Students reflect on their struggles with mental health

May 9, 2018

Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are widespread among high school students. In fact, one in five kids in the U.S. experiences a mental disorder. However, due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, it often goes undiscussed. The following students share their stories of dealing with various aspects of mental health, showing that mental illness can impact anyone.

Sophomore Tony Morse gains positive outlook from struggles with anxiety and depression


Lizzy Calvert

Hanging out at a park, Fern Ridge junior Tori Owens, alumna Adina Flowers and sophomore Tony Morse laugh together. Whenever Tony feels upset or down, he goes to his friends who are his support system. “Now that I’m trying to get better, I feel like I can go out and do things I want with my friends, but sometimes I’ll be freaking out the whole time,” Tony said. “I’ll be with my friends, and they’ll be like, ‘Tony, calm down.’ I realized that having them there with me while that’s happening, while the anxiety is going out of control, definitely helps me.”

After dealing with anxiety all throughout his childhood, sophomore Tony Morse came face to face with both the anxiety and depression he experiences when someone reported to the school that he was self-harming in sixth grade. After that, he started going to therapy and using medication, along with trying to start opening up to others.

“Sixth grade is when I realized what I was going through. I definitely have dealt with it my whole life, especially the anxiety. There’s never been a time where I don’t have anxiety; it kind of just lives with me,” Tony said. “My mom talked to me about it because she struggled with the exact same things, and she still does to this day. I probably will for the rest of my life because it doesn’t just go away.”

With his anxiety weighing him down, Tony found it hard to open up about his struggles.

“I realized I used to not talk; I used to keep everything inside, which you really shouldn’t do. That comes with my anxiety because you really don’t want to talk, especially about your problems. My anxiety will overcome and be like, ‘You can’t do that.’ If you don’t talk though, and you just hold it all inside, one day it’s just gonna all come out. I’ve definitely experienced that, and I’m glad that now I’m able to be open up and talk to people because it really helps.” Tony said.

Although he at first struggled with opening up to his family, they play an important role in his process of dealing with mental health.

“Ever since [sixth grade], they’ve known, and they’ve been a big part of helping me. They’ll ask, “Are you ok? You seem down.” They’re always making sure I’m okay, and they’re always making sure they’re doing everything they can to make sure I’m in that happy place. Definitely having that support, especially in my house, helps a lot,” Tony said. “I think a lot about how if I didn’t have that kind of family things would be a lot different, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten through all the hard times. They definitely impacted me positively in this part of my life.”

Despite the support from his family, Tony continued to battle anxiety and depression, with middle school only magnifying his struggles.

“In middle school, I could never go to school. It was a huge difficulty for me with my anxiety. I just couldn’t walk into the building, and I couldn’t be around people. I missed a lot of school, and I just couldn’t put myself in that atmosphere. I feel like middle school is a rough time for everyone, but for me, middle school was the worst because that was when my mental health was at its worst. I’d get to first hour, and I’d call my parents and ask them to come get me,” Tony said. “I don’t think it was school as in learning because I love learning, and I love the idea of academics and getting your education, but just the atmosphere of everyone around me, all the eyes looking at me and all the people–I just could not put myself in that situation.”

Struggling with self-harm throughout middle school, Tony has now found better methods to deal with his mental illness.  

“It’s like an addiction. Once you start, you can’t stop, and it can’t be justified. I don’t really know if I was using it to cope, or if I was using it for some other reason, but it was definitely a really hard thing to overcome. When you get into a routine of that, you can’t just stop. It was a huge struggle for me all the time for years and still to this day, but I’m a lot better with it now,” Tony said. “Back then, I would look at myself, and I didn’t think I would ever get through that, but I’m really proud of myself that I was able to overcome it. That was such a huge part of my life and a huge issue I had, but to this day, I haven’t [self-harmed] in a long time.”

Along with mental health struggles, when Tony came out as transgender in middle school, he faced judgment from some of his peers and struggled with gender dysphoria, but also embraced finally being able to be himself.

“It definitely was a huge weight coming off my shoulders because I felt like I could be happy, and I could express myself and be who I am. At the end of middle school and beginning of high school, I really struggled with it because back then, people didn’t really know what [being transgender] meant. When people don’t understand something, they’re scared of it, so it was really difficult for me to see all the people around me look at me differently and hear all the things that people were saying about me,” Tony said. “Before I started testosterone, I really struggled with my appearance and how I show to other people, and I definitely went through really bad stages with how I dressed. That was part of it because I was like, ‘I don’t know who I am.’ A huge part of my mental health was not passing and having kids at school be mean to me.  Back then, my mental health was solely based around me being transgender and dealing with [figuring out my identity]. Because I was dealing with other things too, that definitely put a huge toll on me.”

