I never thought I'd live to be 26 years old. You may be wondering why someone who seems perfectly healthy would have such a dark thought, and you would not be alone. But I'm proud to say that turning 26 has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
If you checked my Instagram over the last few years, you would have seen me as the happiest girl in the world, travelling the globe teaching yoga and weightlifting. But keeping up that image grew exhausting, so I decided to be brave and tell my story. My story is not unique, but it's one that is rarely spoken about due to fear. Fear can be a crippling emotion, but it can also be a powerful tool.
Depression and anxiety are just like any other illness. They're nothing to hide away.
So I'm going to ask something scary: do the words "mental health" make you uncomfortable? They used to make me feel that way, too. But depression and anxiety are just like any other illness. They're nothing to hide away. In fact, these journeys should be shared and celebrated.
I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Growing up, it impacted every part of life. I would have panic attacks before going to school, sleepless nights before games or tests, endless thoughts of everyone being against me, and days where I felt completely alone in the world. In college, things got worse. I became extremely depressed. I partied every chance I got. I hung out with people who fed the worst parts of me. I protected myself by flashing a big smile and playing the part of the bubbly sorority girl. I told myself that depression is scary and no one wants to hear about that.
Keep it hidden and keep smiling.
A few years later, at the age of 20, my smile had fallen and I had given up. The thought of waking up the next morning was too much for me to handle. I was no longer anxious or sad; instead I felt numb, and that's when things took a turn for the worse. I called my dad, who lived across the country, and for the first time in my life, I told him everything. It was too late, though. I was not calling for help. I was calling to say goodbye.
Miraculously, he convinced me to hang on for a few more hours. Had he not boarded the very next flight to me, I would not be here right now.
That is when I started my long and continuous journey to get healthy. I worked with doctors and therapists, but I still struggled. Until one day my dad took me to a CrossFit gym by my school and for the first time I picked up a barbell. It instantly became my place to escape, my outlet, my medicine. I did not go more than a day without having a bar in my hand, but weightlifting and fitness were not enough alone.
After a year or so, the depression crept back in. I channelled the inner strength I had built in the gym and asked for help. This is when I began working with a new therapist, one who believed that depression decreased by age 26. I have no idea if this is true, but in yoga, you're taught not to ask if the thought is true, but rather if the thought serves you. So I hung onto this. When I fell into a really bad spell, I reminded myself, "Just a few more years. Hang on until you are 26. It will get better."
I kept lifting. I kept working. I kept growing.
As an Olympic weightlifting coach and yoga teacher, people tell me all the time how strong I am, which used to make me feel like a total fraud. But today, I am 26 years old. Today, I'm proudly sharing something I felt so ashamed of for so many years, and that's because I'm strong. I have a strength that this illness will never be able to match, not at 26 or any age after that.
The charity Project Semicolon is close to my heart. The idea behind it: "a semicolon represents a sentence an author could have ended, but chose not to." My story isn't over, and each chapter is a lot brighter, a lot bolder, and filled with a lot of fun new characters. There's always more to come. We just need to continue writing.
If you or a loved one are in need of any help, the National Suicide Prevention organisation has several resources and a 24/7 lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.