something that anyone deserves, and I think it is important to give people credit for healing, instead of the trauma itself. If you have dealt with trauma or are going through something traumatic, just remember one thing: YOU are the one that is surviving, and being strong, and that in itself is amazing.

How Traveling Changed My Life Forever

My trip to Italy when I was thirteen was my first time out of the country. Prior to that, I (of course) wanted to see other parts of the world, but I thought that people were exaggerating how much traveling changed them. And, maybe, some may say that is what I am doing now. But for me personally, the places I have visited have not only been an enlightening, educational experience, but I can honestly say that they were a vital part of me starting my road to recovery and wanting to get better.

Since Italy, my family and I have gone on a lot of other trips, which I am so incredibly thankful for. I have now visited London, Paris, Hong Kong, and even Thailand, to name a few. Each place means something different to me, as I discovered new things about both the world and myself in each one. While I only spent two days in Hong Kong (the majority of which I spent vomiting and feeling sick), it was the first time I saw a culture so different from my own, and I was fascinated by how other people lived. Of course I enjoyed the beautiful views and the city, but what I look back most fondly on was simply watching others. I remember the old man selling beautiful, intricate bowls in a small stall lit by lanterns and the children playing games that I had never even heard of. I think that going there made me a better person not only for myself, but for others; I became educated on a culture that I had no real understanding of before, especially as I live in a town with a minuscule amount of diversity.

We then flew to Thailand. There are so many things that I could go on and on about: the beautiful beaches, incredible hotel, breathtaking nature, etc. But I want to focus on the things that really had an impact on me, both good and bad. Thailand, even more so than Hong Kong, was a place unlike anywhere I had ever been or have been since. Yes, some areas were beautiful and well taken care of, but a lot of it wasn’t. The buildings that lined the streets were in shambles and I had never seen so many stray dogs, and children wandering the streets alone yet barely old enough to walk. I remember driving in the car and looking out the window, and feeling a pit in my stomach. I have always been an empathetic person, but seeing things like that in real life has an effect that I am still unable to put into words. I think that the best way to describe this kind of realization is that it was like being hit while asleep. It pulls you out of this fog you weren’t even aware you were in, and leaves a bruise that, when looked at, reminds you of the event long after it occurred. But it wakes you up; it makes you alert and hyper-aware of your surroundings, and that isn’t a bad thing. Thailand was the strike that opened my eyes and made me realize how big the world is and how different my situation is from so many others. From that point on, I became more aware of how lucky I truly was, and that I had the power to not only help others, but help myself with the resources and opportunities that I had access to.

My most recent trip to Paris and London, however, may have been the most influential for me personally. While Paris was not my favorite city, I experienced a lot during my time there and created memories that are pillars in my vault of happy memories. I went with my immediate family as well as my grandparents, and it was the last trip we all went on before the pandemic began. As such, it is the last trip we had before my mom got sick. For this reason alone it is a vacation that I will treasure forever, as it is the last time my family and I were free of the pain sickness has caused us over the past few years. Since COVID began it had been a struggle for me to look back at times like these without bitterness. It was so painful to think of a time that we were all truly happy and unrestrained, and it hurts to know that my mom will never be able to go back to that state. But now I am working on looking back more fondly, and focus on all of the good memories I have of Paris, without letting them be tainted by the reality of our situation now. I have learned how important it is to be able to look back on my life without feeling sad and longing for better times, and to instead be thankful that the happy times occurred, and to appreciate them as memories.

For me, visiting London was one of the most pivotal points of my life. I know it sounds incredibly dramatic, but for me it had a profound impact. I can start by saying that I was absolutely enamored with the city as soon as I stepped foot into it, and still am; something about the architecture, environment, people, and energy just clicked with me. Whenever I am in a bad state mentally and need to go to a comfort space, I think of my time in London. I can remember being so genuinely happy (something that, especially during that point in my life, was a rare occurrence), and strolling through the streets with stars in my eyes. It is now a core memory of mine and one I hold on to when I need to be reminded of why I keep going. When we went to London I was in a terrible state mentally; I had recently lost my best friend, finalized the separation of my relationship with my father, and was deep in a depressive episode. I was a freshman in high school and things were starting to really accelerate, and I felt unprepared for this new chapter in my life in which I would begin the transition from childhood to adulthood. Sometimes it was hard for me to find a reason to put all this effort into my life- I felt so lost and had no idea who I was or what I wanted to do with my life, so it seemed pointless to try. It was in London that this began to change. For the first time, I saw a place where I could imagine my future being good. I could imagine myself living there, and it sparked a giddy excitement I was unfamiliar with. I looked at young women walking down the street with beautiful trench coats and people sitting in cafes drinking coffee and looking out into the square, and I felt motivation to get there one day. I wanted to be that. Suddenly there was a motivation to keep putting effort into my life, a goal to strive for that I genuinely desired. There was a reason to keep going. I let myself become absorbed in this potential life, and romanticize a little. I knew it was incredibly unlikely I would ever actually move to London and even less likely that I would ever live this impossible reality I had created, but it was something that made me excited for my future. Looking back, I think it was more about the possibility that my future could have. I was so set in the belief that my future was going to be just as miserable as my current situation that I refused to believe anything else was possible. London helped me see that my future isn’t fated to be terrible, and that I can make my own path to create one where I can thrive. That trip was a major factor in what led me to the decision to actively make an effort to improve my mental health and begin the road to recovery.