If you don’t talk, and you just hold it all inside, one day it’s just gonna all come out.”

— Tony Morse

After trying out many different therapists, Tony finally found one who specializes in transgender mental health who he connected with and opened up to.  

“It’s definitely nice to have a person like that because it’s different than talking to a friend who talks to your other friends, and there are some things you can’t say to them because maybe they’re part of the issue or you just don’t feel comfortable. At the same time, it’s not a stranger, but it’s this one person that you build a connection with that’s based on you. All you focus on is you, which is sometimes all you need to do. It really puts you in that place where you kinda have to talk. It definitely has helped me a lot by having that person that I can talk to openly about anything, and they can’t tell anyone. Sometimes all you need to do is just listen to them and know that they’re right,” Tony said. “I hated therapy the first time and did not want to go ever again, so then I changed people. It takes finding that one right person that you can really talk to. It definitely takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of work on your part because if you don’t try, it’s not going to go anywhere. Trying is a huge part of recovery.”

Now, Tony feels comfortable and confident with his identity, even at school, making it easier for him to focus on other aspects of his mental health.  

“Last year in high school, I could not use the guy’s bathroom because of my anxiety. I was scared that every single time I’d walk in, someone would beat me up or something. Nowadays, I have no problem with that, and I just go in like, ‘Hi I’m here,’” Tony said. “After starting testosterone, and my whole appearance changing, my confidence was brought up a whole lot. I definitely feel a lot better at school, and I feel a lot better doing everything. I feel like I’m a much happier person than I was last year and the years before, and having the support of my friends and my family helped me get through it.”

The change of atmosphere from middle school to high school also aided Tony in realizing that what other people think about him doesn’t matter. It allowed him to find close friends he trusted.

“I was really scared after middle school to go to high school because I thought it would be even worse. I thought, ‘if I couldn’t do middle school, I can’t do high school,’ but it’s a completely different atmosphere. I go to school every day now. My family will make jokes about it all the time, like, ‘you’re still going to school?’ because I would never go,” Tony said. “I realized that you have to be in school for 12 years of your life and probably more than that if you’re going to college. You really need to realize it’s not about the other people. It’s not gonna matter what I wore or how I looked; it’s just not gonna matter. All that matters is your brain, your mind and your mental health.”

Although being in high school allowed Tony more freedom, he continued to struggle with his mental health. In October of last year, he attempted suicide.  

“I’ve tried to kill myself multiple times, and the most recent time was back in October. I almost died this time, and that’s the moment that I realized that I want to get better. I saw how that was affecting everyone around me. That even affected one of the most important relationships I had. I had this best friend, and I completely lost them after that,” Tony said. “The times before, I saw how people were upset about it, but it never really hit me until this last time like, ‘Oh sh*t, there are people who care about me.’ It made me really realize not only to not do this for other people but also for myself.”

After that, Tony decided that he needed to make his mental health a priority and focus on trying to get better.

“It hit me, and I was like, ‘Okay, this is a huge issue, and if you don’t try, it’s just going to keep happening, it’s gonna just keep going, the same things are going to keep happening and you’re never going to be happy.’ So, I was like ‘Why am I always so sad all the time?’” Tony said. “I realized it was because I wasn’t trying to be happy. I really needed to try to be happy and that’s what I do now. I push myself to go out and do things, and I really think positive. I try really hard, which has helped me a lot because I realized that I need to try and want to get better, and that realization helped me a huge amount because my relationships are a lot better now.”

You really need to realize it’s not about the other people. It’s not gonna matter what I wore or how I looked; it’s just not gonna matter. All that matters is your brain, your mind and your mental health.”

— Tony Morse

For Tony, trying to get better means constantly talking to his friends and family about his struggles and emotions.

“If I start to think negatively or realize I’m feeling down, I will text one of my friends and talk to them about it, but it wasn’t a thing where one day I just started talking. I’m still working on it by reminding myself that these people do care about me, and these people do want to hear about my problems,” Tony said. “You just need to remind yourself that what you’re telling yourself is not true. You do matter, and your feelings are valid. With the close people, it’s not them feeling bad for you, and it’s not because they feel like they have to, it’s because they want to help you. They want to help you because they care about you, and they love you. Believing that people care about me definitely has been the hardest struggle for me. Without talking to those people I don’t know where I’d be right now, what I’d be doing or if I’d even be here.”

