Bainbridge High School senior Madeleine Swietlik was one of the student speakers at the recent Bainbridge Youth Services fundraising breakfast. Following is the story she shared:
When I first began high school, I was certain that I wanted to attend Brown University. I was determined that I would do whatever I needed to do in order to get in. My older brother and my mom had both attended Ivy Leagues, so why shouldn’t I?
I wanted to fit in precisely with my family, and I definitely wanted to be a successful alumnus of one of the world’s most prestigious universities. I believed that if I put my head down, and worked hard, I would get the results that I wanted. What I completely ignored at this time was my mental health.
My first semester of high school I pushed myself to the brink. I was determined to outperform my peers.
This quickly began to take a toll on me, in ways that I could have never expected. Just as I was beginning to navigate my way in high school, my mental health was imploding. I was so stressed about being the perfect student and a strong athlete, that my anxiety was manifesting itself in harmful ways. I had nightmares every night, I couldn’t eat, and my relationships with my peers and family were crumbling.
Before this happened to me, I believed that only some people could be affected if they neglected their mental health. I believed that it was only “OK” to go to counseling “if you had a real problem.” I hadn’t thought of myself in that way before, until I realized that my symptoms were only getting worse, and worse. I realized that I had a problem.
One night, I had had enough. I hated the person that I had become, and I was afraid. I didn’t know what was happening, so I reached out for help.
When I signed myself up for counseling at BYS, I was nervous and terrified. I had never had counseling before, I had never really opened up about my thoughts, to anyone before this. I had always prided myself in being stoic and focused. Reaching out felt like a failure in my eyes.
Walking into my first appointment, Miss Brittany greeted me with a warm, welcoming smile and made me feel safe and appreciated. One of the most important factors of BYS is discretion. At first, I didn’t want my parents to know about my counseling, because I felt ashamed. After a few months I was able to open up to my family and friends and realized that I was not alone. BYS provides a safe place for youth to reach out and schedule their own mental health services. The privacy and security BYS strive for creates an environment where teens can be honest and genuine in every way.
The way that I approach mental health now, versus back then, is entirely different. I feel much more comfortable with it, because I realized that it’s truly impossible to be perfect. The way that I think about myself and others is with empathy, compassion and kindness.
We have no idea what may be going on with someone, and how people react to different situations varies greatly. Some people are better at handling stress, grief and anxiety than others. But at some point, everyone has an emotion or task that they cannot face alone. Knowing this, I am more confident in my future of happiness. The thing that I want most in life isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be happy. In life we can think of our current challenges as building experiences for a new future.
Editor’s note: This I Know is a project of Bainbridge Youth Services to share viewpoints of teens in their own words. BYS is a nonprofit organization that offers free, confidential mental health counseling, free tutoring and job services to youth 12 to 21 years old. Check out the website at www.askbys.org.