Because of the pandemic I have not been able to travel much over the past few years, but it is something that I still have a passion for and is a part of who I am. In the midst of COVID I got a large map tapestry for my room, and put stickers on every place I have been. Even though it’s difficult to travel now, I can look at that map and reminisce about all the wonderful places I have been and remind myself of how much I have evolved as a person from traveling.

My Holidays and COVID

The holidays have always been a really interesting time of year for me. When I was younger it was a lot more difficult, as I would switch between staying with my mom and dad, not to mention my anxiety around getting gifts and uncomfortable family gatherings. The past few years, however, my feelings surrounding the holidays have changed completely. Now I spend them with family I love and enjoy seeing, and have grown to treasure the warmth and coziness the season brings me. COVID has definitely had an impact on the time, however, both in my personal life and the holiday atmosphere for everyone.

While we are incredibly lucky that we didn’t lose anyone, my family has been forever changed by COVID. My mother and grandmother (and likely my sister and I) all had it. But the hard part came later; when my mom wasn’t getting better after, we found out that she has “Long COVID”. In a brief summary, the virus impacted her body long term and she has chest and heart problems, as well as autoimmune conditions. This has been really difficult on myself and my family, especially around the holidays. I never really understood the significance of people wishing good health on others; of course you want people to be happy and healthy, but it never seemed like something that I would need to wish for. That’s changed now. I can’t describe how it feels to see someone you love struggling with sickness and not being able to do anything about it; all of the joy of the holiday season was dulled for me last year. We were able to go on vacation for winter break, which I hoped would lighten everyone’s spirits. But sickness doesn’t go away for vacations. Seeing my mom be unable to do things she previously loved, like sunbathing and just relaxing, and the aftermath of how bad she felt after destroyed me. Witnessing her struggle along with my other family’s reactions to it (as well as my problems with eating and body image at an all time high) made last year’s holidays really depressing.

But this year, I am being more optimistic. While not healthy, my mom is feeling better, and she has gained some of herself back. I am going to visit my grandparents in Manhattan over break, which i’m excited for; seeing family during this time has always been what made it so special for me. And now that I am older, I go out more on my own and explore the city by myself. The holidays have also served as a time of reflection for me, so this time with myself lets me look back on the last year, both the good and the bad. Like most people, I always want to be better in the new year (though, most of my “resolutions” never really end up how I want..) and reflecting before the year ends helps me think about what I want to improve in my life. This year has been full of ups and downs for me, but i’ve grown a lot. My goal is to focus more on balance rather than specific things I want, as I feel that one of my biggest weaknesses at the moment is the lack of balance in my life.

To me, the holidays are both a time of reflection as well as a new beginning. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that the pandemic has changed the way we view ourselves and others, and this time of year I think it’s really important to reconnect. I’m looking forward to ending my year with the people I love most, and beginning a fresh, new year full of possibility.

What Self Care Means to Me

I think that “self care” is a phrase that has a really interesting place in our society. It means something different to everyone, yet the word has been used so much that its true purpose has been dulled out. Face masks advertising themselves as “an essential part of a self-care routine” and content creators pushing health products (and often times disordered eating) as all you need to do to practice proper self care has made the concept feel more like a marketing device, rather than an important practice. My personal self care journey first started with beginning to break down that perception, and find what self care means to me.

In my experience, there are a few types of self care that people practice. The first is the one seen everywhere; the physical pampering and healthy lifestyle. Many people feel that this is what self care is, and that by doing this their mental heath will suddenly improve drastically. Granted, any form of self care doesn’t automatically work after one time; it is a journey to find what works for you. People also use journaling and meditation to take a step back from life and focus on themselves and their thoughts for a little while. Others exercise or cook a healthy meal. There is nothing wrong with any of these practices, as all are focused on improving how you feel, either physically or mentally. Self care is about taking time to do something for yourself that makes you feel good, getting in touch with who you are so that you can be the best version of yourself.