Although he emphasizes that you shouldn’t depend on others for your own happiness, one person who Tony can open up to and be comfortable with is his girlfriend alumna Adina Flowers.  

“Adina struggles with the same things as me, and it’s sometimes hard being in a relationship with someone who struggles with mental health too. It’s hard when you’re down and they’re down where you physically can’t get up and try. It’s like, if you can’t try for yourself, how can you try for that other person? It’s a solution of working together. You need to work on yourself and work together on talking to each other because I talk to her all the time about mental health,” Tony said. “It’s great having that person that you feel comfortable talking to because you know that they understand. Having her in my life helping me realize how good of a person I am, pushing me to do things that are out of my comfort zone, helping me with my anxiety when we’re hanging out and go somewhere and having someone that knows what to do in those situations really helps you. Having that person who knows what to do in those situations and really, deeply cares for you, and you feel the exact same way as them, really helps me feel better when I have a panic attack, or when I get down on myself.”

Taking medicine also helps Tony deal with his mental illness every day.

“I started taking medicine in like sixth grade, and I’ve been through a lot of different ones because medicine works differently for every person because your body is different. The medicine that I got put on right after the last hospital trip has worked better for me out of all the other ones,” Tony said. “I take medicine every morning, and when I skip a day on accident, you can definitely tell which is kind of crazy that something like that can do that to you. If you stop for a while, you can tell how you’re going downhill again, and you’re like, ‘Oh wait that was important I need to do that.’”

Because he struggles with being alone and having his thoughts turn negative, Tony benefits from owning pets.

“Throughout my whole life, I’ve always made sure I had an animal with me, like a rodent. When I am in those situations where I’m sad and alone, getting that animal out and caring for it really helped me have some sort of purpose and really did help my mood go up. I think having therapy animals is something I’m going to continue to do for the rest of my life,” Tony said.  

Despite the support system Tony has built, he still struggles with seeing how his mental illness affects the people he cares about.

“Probably whenever I get at my lowest, and I have to see everyone around me dealing with that too because I just can’t help myself. There’s nothing I feel like I can do on my part. You just really have no energy anymore, and you see all the people around you, and it’s just like, ‘woah.’ I don’t want to hurt the people around me, and I don’t want to make them sad, but I have to realize that that’s what comes with mental health,” Tony said. “I have a really happy life; I have an amazing girlfriend, I have great friends and a great amazingly supportive family and I’m accepted at my school. So people always ask me, ‘why are you dealing this, why are you so sad, your life seems fine,’ but it’s really not about the life you have, it’s about your mind and  how your brain works.”

Believing that people care about me definitely has been the hardest struggle for me. Without talking to those people I don’t know where I’d be right now, what I’d be doing or if I’d even be here.”

— Tony Morse

Thoughts of other people’s judgment and opinions still go through his mind each day, but he works on reminding himself that that’s just his anxiety.

“I’m constantly thinking about what other people are thinking about me and what people are saying. That’s always in my mind. Every time I walk through the hallways, I’m like, ‘they’re looking at me, and they’re talking about me.’ That’s definitely a big struggle in school too because I feel like every single person has something against me, but I have to remind myself that that’s not true, and it’s just my brain and my anxiety telling me otherwise,” Tony said. “I haven’t completely overcome it, and it’s still gonna take me more years and a lot more trying, but it’s about time and yourself. Everyone moves at a different pace.”

With a more positive outlook on life and support from his friends and family, Tony continues to face the challenges his mental health throws at him.

“I try really hard to think positive all the time, and I really have a positive and happy outlook on life and the future. Honestly, when I was younger, I didn’t think I would be 16 years old, but it’s crazy to think that I’m gonna be 17 in like six months. I’m growing up, and I’m making it there,” Tony said. “I really didn’t want to try, and I really did not believe in myself. I really didn’t think I would make it, but the fact that I am and still continuing to really blows my mind. It’s really all around finding yourself and taking those steps to be happy.”

Sophomore Caroline Judd thrives in new lifestyle after recovering from eating disorder


Courtesy of Caroline Judd

Drawing in her room, sophomore Caroline Judd often relies on her art, along with photography, to express herself and relieve stress. Caroline runs a photography Instagram and often posts her art on her personal Instagram. “I think when I was younger, I would dress a certain way or I would do certain things or hang out with certain people just because I thought that was what I was supposed to do,” Caroline said. “Doing what I love in art and photography and pursuing my passions has made me feel complete and makes me realize that being different is amazing and creativity is amazing.”

