Brooke W.

They/Them

From a young age, Brooke felt they had to perform. They had to uphold their family’s esteemed reputation within their community, and they accomplished this by playing the role expected of them– by playing instruments and sports and getting perfect grades. Under this pressure, Brooke developed anxiety. Brooke found refuge from their anxiety through roleplaying in chat forums on the kids’ site Neopets. They were able to use their original characters as an expression of the traits they aspired to be. They were safe to be the person they wanted to be. While they were playing, their anxiety was gone. But when they got to middle school, their peers disapproved of their interests. In addition to the role they had to play for their family, they now took on a new role as a person that their peers would like. They tried to copy the girls around them, and felt their friendships with boys were now supposed to turn romantic. Playing these new roles and fulfilling others’ expectations also meant they had to stop playing Neopets, their only positive coping mechanism.

Brooke grew deeply depressed. All they wanted was to hear that they were good enough exactly as they were, that their pain was real and it mattered, and that they weren’t alone. Without receiving those messages, they blamed themself for not measuring up. They became suicidal. They started self-harming, feeling it gave them some control over the emotional pain. In reality, they were just adding more pain to their life. They could not see at the time how this cycle was repeating and only getting worse.

When they entered high school, Brooke found themself in a toxic relationship without realizing any of the warning signs. The compliments and attention he gave were things that Brooke desperately wanted. They found themself wanting to leave, but the trauma bond created by the cycle of abuse made it especially challenging. After a year of following that worsening cycle, the relationship concluded at the beginning of their sophomore year. But it wasn’t until a trip to Chicago their junior year that they told someone about the abuse. To their relief and surprise, the aunt they were visiting understood the experience firsthand. She helped get them into therapy.

Though Brooke now understood that they could choose their own path, they found the task more challenging than anticipated. College provided the opportunity for a fresh slate, but it only made Brooke realize that they didn’t know who they were outside of others’ expectations. They longed for the comfort they had longed for since middle school, but without that, they turned to substances to try to numb the pain. As their drinking increased their suicidality, Brooke could see that negative coping mechanisms only made things worse. At a loss for what to do, Brooke made the choice to ask for help. They confessed the struggles they had been hiding, and their parents said the words they had waited so long to hear. They were so grateful that their parents wanted to get them the help they needed.

Brooke checked themself into inpatient therapy, where they found community and acceptance in people who understood and shared their struggles. They received a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder and connected with a group for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. The prospect of treatment gave them great hope for their future. Soon, they embraced their bisexuality and nonbinary gender, and found community in an abundance of LGBTQ+ friends.

Today, Brooke is surrounded by love. They have grown closer with their family, and have created a found family among their dearest friends and wonderful partner. Brooke maintains their wellness using their therapy skills of mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and radical acceptance. Their physical disabilities require them to honor their limits, and they prioritize their physical wellness with medication, intuitive eating, quality sleep, avoiding substances, and regular rest. They channel their emotions into art and writing, and share these creations in hopes that others might feel seen. Much of their art is made with photos of flowers, animals, and skies, as they find peace and wonder in nature. They encourage others to pause and look for the small beauties in life, and to actively create moments of joy. Brooke shares a message of self-acceptance, validation of people’s struggles, and finding belonging in community.

Brooke is based in Scranton, PA. In-person speaking engagements beyond 90 miles may require a fee for travel expenses.

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