If you're reading this, you're much stronger than you think you are.
It's now been over a year since I took a medical leave from UVA for mental health reasons. If you had told me at this time last year that I would be back at UVA, I would tell you you're crazy. I'd say that I didn't belong and that I couldn't go back to a place that reminds me of some of the worst anxiety and depression I've had in my life. Taking a year off from school was by no means easy. But I'm back, stronger than before, and want nothing more than for you to recognize that you are here on this Earth for a reason, you are loved, and you are much stronger than you think you are.
One of the worst things about anxiety and depression is that it can consume every thought that runs through your mind, convincing you that there is no way out. I wondered how I would ever be able to escape my constant cycle of negative thoughts and I lost hope in myself, my capabilities, and my life. While I had the support of my family and few close friends, I still felt entirely worthless. I didn't know how to feel "normal" or how to make my anxiety and depression go away. I didn't know where to start, how to start, and the road ahead of me seemed nonexistent.
In my nine months away from UVA I attended weekly therapy, spent countless hours self-reflecting, and built myself from the ground up with renewed thoughts, appreciation for life, and strength to endure and accept my mental health struggles. At first, I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like my entire life was a complete failure. But I have come to appreciate that sometimes you need to put yourself first for the benefit of your mental health.
We often get so caught up in our stress: wishing you spent more time studying and less time mindlessly scrolling through social media; questioning why the person who didn't study got an A, and you didn't do so hot after sleepless nights studying; focusing on the few things you did wrong instead of the long list of the things you did right. It's important that every once in a while, we take a step back to check in with ourselves because we lose sight of our being, and need to catch a breath. For me, weekly therapy is my chance to catch a breath. It forces me to look back on my past week and refocus any negative thoughts or experiences I had.
I can't stress enough how valuable it is to be in touch with your emotions and mental state. Whether it's on your walk to class, while you're waiting in line for coffee, or while you're brushing your teeth, ask yourself how you're doing. If you feel yourself on overload, take a deep breath. Write in a journal, call a parent, or ask a friend to talk. Remind yourself that you're at an amazing University, you've worked so hard to get to this point in your life, and you have so much more to offer to the world.
Being honest about your mental health is one of the first steps towards improvement. Many of us hide our weaknesses; we don't want others to see us struggling. Sure, there's always the stress of the next homework assignment, paper due, or upcoming test that's on our minds. But we need to remind ourselves-life isn't just these four years in college. We have so much more to offer as human beings. We're allowed to fail. We're allowed to mess up. I believe opening yourself up to your weaknesses is actually a sign of strength - and I think that's an extremely valuable lesson.
Hannah Montana once said, "nobody's perfect." This infamous line, while so simple, holds so much truth. Take a breath, look at all that life has to offer, and remind yourself that you're here on this Earth for a reason. You can get through this, and you will get through this. Take things one day at a time, live in the moment, and remember, you're much stronger than you think you are.
Caitlin Cimons, University of Virginia