Always a health conscious person, sophomore Caroline Judd enjoys working out and eating healthfully. When she became depressed in the summer of 2017, these healthy habits spiraled into an obsession, turning her lifestyle into one plagued with thoughts of whether or not she was eating the right foods and exercising enough. Although she struggled with depression, anorexia and orthorexia, her recovery made her grow and flourish in her relationship with her art, her friends, her family and her body.  

“I think [my eating disorder] was my way of being able to control something in my life besides how I felt because I was having a hard time,” Caroline said. “When I was depressed over the summer, I didn’t have anything to do because I couldn’t drive yet. I could only go one place a day because my parents didn’t want to drive me everywhere, so I would go to the gym like five times a week and literally be dead at the gym; I would work out so hard. That was one thing I looked forward to because [exercise] releases endorphins, but it got to a point where I was so dependent on it that if I couldn’t work out that day, it was the end of the world.”

As school started, Caroline continued to struggle in silence and lose weight.

“It was hard for me during school because I would have to do assignments and things like that, but I was also trying to recover from an eating disorder,” Caroline said. “It’s like, how am I supposed to focus on school when I can’t even go through the day without having a breakdown?”

Her internal turmoil was easy to hide due to her already healthy lifestyle.  

“I think on the outside it just looked like ‘oh Caroline likes to go to the gym, and she likes to eat healthily.’ I still like to do those things, but that wasn’t healthy. That was an obsession,” Caroline said. “Some people can hide [their mental illness] really well, and I think I hid it really well, at least from my friends. I just seemed like this person who was healthy and liked to be active.”

Stereotypes surrounding eating disorders further allowed her struggles to continue unnoticed.  

“Something that really frustrates me is the stereotype that if you have an eating disorder, you can see your ribs, and you can see your bones. Something that people don’t realize is that you can have an eating disorder and be overweight. You can be average weight. Eating disorders are very easy to hide,” Caroline said. “I think people should know that it’s not a decision. You don’t wake up one day and think ‘I want to have an eating disorder.’ It doesn’t work that way, and it’s not fun. Don’t tell people that they look like a skeleton or that they just need to eat. It’s like, ‘thanks, I’ll take your advice. It’s so easy; let me just eat.’ It’s a lot harder than you realize until you’ve gone through it.”

Along with stereotypes, Caroline struggled with others’ comments on her body, both on social media and in real life. During Homecoming, she faced a particularly eye-opening encounter.  

“At an after-party, a few upperclassmen girls were sitting on the bed in front of me, and I was wearing a tighter dress. They told me, ‘oh my gosh you have the body of a supermodel.’ I just didn’t say anything–I didn’t say thank you. It literally made me wanna shut down because some people would be like, ‘oh my gosh thank you–I look like a supermodel,’ but I don’t wanna look like a ‘supermodel.’ I have an eating disorder, and you’re telling me I look amazing,” Caroline said. “People would also comment on my Instagram posts and be like ‘skinny mini,’ but that’s not a compliment. You don’t have the right to comment on my body, let alone anybody else’s body. It just kind of put into perspective what people value and how focused people are on being thin, and that’s really hard. Especially when I was underweight, hearing that I looked like a model hurt more than anything.”

I think people should know that it’s not a decision. You don’t wake up one day and think ‘I want to have an eating disorder.’”

— Caroline Judd

Diet culture fed into the insecurities and worries Caroline faced, making the voice in her head that told her she had to workout and not eat certain foods louder.

“Something that was so difficult and is still difficult for me during recovery was diet culture in general, and its influence on social media. Unfollowing fitness junkies helped, but also just the way people talk was hard to deal with. I don’t think people realize how prevalent it is in society until you’re on the other side of things,” Caroline said. “During my recovery, I knew that I had to do literally the opposite of what my head told me, and to be honest, it was kind of funny being like ‘oh no you don’t’ and doing the opposite of what my eating disorder wanted me to do. During Christmas, there would be cookies, and maybe I had already had one or two, and I kind of wanted more. The voice in my head would be like ‘no, no, no,’ but I was like ‘oh? But yes.’ So you just have to do the opposite of what your mental illness is telling you, which is something that really helped me. Whenever something would come up, and I would be unsure if I should try it, I would just go for it because it’s like what’s gonna happen? I’ll still wake up in the morning, and I’m still here.”

