Just when I thought I got the hang of life, COVID-19 entered to toss up my world.

I had a plan in mind. A plan of how my life would be. Then COVID hit. I learned the quote, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” In theory, plans are usually linear, with no obstacles in sight, but life has a great way of shifting those plans by trying to throw you off your path or creating a whole new one.

I was a high school junior, waiting to begin my plans after high school. I had figured out what school I would attend, what I would major in, and what career I would have. But a year of isolation set me on a whole new path.

Tragically, COVID-19 broke out during the second semester of my junior year. What I assumed would be a long spring break turned into my senior year from home. At the beginning, I wasn’t too worried, but as the school year crept in, I couldn’t help but develop anxiety. Juggling school from home and applying to colleges became too much. With no end of the pandemic in sight and little interaction with friends, I began to doubt my abilities. I developed a sense of imposter syndrome and felt like I wasn’t smart enough to continue my education despite the grades and hard work to prove me wrong.

Being isolated with my thoughts most days was hard. All I wanted to do was sleep so I wouldn’t have to face what was going on. I would get out of bed to do online school, but even then I wasn’t me. My home and school life had blended. From Zoom calls to online homework, my eyes were fried and my mind was plagued with negativity. I had stopped contacting my friends because I had no energy to interact with them. Most of my energy went into thinking; thinking too much that it became detrimental. If I wasn’t doing online work, then I would be ruminating on the future. I worried about which schools to apply to, juggled FAFSA as a first-generation student, and dealt with rejections from scholarships. This took a toll on my self-esteem and mental health. It would be months of crying and staying in bed before I reached out for help.

Initially, I did not ask for help because I didn’t think I was a candidate for it. I assumed I would push through and be okay once a few days passed. But that wasn’t the case. My mental health only got worse and I noticed that my school was promoting their mental health services. Yet I did not reach out to the emotional support team. I thought I had to be at “rock bottom” to ask for help, but I learned that is not true. It is important to prevent the worsening of mental health just as much as it is important to ask for help when at “rock bottom.”

I couldn’t take the negativity anymore. I was tired of crying and it was time for help. I received help from a therapist I was referred to and was grateful that I was able to receive help for the anxiety I experienced and still experience (but not to the extent that I did before finding help).

As a first-timer in therapy, I assumed there would be a quick fix. But I quickly learned that it is a process that takes time. There are ups and downs and that is okay. There would be days where I thought I was “fixed” and there would be days where I would cry during the sessions.

Over the months, I worked with this therapist to shift my perspective and value myself more. If I get rejected, instead of seeing it in a negative light and taking it personally, I see it as me putting myself out there which is a step towards leaving my comfort zone. If I have anxiety about the future, I try to be more present by interacting with others and focusing on what I am doing at the moment. I control what I can and remember not to stress out over what is out of my control.

A formula someone special taught me was E+R=O, meaning Event+Response= Outcome. We can’t control the event, but we can control our reaction to the event which equals the desired outcome.

As excruciating as this year has been, this time has opened my eyes to the importance of mental health. For me, anxiety isolated me and made me feel like I was on my own, but I learned that I am not the only one. Many others go through this too. Mental illness doesn’t care who you are or where you come from, it will strike either way.

During this time, Vogue Magazine came out with videos of Kendall Jenner discussing her anxiety with mental health professionals. Whatever opinions people may have about Ms. Jenner, I found the videos to be informative and useful for my own development. Other key celebrities have come out to speak about their own struggles such as Naomi Osaka, legendary tennis player who received backlash for withdrawing from the French Open.

Hopefully, this year can help educate others to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage others to seek the help they deserve. So many people have spoken out about their mental health, which I hope will change how society views those who are battling some form of mental illness/disorder.

I want to give thanks to Kody and Johnsen for being flexible this year. As my first year in The kNOw, I missed quite a bit of meetings due to my personal battles, but they were kind enough to let me have those days. Developing a healthier mindset did not happen without help, so I give thanks to my family, school staff, and teachers for pushing me to rise above the mental prison I had put myself in.

Michelle Gonzalez (she/her)

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