Last week marked the end to an incredible internship at Active Minds that spanned two semesters. What I have learned in this past year is far more valuable than a simple preparation for my professional career; it provided me with the opportunity to convey my own experience with mental illness to a community that supports me.
My story is echoed by so many of my peers, of adults that I have heard from and of the next generation who are still developing. I have been battling a long list of diagnoses for over a decade now: generalized anxiety disorder, manic depression, suicidal ideation, and more. I have seen how my mind reverts to intrusive thoughts during times of anxiety quicker than my desire to change into pajamas and stay in bed during strong bouts of depression. Years of protecting my detrimental thoughts from those around me as not to burden them had led me to shut down emotionally, and even physically. I existed in my own mind and in my own world of solitude, feeling as though no one could understand the struggles that persisted me daily. I was numb, despite years of intensive therapy and psychiatry. Despite the overwhelming support and resources granted to me by those who loved me, I still felt alone.
If anything, Active Minds has taught me that I am not alone; in fact – I am far from it. From attending national conferences with hundreds of students in attendance, to hearing from families affected by suicide loss at Casino Night fundraisers, to the outpour of appreciation on simple social media campaigns that I worked on, I quickly discovered a strong and growing community for anyone with a connection to mental health.
I developed skills beyond that of telling my story. Managing store orders each day meant shipping gear to students and colleges across the country, all with the desire to literally wear their mental health on their sleeves. I wrote countless blog posts conveying my own experiences in a way that others could relate to, and in doing so was able to see outside the realm of the world of faulty misconceptions that I had created for myself. My work at Active Minds allowed me to both embrace my mental illnesses and maintain their control over me at the same time.
Messages of mental health can be found everywhere: from the news we consume to the TV shows we binge to the conversations we share on a daily basis. Rather than running from this very fact, I challenge anyone who is struggling to confront this and welcome the notion that it is ok not to be ok. It is ok to struggle and it is not a burden on anyone to reveal these struggles; if anything it makes us more human.
Being at Active Minds has taught me that I am not my mental illness, nor does it define me. Yet, I can use my story to guide others experiencing similar stories to embrace their minds all the same. Just as Active Minds has helped me in this past year, I hope to do the same for those around me, as it should collectively be done by all.