Before her healthy lifestyle turned toxic, Caroline would take progress pictures after working out. When she compared pictures from September 2016 and November 2017, she realized that it was not progress that she was making.

“I had taken a picture of myself in the mirror, and I looked at a picture of me from last September. I literally said out loud, ‘holy shit.’ I don’t talk to myself ever, but it was such a weird thing because it wasn’t overnight that I had lost weight. For a while, I didn’t really see it, and I didn’t understand why people were telling me I was so thin,” Caroline said. “After comparing those pictures, I was like, ‘I look like a skeleton,’ and that was the moment that I was like ‘okay.’ I knew the whole time that I didn’t want to live my life like this, but that was a defining moment that this definitely needed to go somewhere and that was where it really kicked in for me.”

After recognizing that her eating and exercise habits were an issue, Caroline started going to a nutritionist and therapist. She started meal plans and was able to talk her feelings out with her therapist, aiding her in her mental and physical recovery.

“My therapist would help me find the root causes of my emotions, and I could just rant to her. She just helped me feel more in tune with my feelings. I feel like if you’re struggling with mental illness or just life, in general, it’s so important to get help. You don’t have to be diagnosed with mental illness to be struggling,” Caroline said. “I know a lot of times people with eating disorders go to treatment for years. I was in treatment for a month, and my therapist said I was the fastest turnaround she’d ever had. I think the fact that I really wanted to get better just shows that no matter how bad it gets, you are in control of your endgame. I am so proud of myself that I am closer to being the person I want to be.”

Courtesy of Caroline Judd
Sophomore Caroline Judd leans against her sister, alumna Emily Judd, while out for lunch.

Friends and family also helped Caroline in her recovery, especially her sister, alumna Emily Judd, who struggled with eating as well.

“[Emily] is very free-spirited, and we are very, very similar. I remember she came home from college last winter break, and I told her what was going on because even my family didn’t know, and my mom was the only one I talked to about it,” Caroline said. “She just helped me so much, and when I was talking to her, I just realized how much things like what you look like, how much you weigh, how many desserts you have or how many times you work out don’t matter. What matters is the person that you are, and how mentally stable you are because if you’re not mentally there then the rest of you isn’t there. It’s impossible to function, let alone do the things that make you happiest. I think that you have to have that in check, and she really helped me realize that the most important thing in life to be is the best version of yourself. For me, that doesn’t include that voice in my head telling me that I’m not enough.”

Despite her fear of opening up about her struggles, Caroline decided to share her story publicly through a VSCO journal.

“It was the night before New Year’s Eve, and I wrote it at 1 a.m.–I just cranked it out. I remember I was so emotional when I posted that story. I was crying tears of happiness and sweating since I was so nervous, and it was the most emotional thing. I felt so vulnerable,” Caroline said. “That was the peak moment because everybody is trying to lose ten pounds, while I’m trying to gain weight on New Years. It’s just a really weird thing because everyone’s going to the gym and talking about how they want to do these cleanses and these detoxes, which is something I would’ve jumped on board with a few months earlier. Now, I think mentally, that was something that I had to persevere and push through to affirm that I am on my own path, and I am not like anyone else. I am doing my own thing and what’s best for me, and that’s not making a fitness New Year’s goal.”

After sharing her story, Caroline received positive messages from her friends, family and a dozen others who were struggling with eating disorders. With an active presence on Instagram, she feels that sharing her story on social media was an important step in her process of recovery.

“I had some of my best friends reach out to me and say like, ‘I had no idea you were going through that,’ showing how you really have no idea what someone’s going through. I got such amazing feedback from people, and I think it shows how powerful social media can be, not just showing the pretty parts of your life, but that you are human.  Not that I changed anyone’s life, but I had some people who told me that I helped them from going down the wrong path,” Caroline said. “By making myself feel vulnerable for a little while, I helped other people who were struggling which made it completely worth it. Obviously, during recovery, I had to push myself out of my comfort zone. I think it just goes to show that you don’t grow when you’re comfortable. Sometimes the choice that scares you is the one that is going to help you grow.”

After confronting the challenges she was faced with, Caroline learned important lessons about life and furthered the progress she has made with her eating habits.   

“I just realized there’s so much more to life than having abs and going to the gym. It’s about having good times with your friends and growing old and being in love and just so much more than how many calories you consume and how many times you go to the gym,” Caroline said. “My birthday was recently, and this year was the first time in three years that I had birthday cake on my own birthday. The past years, I was at my own party, and I didn’t want to eat my own birthday cake. Mentally, [eating my cake] was something that stood for so much, kind of like a new beginning because it’s such a simple thing, but it stands for a lot more. Plus, it’s called sweet 16 for reason, right?”

