Sophomore Katie Solodar overcomes anxiety and advocates for mental illness awareness
May 9, 2018
Tests, arguments with friends, worries–these are everyday stresses that almost anyone can relate to. However, when these little things started building up and overwhelming sophomore Katie Solodar, she realized that she was struggling with anxiety. At the beginning of her freshman year, after reaching out to her mom, she began going to therapy and using medication to cope with her anxiety.
“I just remember feeling like I was so stressed, and then I realized that I shouldn’t be feeling so stressed. Then, I remembered that there’s a solution for that,” Katie said. “I remember my second day on medicine because it was already a realization that this is how I’m supposed to feel and how I’m allowed to feel.”
Katie’s transition into high school added to her stress, making monthly therapy sessions and medication an integral part of her life.
“The worst was the beginning of freshman year, starting hard classes especially. I remember I would get so stressed out about quizzes that I wouldn’t eat at lunch because I’d have a stomach ache,” Katie said. “I had to learn that it was okay for me to not be extremely stressed about homework and school and that that didn’t mean I was putting any less effort in.”
As a result of her anxiety, Katie often neglected to eat healthy portions and struggled with her body image. Although Katie still faces this challenge, she now knows she is in a better place, both mentally and physically.
“During freshman year, I remember looking at pictures from Nutcracker, our winter dance recital, and just sitting there and crying to my family like ‘Why do I look like that?’” Katie said. “I’d hear whispers in the hall like ‘Is she okay? Is she sick? What’s wrong with her?’ Then I’d look at pictures from eighth grade when I was around the size I am now, and I’d want to look [skinnier]. Now that I look like I do now, I sometimes look back to pictures from last year and want to look like that, and then I have to remember how awful I felt at that time.”
Despite her progress in dealing with anxiety, Katie still struggles with comparing herself to others.
“It’s just hard watching other people who can put in no effort and not worry about anything and do good in school, in life and with friends–especially when, for me, there’s so much effort that goes into a day,” Katie said. “Not everyone is as perfect and happy as you think, and man, it was hard to realize that people who seemed perfect weren’t perfect. I realized that I don’t need to be comparing myself to people who are going through their own issues too.”
Katie wants to bring attention to the reality of dealing with mental illness and how it affects her day to day.
“I think a lot of people think that mental illness is feeling sad sometimes or feeling stressed out sometimes, but it’s more than that. The extremes are what people think is just suicide, but people get there because of the middle point,” Katie said. “The middle point is like the bulk of us. We’re usually pretty anxious and pretty downtrodden. It’s just this constant barrier. You can fill up a backpack of all of our worries, stresses and struggles, friend problems, family problems, add in your four pound textbook, a physical reminder of all the work you have to do, and it’s just–man, it brings you down. It just stays with you all day, and it’s not something that you can ignore.”
Through the hardships she faced, Katie says one of the most important parts of her healing process was reaching out to her friends.
“I think I needed all of my friends. We’re only gonna get through this if we get through it together, so find friends that build you up,” Katie said. “A lot of people, especially ones that are older than me, like upperclassmen, definitely helped me get through last year. I don’t think I would’ve made it without their help.”
By doing things she loves, whether that is being with her friends and family, watching movies or meditating, Katie strives to find happiness in her everyday life.
“I feel like our purpose is to help each other and to live in a way that makes you happy. Try to be happy, try to be content with yourself and others and with what you do. For me, that’s dancing, my friends, Star Wars and all the people that I love and that love me,” Katie said. “When I’m upset, I listen to the Star Wars soundtracks to calm down. I also love watching The Office with my sister. I’ve got a video of her laughing, so sometimes when I’m sad, I’ll watch the video of her, and it cheers me up.”
Using her experience from her own personal struggles, Katie is able to help her friends who are also struggling with mental illness.
“I have a friend that is actually me from [freshman] year. I look at her and see myself, and I can pass on what I know,” Katie said. “They say when you teach someone how to do a math problem, you know it better yourself. Because I have opened up about my anxiety and am trying to help other people, I am better on my own too.”
Along with being able to help her friends, Katie has learned that the most important part of life is to be kind to each other.
“I feel so bad for the damage we are doing to the environment and to animals and stuff like that, but I think the way that we can try to make up for that is by at least treating each other right. Together, when we treat each other right, we can work together and find that balance in life,” Katie said.
Katie encourages others who are struggling to reach out to someone and make their mental health a priority.
“Mental illness is real. Reach out to your parents, go to counseling or commiserate with others. You’re not alone, you’re not wrong for feeling like this and you do not have to be perfect in every single thing that you do,” Katie said. “Life is about balance. I think that was hard for me to learn because I wanted to perfect, but it’s just about balance. Maybe some people get 100 percent on all of their history essays. Okay, that’s cool, but I also dance five days a week, and I do theatre and a lot of other things. Don’t overwork yourself. Your happiness is more important than anything.”