This year has been the start of my journey with mental health issues. During high school, people would talk about how they had stress and test anxiety, and I would feel the need to agree with them. Stress and anxiety was part of the high school experience so it almost felt like I was out of the loop if I didn't agree. Looking back on it now, I don't think I really felt stress back then, or at least not like I do now. The end of senior year marked an important moment for me. The first time I physically felt my fear of failure in my body or at least that's what I thought it was. My chest felt like I had just had my heart broken and I couldn't stop crying. I came to the realization that it wasn't the test scores or GPAs that upset me, rather the possibility that others might question my intelligence. As an insecure child, my intelligence was the one area where I felt confident and my strength. It makes sense that this would also be an area of vulnerability. This situation that I will describe will sound simple and almost like it doesn't matter, but it is the primary reason for my mental health issue so I suggest keeping an open mind before you continue reading. If I managed to get an A in just one of my classes (the rest I knew for sure), then I would successfully get above a 4.0 GPA and receive a gold stole. If I got an A-, I would be at a 3.999 and I would receive a silver stole. That night that grades were finalized I found out, after calculating GPAs, that I would be receiving silver. This was because I made a simple mistake and missed one online assignment that was not worth very much. That was the night. I was so afraid that the physical display of a silver stole would show my lack of intelligence and reveal something to my peers; "she's not as smart as she seem..." This situation was resolved only because my teacher accepted the late assignment two weeks later, so I did not have to think about that again for awhile. The night before my freshman chemistry exam, I remembered that moment during senior year and the horrible weight in my chest accompanied by the impending feeling of doom. I did not sleep until 4am. The next morning I was upset at my roommates for disturbing my sleep. I came back after my 8am class to try to sleep before the exam at 12. I still could not sleep. I took the exam, failed and ultimately did not care. The mature student in me recognized that I would be able to improve, and that I did. After the exam, I was much more emotionally upset about my lack of sleep than I was about my failure. The week after that I got progressively more upset at my roommates and the little noises they were making at night or day. I blamed them for my lack of sleep and failed to recognize the obvious connection to my mental health. It was not until my roommate pointed out my constant nitpicking that I recognized this. At this point in my life, I can say that I am not a stranger to mental health issues. I've done extensive advocacy work on removing the stigma against mental health issues, especially in communities of color. Somehow, I was blind to my own issues. Somehow, in the midst of all of this knowledge on these issues, I could not see the simple truth before me. What's even more interesting is that I was always internally overconfident while I was doing advocacy work. "This would never happen to me, because I'd be able to recognize my own issues right away". "I wouldn't put off seeing a doctor or talking to someone". These thoughts all had one consistent theme: I am above this. I am here to inform you that NO ONE is above mental health issues. Our natural human inability to pay attention to all aspects of our life and our health prevents us from being able to see ourselves from an unbiased perspective. The only way to immediately recognize these issues is to reflect on ourselves. However it takes a certain extensive long term and short term reflection to even begin to recognize these issues. Even if a person has the time and the awareness to do all of this work to "stay ahead of the game", their natural socialized reaction to the possibility that they even have an issue may be denial. This was exactly what happened to me. I think some deep part of me understood and knew what was going on but it was almost too scary to bring to conscious thought. I can assure anyone reading this that the moment you consciously recognize what's happening, you can begin to clear your mind and look for help. Not knowing or not being aware feels like limbo. That moment when I realized and accepted that something deeper was going on, I felt liberated. I would recommend sitting down, just once a month and reflecting on any emotional imbalances that have occurred. Question yourself about the cause. Try to figure out exactly where it started. Then examine all of the different ways it has impacted your life. I think that doing this exercise too often may cause you to lose the understanding of long term effects, but not doing it often enough would cause you to fail to remember the important events. Find the time that works best for you. Good luck, be safe, and remember that NAMI is always here if you need anything.
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