I just realized there’s so much more to life than having abs and going to the gym. It’s about having good times with your friends and growing old and being in love and just so much more than how many calories you consume and how many times you go to the gym.”

— Caroline Judd

Caroline feels that the people around her build her up every day by being there for her and noticing her achievements.

“Recently, a few of my friends and I went to Uncle Bill’s at like 9 p.m., and I got waffles with ice cream and chocolate on them. I had already had dinner, and it was really cute because my friends were like, ‘you wouldn’t have been able to do this a year ago.’ When you hear it verbalized, and someone else recognizes your achievements, mentally it feels like a big hug,” Caroline said. “I would hear people say now that I’m doing a lot better, like people who don’t even know me, tell me I’m just glowing. That’s such a genuine, sweet compliment; that’s not about how I look physically. To hear people verbally tell me that they’re proud of me and that they’re there for me is such an important thing.”

As an artist and photographer, Caroline learned that being different, in art and in life, is what makes everyone special, helping her find her own path during her recovery.

“I think a lot of being creative is realizing you’re your own person, and you don’t need to be anyone else. If you want to thrive in your passions and in life, you can’t be anybody else. We’re not all carbon copies, and we’re not all made to look the same and feel the same way. You have to embrace your differences, and I think being creative and being able to express myself has really made me come into my own and not care what people think of me,” Caroline said.

Although Caroline now lives a life free of an eating disorder, she still has bad days and emphasizes the importance of everyday self-care, including things like mental reminders and journaling.

“I think it’s important to realize that not every day is gonna be a great body image day, and you’re not gonna feel great every day; that’s normal. I take care of myself by being very in touch with my feelings. Asking for help when you need it is really important, from your friends and from your family. What you tell yourself is so important, so when you’re feeding yourself good thoughts, those thoughts become actions,” Caroline said. “Something that I really prioritize is making sure that at the end of the day I feel okay, and if not, there’s always time to improve that. When I’m eating my food, I pick something that’s nourishing to both my body and soul and also ask myself, ‘is this what I want to be eating?’ If the answer is no, I’m not gonna eat it. It’s simple as that.”  

Through her journey, Caroline realized that her struggles were an important part of her life that taught her many lessons.  

“I may need to buy a new pair of jeans, but it’s still me–a better me. Going through this has really changed me, and when I look at pictures of myself from a few months ago to a year ago, I just don’t recognize myself. I know I cut my hair and all that, but I’m just not the same person,” Caroline said. “I’m very grateful for [this journey], and I don’t regret what happened. I think every struggle you go through really teaches you something about life, and sometimes it’s confusing to know that at the time, but, whether it lasts a month or years, it’s making you stronger. Now I know what I need in life, and I know that I’ll never have to go through that again.”

Sophomore Katie Solodar overcomes anxiety and advocates for mental illness awareness


Photo courtesy of Katie Solodar

Twirling during a recital, sophomore Katie Solodar dances for the Carol Bowman Academy of Dance at the YMCA. Activities like dancing, listening to music, theatre and watching movies help Katie deal with her anxiety, assisting her in expressing herself and escaping from her stresses. “Dancing can distract me and give me perspective on my problems once I’ve danced my feelings out,” Katie said. “Sometimes it doesn’t help, but often dancing it out with some of my friends is the best way to foster my confidence, productivity and happiness.”

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.”

We’re only gonna get through this if we get through it together, so find friends that build you up.”

— Katie Solodar

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.

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 Solodar

“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.”


3 Responses to “Students reflect on their struggles with mental health”

  1. Katie Spillman on May 9th, 2018 11:09 am

    Katie is a wonderful friend, and an amazing supporter. I’m endlessly grateful for her. She makes me so proud. Her kind heart and caring personality make her an incredible friend. I’m so lucky to know her. Love you Solo!

  2. Caroline Judd on May 10th, 2018 7:36 am

    So proud of you Katie, you are such a bright light despite your struggles.

  3. Tyler Kinzy on May 11th, 2018 1:32 pm

    There really isn’t much for me to say that hasn’t already been commented. I have done a lot of theatrical work with Katie this year and the first thing that anybody would tell you about her is her infectious smile and positivity. I love the way this story captures the very real issue that is the way our society addresses mental health and how we can overcome it if we continue to make progress in eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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Students reflect on their struggles with mental health