For me, self care includes a lot of these different aspects. It has certainly been a journey to find what works for me, and I went through a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms that I thought (or pretended) was self care. This was really hard to overcome, as the line between what makes you feel happy and what is actually good for you is thin. It’s difficult to identify, as something that releases some serotonin and makes you feel good for a little can be hurting you in the long run. Though my mechanisms didn’t involve drugs, alcohol, or any really dangerous behavior, there were still things I did that harmed me. Finding healthy, positive practices that genuinely brought me joy were an essential part of my mental health journey.

Currently, I am making an effort to set aside Saturdays as a “self care” day, where I can give myself a break and focus on me. I am trying to balance my practices for both physical and mental health. I will certainly put on a face mask, do my nails, and take a long shower (who doesn’t love a spa night?), but I will also try to do things that make me happy or recharge my battery. A lot of times I will be absolutely drained after a long week, so setting aside a day to reset is really important for me. I try to listen to myself and my body to supplement whatever aspects of me that may be lacking. If I had a busy week and not a lot of sleep, I try to allow myself to physically relax, or even take a nap if I feel I need one. Sometimes constantly being around people can be exhausting for me, and especially after a period of constant socialization or relationship stresses, I will take time to be alone and in the company of myself; I find that this not only makes me feel better, but it also makes me more patient and caring towards others if I am not burned out from socializing.

In my opinion, self care is something that needs to be prioritized in our world. Taking time to tend to yourself and become more in touch with your body and mind is important to being your best self. Self care can reduce stress and provides some time to let yourself unwind, which a lot of people (including myself) find difficult. Being in a better place with your mental and physical heath can also change how you treat others. Stress can cause us to be irritable and lash out, creating tension that just creates more worry; self care can help to relieve some stress and make it easier to socialize. For me, it has been a lifesaver in terms of trying to avoid total burnout. While the routine is ever-changing, learning about myself and spending time to take care of both my mind and body have made a significant improvement for my mental health.

College Prep: My Experience so Far

Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of the day I would go to college. I was really unhappy with my life and longed for an escape, a place where I could start fresh. Fantasies of my future self finding a place where I fit in and was happy gave me hope that I would turn out okay, and that things will get better. I am now a junior in high school, and genuinely preparing for college. The experience thus far has taught me a lot, and sparked reflection on myself and my past.

While I am incredibly excited to go to college and begin my adult life, there are a lot of new, daunting fears that I have never faced before. I have never had to make decisions as large as this, and worries about the future were never as intense. Will I be happy there? Will the major and eventual career I choose be the right one? Will I be able to support myself, both financially and emotionally? It’s overwhelming. I have been waiting for this chance for years, and I am terrified that I won’t make the right choice. The atmosphere regarding college in my social circles does not help to ease the anxiety. Lists of dream colleges and talk of all the activities people are doing to put on their transcript are common topics of conversation. It’s a never-ending cycle of competition; no matter how many activities you do, or how well you do on an ACT, someone is always there to one-up you. Sometimes I don’t even feel like I qualify for college- who am I to think I am preparing well when I have friends with straight A’s in 5 AP classes, captains of their sports, and leaders of their clubs? I self criticize constantly, and lately comparing my journey with that of my peers has been the fuel to the fire of insecurities I feel about myself regarding college.

Preparing to head off to college has also made me take a look back at my childhood in a way I never had before. While it was not a terrible one, I definitely wouldn’t describe it as “good”. For most of my life I have viewed my childhood with bitterness and contempt, desperately longing to just grow up and finally have the independence I so desired. Honestly, up until about a year ago, I still viewed my childhood negatively and with a sense of relief regarding it being over. Now, that is not the case. I think preparing for college was the first time the realization dawned on me that I was going to be an adult, and that I wasn’t a child anymore. This spawned a strange emotional journey that I am now beginning to realize is grief. I find myself reminiscing about the innocence and carefreeness of my childhood, and wishing I treasured it more. I regret not enjoying that time, as I will never be able to get it back. I grieve the little girl that was so focused on growing up that she didn’t realize how important her current stage was, and I grieve the moments from my childhood where I did allow myself to be a child, and the fact that I will never again be able to experience that. I remember being told by people to enjoy being a kid and take advantage of it, but I never believed them. Now, I can see just how right they were.

I am still processing my emotions regarding heading off to college, and am knee deep in preparation. Even so, I am working to stay positive and remember my worth throughout this process. It can be hard to acknowledge your triumphs sometimes, but it is so important. I am trying to remember that I am my own person, and doing my best. Practicing self-care and reminding myself of my strengths are tools I am using to stay positive through this experience. After all, there is a large part of me that is ecstatic to go to college. The fresh start and endless opportunities I dreamed of are still a reality.

