Despite growing up in a loving and supportive family in New Jersey, Grace was a kid with many worries and fears. It wasn’t until years later that she learned these feelings had a name: anxiety. As her anxiety progressed and became tied with perfectionism, she began to believe that she was never good enough. There was only one place her anxiety wasn’t present— soccer, and that’s where her love for the sport began.

During the second week of middle school, Grace experienced her first of many panic attacks. It terrified her and her family and she was rushed to the hospital after expressing suicidal ideation. At the hospital, she received the diagnoses of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Still young, Grace did not understand these diagnoses. Due to the stigma surrounding mental health she believed she needed to be “fixed,” and that she was no longer “normal.” She worked hard with her treatment team to find the right medications, develop coping skills, and receive support in school. Even though this extra support was exactly what she needed in school, it made her feel “different” from her peers. Grace was still determined to be seen as good enough and to never be seen as “different” again. With the help of her school system, treatment team, parents, coaches and friends, by her freshman year of high school, Grace’s life had significantly improved. In fact, she was doing so well that her and her therapist decided she was ready to stop therapy and medication.

On the outside, it seemed that Grace was thriving in high school academically, athletically, and in extracurriculars. But internally, her anxiety and perfectionism were thriving as well. Achievement became a way for her to receive recognition and validation while masking what she was truly feeling inside. Again, because of stigma Grace believed that to admit she was still struggling would make people view her differently, so instead she struggled in silence.

When Grace entered college, she was excited for a fresh start, a chance to wipe the slate clean, and to no longer be seen as the girl with anxiety. She wanted to create a new reality for herself where she was confident and capable instead of afraid and anxious. She did the best she could to embrace this new mindset, but she could only do so much without support. By the fall of her sophomore year, battling her anxiety and depression each and every day had exhausted her, and she didn’t know how much longer she could do it. On top of that, her only escape from her anxiety, soccer, was now becoming another source of anxiety. She experienced intense levels of performance anxiety during practices and games, and her panic attacks returned.

When her friend suddenly passed away around the same time, Grace could feel an immediate shift in the way she viewed her mental health. She could no longer ignore it. The thought of ever having to go back to therapy and medication made Grace feel like she had lost all of the progress she had made. She felt like going back would be like taking steps backwards, and she thought it made her look like a failure. However, taking those steps did the complete opposite.

Returning to therapy and medication allowed Grace to feel better than ever before. She learned that there was no shame in asking for help and that, in doing so, she could actually improve her life. Her only regret was that she didn’t ask sooner. Now, Grace knows the importance of taking care of her mental health instead of resisting it. She continues therapy and medication to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle. Grace recently graduated college, and she is looking forward to the next step of her life where she can share her story in hopes of preventing others from experiencing unnecessary pain due to stigma. She hopes to help others realize the importance of taking care of their own mental health so that they can enjoy life to the fullest.

Grace is based in Tampa, FL. In-person speaking engagements beyond 90 miles may require a fee for travel expenses.