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Fearless Girl

Anxiety has been one of the most positive forces in my life. I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. Despite the title, I am in no way fearless, but I have learned how to fear less. I have had some form of anxiety for my entire life and was officially diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder in the third grade. It has followed me throughout every stage of my life and it even follows me to this very day. For the first handful of years after being diagnosed I saw my anxiety as a daily burden and I resented both the anxiety and me. Being diagnosed at such a young age, I felt little relation to my peers in mental health. They were running around the playground carefree while I often went to the nurse with a panic attack.

Middle school, however, changed my perspective. I started to meet other students who also suffered from anxiety. My school nurse connected me with a younger student at one point who was going through the same things I had experienced, and I realized something that would alter the course of my life: I could use my experience with anxiety to help others enduring mental health obstacles. I began to actively observe the world around me and the people in it, realizing how apparent mental health issues are, and realizing, more importantly, the lack of communication our society has on the subject. I was blessed enough to find multiple adults throughout my journey that were extremely open with me, but I saw that for many, this is not the case. Instead of hiding the fact that I suffered from anxiety, I shared it with anyone who would listen. In doing so, an extreme weight that I had carried for most of my life began to lighten.

In high school all of my friends and even some acquaintances knew about my anxiety and I found no shame in it. I knew how hard I fought to get through each day and I was proud of the fight that I had in me. In no way was I, or am I to this day, “cured” of my anxiety, but I took a different perspective on it, a more positive one. Furthermore, I had several of my friends begin to open up about their mental health struggles as well and we empowered each other. By having community to share with and the knowledge that I wasn’t the only one having such a hard time, I realized that I was not fighting alone. There is an entire army surrounding me of people fighting their very own issues.

In sharing I became aware of my intense passion for spreading awareness about mental health issues. I wanted everyone to feel that they could be as open as I have become because, though not a cure, it is a liberation. I got the opportunity around this time to compete in the Miss South Carolina Teen Organization in which you choose a platform and become an advocate for an issue. I chose youth anxiety and depression, calling my platform Stand Against the Stigma, a call to end the societally placed stigma that anxiety and depression are not real problems and should be handled in private. I created a blog and, for the first time, shared my story on social media. I remember sitting on my living room floor and clicking the button to post when a rush of dread fell over me. Sharing my anxiety with my friends and family was one thing but sharing it with people I’ve never even met was another. And then, still sitting on that floor, I started to get messages from people telling me they had experienced anxiety or something related. They thanked me for opening my heart so that others could know they were not alone. I was sobbing at this point because all of my anxiety, the daily battles, were worth it. It is a part of me, just like anything else, and I want to embrace it by using it for the betterment of others.

Coming to college was a hard transition for me and my anxiety became a burden again. It wasn’t till I reframed my thought process on anxiety, remembering the strength I had acquired from it in the past and that this is just another opportunity to become stronger. I also saw people struggling with anxiety or stress like they never had before. I too was dealing with more stress and a larger workload, but, because I learned how to deal with my anxiety from an early age, I was able to combat stress easier and try to get others to think in a more positive perspective as well.

I often think about the fearless girl statue that once stood in front of the Wall Street Bull and now stares down the New York Stock Exchange. I see so much of myself in that fearless girl, a girl who stares straight into the face of her fear. Anxiety is my “bull”, but I am staring straight at it, hands on hips, not letting it conquer me. So, whatever your “bull” might be, the only way to diminish your fear of it is stare straight into its face, understanding it and knowing that it doesn’t have to define you. It can shape you into a stronger person and, perhaps more importantly, it can give you the ability to help others face their “bull”. You have an opportunity, take it.

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