Mental Health Stigmas: A Pressing Issue

TW: Discussion of Eating Disorders

The stereotypes surrounding mental health are no doubt engrained in our society; when most people think of eating disorders, they envision an emaciated teenage girl, with pale skin who doesn’t eat at lunch. The common image of a person with schizophrenia usually consists of crazy, paranoid behavior caused by people seeing things. You have probably heard someone call a person a “psycho”, or “bipolar”, as a response to someone’s actions. All of these common thoughts and stigmas that surround mental illness perpetuate the false truths and assumptions people make. It is one of the major reasons that so many people feel shame about their mental health or refuse to seek help.

I can say from first hand experience that stereotypes and stigmas can really impact self-esteem. I am someone who does well in school, has hobbies, and tries hard; I have also had severe depression since childhood. I can’t tell you how many times someone has invalidated me or just didn’t believe me. “But you’re so happy!” “Well you seem like you’re fine,” and “But you act like a normal person?” have all been responses I have received. It’s incredibly isolating and I felt like something was even more wrong with me. At times when I have been in the midst of a depressive episode, the attitude towards me completely changed. It becomes less “but you function just fine” and more “what happened to you?” when a sliver of my real struggle shines through.

The worst effect stigmas had on me personally surround people’s perception of body image issues and eating disorders. I am not underweight; I don’t look super skinny, I don’t workout all the time, and there are many times where I DO eat (sometimes too much). Even beyond the voice in my own head invalidating me, things others have said to me or done haunt my thoughts constantly, and reinforce the way I see myself. A lot of times it was not intentional, and I try to remember that. But being told that you should be working out more or need to be healthier, that maybe you shouldn’t wear that because it makes you look “boxy” or “wide”, add fuel to the fire that is my inner thoughts.

The problem is not that people are genuinely mean-spirited or purposely trying to invalidate someone. In fact, many don’t even realize what they are saying is being interpreted in that way. The problem is with how we as a society view mental illness and what that looks like in a person. Mental health comes in all shapes and sizes, and looks completely different for every individual. We need to begin the process of deconstructing the stigmas we have grown accustomed to and develop new perspectives on not only what mental illness looks like, but how we perceive and even more so treat people who are struggling. With a little more kindness and understanding, the topic of mental health can become less of a taboo and more of a concept essential to helping and understanding yourself and others.

How COVID-19 Has Affected My Life As A High School Student

On March 18 of 2020, I was in biology learning about photosynthesis. I was 14 and a freshman in high school, studying and meeting new friends in this strange new environment. After all, it had only been a few months that I had been in high school, and I was in the midst of discovering who I was and what this new chapter of my life would be like. An announcement came over the speaker informing us that we would be having a two week vacation due to COVID-19; with many of our ideas of COVID coming from news that we rarely read, the school erupted into cheers and excitement. That day I went home and relaxed, blissfully unaware of what was to come.

I never went back to school that year. As cases increased and the world went into quarantine, so too did I. Suddenly I was thrust into a situation completely foreign to everyone. Online school, being unable to interact with people, and everything being shut down so quickly felt surreal. I spent my days staring at my teachers through a screen, in the confines of my room, alone. I was completely shut off from everything other than my own family for months. As was the case for many, the pandemic changed me forever, in both good and bad ways.

While at first the lockdown seemed like an introvert’s dream, it soon became unbearable. Yes, I no longer needed to worry about where to sit at lunch or dealing with social drama, but I was stuck with something worse: My own thoughts. School gave me an escape from my own mind, making me too busy to delve into my problems or actually let them destroy me. But then school went away, and all I had was me. I developed disordered eating and my depression became unbearable. I let my mind and its thoughts consume me and take up my life. I barely talked to friends, not having much motivation to do so. It was honestly really tough. Isolation is never healthy, but for me it was the catalyst that sent me into a downward spiral.

However, there were definitely some positive things that have come out of my experiences. I developed new hobbies like making jewelry and sewing, both of which are creative outlets for me and healthy ways of dealing with stress. I also grew a lot as a person. As much as the pandemic harmed my mental health, it made me who I am today and I am so thankful for that. When I went in, I was an immature freshmen who was sheltered and naive. From my experiences dealing with my own thoughts as well as with my mom’s sickness and the state of the world, I have become an adult (in the maturity sense). Sure, I was always told I was “so mature for my age”, but the pandemic made me put things into perspective, become more responsible, and discover who I truly am without the influence of anyone. I don’t think that I would be at the maturity level and understanding of myself that I am had the pandemic not happened. 

I’m 16 now, and just started my junior year. We are back in school full time and other than wearing masks, things are back to normal. I am still adjusting back to this new world and my new self, but I am hopeful and optimistic. I learned a lot through experiencing the COVID 19 pandemic, both good and bad, but I am taking those lessons with me as I continue my life and recovery.