I Was The Girl Who Hid Behind Her Smile

I am a firm believer in open conversations and acceptances, and I am a firm hater of stigmas and stereotypes. These aspects of my personality go hand in hand, especially when it comes to my mindset towards mental health. I think mental health is something that we need to be discussing more, and I hate the stigma that surrounds it. Stigmas and stereotypes are stupid and only show one side of the surface. They are especially bad when it comes to things like mental health because it can scare people away from talking about it and from seeking out help. I know this because I was someone who was scared to talk about my mental health for a long time until I was in a crisis. I was scared of the stigma that might have been attached to me and I hid behind my smile for far too long.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time. In college, it got better for a period of time, and then it started to get worse. After it started to get worse, I hid from it and I did not want to admit to myself that I was struggling with my anxiety again. Instead, I told myself and my friends that I was fine, but in reality, I was so anxious. However, I did not want a stigma or stereotype attached to me, so I did not seek out professional help. Instead, I begged for it to go away, and I would try removing things from my life that I thought were triggering it.

I blamed the reasons for why I was struggling with everything else, instead of admitting to myself that I needed help. Eventually, it got to the point where I was miserable, and nothing made me happy for more than 5 seconds. Not even my favorite foods, and if I wasn’t with my friends, I was probably sad. I missed being happy, and I knew therapy could help me get there. I couldn’t even hide behind my smile anymore because it physically hurt to smile. As fearful as I was about having a stigma attached to me, my happiness mattered more because I was tired of feeling awful and wanting to cry every waking moment. I was at my lowest point. After getting to this point, I went to my school’s counseling center bright and early the following morning and I started getting help.

At first, I didn’t tell people because I was scared of their reactions. However, whenever I did tell someone, they cheered me on and encouraged me to keep going. That went a long way.

That was a year ago, and I am so grateful that I started going to therapy then. Since then, I have become so much stronger and an overall better individual. I went to my university’s therapist until the pandemic hit. I thought I had finally gotten the tools and knowledge to manage my anxiety.

However, the pandemic has been hard for me and during the first few months of the pandemic, I reverted back into my old ways of hiding from my emotions and anxiety. In 2020, two people close to me passed away within a 2-month span, and the way I grieved was by suppressing how I felt and working through it. It was in the middle of the semester and I wanted a good GPA, so I never addressed how I felt, and I pushed through my emotions. It was how I was able to get my highest GPA in college ever. During that time, I stopped journaling, which is how I get in touch with my emotions.

As a result of all of this, my anxiety manifested itself through physical symptoms. After going to doctor’s visits, I was referred to a therapist who specialized with people whose anxiety does this. I’ve been going to this therapist ever since, and it has done wonders for me.

This experience and the past year has taught me a few things. First, it taught me that my anxiety will never fully go away. It will always be something that I have to manage. Since starting this new therapy, I have managed it a lot better and my quality of life and happiness has improved. Some days are harder than others, but that's okay. Anyone who struggles with their mental health can relate to this.

Second, it taught me that therapy is helpful, and anyone can benefit from it at any point in their lives. You don't have to be going through a crisis to start getting help. Part of this idea that we have to be in a crisis comes from the stigma that is attached to mental health, and that's not okay. That part of the stigma deterred me from seeking out help sooner, and I can only wonder what would have happened in my life if I had gone sooner. Life impacts all of us differently, and it's okay to get some guidance from an unbiased third party who is supposed to be an expert. It's important that we are taking care of our mental health just as much as we take care of our physical. They are both equally important because of the fact that our happiness and peace of mind matter... A LOT.

Finally, someone’s mental health does not define them. I am so much more than my anxiety and that is true for everyone else who may struggle with their mental health. My anxiety is simply a part of me. In my eyes, it makes me stronger because I don’t let the more challenging days destroy my attitude and outlook on the world. I just push through them because I know that life will get better.

As a society, we need to be more accepting that not everyone is the same and that it is okay to be different. We need to not be placing stigmas and stereotypes on things like mental health because it’s not good and one size does not fit all in terms of making a personality and human. It’s like we are all different types of cookies. We need to accept that not everyone comes from the same batch of cookies and how some of us may have different recipes on how to make them, but that’s what makes our world special. We need to accept our differences. We need to talk about what makes us different and what we’re going through because maybe it could help one of us. Whether that’s our recipe for cookies or our mental health.

While I may not be one to share a cookie recipe with (I did burn cookies in my microwave once), I will always be available for a conversation about anything else, such as what you’re going through (if you need that). My DMs are always open, and I will make an effort to talk, and if you need one, I’ll be your biggest cheerleader. I will accept everyone for who they are because that’s what our world needs right now.

I was the girl who hid behind her smile, but now I am genuinely smiling because I got help.

Kathryn DeBois


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