For a very long time, I viewed “emotional wellness” as a goal that I strived to achieve. Whether I knew it or not, I was viewing emotional wellness as a stagnant destination rather than an ongoing state of being. Being “okay” was an achievement that I wished I could check off my list of character attributes and add to my personal resume.

I had an idea in my mind of the ultimate well person, who did not feel emotion or react visibly to things, who was always composed and stoic in the face of adversity, and who never experienced the highs or lows with which I seemed to be challenged. Newsflash, that person does not exist—not for me, at least.

As a consequence of having such an inflexible and unrealistic view of emotional wellness, I frequently became frustrated with myself when I failed to meet these standards. I was very critical of myself, my experiences, and the ways that I handled how I felt. I was ashamed of all the tears that I cried so frequently, ashamed of the days that I struggled, and I felt that reaching out for help would be the most egregious and burdensome act of which I could ever partake. I hated the times when I reacted to things because of how I felt and was embarrassed to be open about my highs and lows.

I went on like this for a very long time—my entire adolescence and early adulthood, truthfully. Things came to a screeching halt for me in February of 2017.

I was in my sophomore year of undergrad, and it was Valentine’s Day. That night, I suffered an emotional breakdown that was so severe, I had to be hospitalized. This experience was one of the worst of my life.

The first thing that happened when I spoke to my family and friends was questioning. They asked me, “What HAPPENED?” All of my friends initially responded with confusion and shock—they had no clue about the things I had been battling. My parents and brother were shocked as well and couldn’t wrap their heads around how none of what I was dealing with ever came up in our daily (and sometimes hourly) conversations. I had stopped seeing my therapist, I was not talking to any of my friends or family about how I was feeling, and I isolated myself from the world to avoid letting anyone see me struggling. Simultaneously, I was always at work on time, maintained a 3.7 GPA, was the vice president of a student organization, and covered my pain with a smile.

Though I couldn’t see it immediately, this experience saved my life. In accordance with my discharge plan, I was required to return to counseling—a wellness habit that I have since chosen to maintain and accept as part of my emotional maintenance. I also re-learned that I am cared about and loved and that it is okay to ask for help. Talking to those around me helped me to see that I am not alone in many of the things that I feel or have experienced and that I did not have to suffer in silence.

Recently, I have learned that emotional wellness doesn’t just happen magically. No amount of waiting or talking will truly resolve emotional hardship on its own. It starts with me. I’ve committed myself to make time for socializing, to exercise almost daily (for a good old endorphin release as well as for my health), and to invest in my hobbies and recreational activities. Additionally, I’ve learned to be patient with myself and forgiving with myself. This world is full of people seeking to judge and criticize—I need to be my strongest and most dedicated supporter and advocate, especially in my own head. I’ve also made peace with my experiences and who I am. I have learned to accept myself, and however emotional I may tend to get at times, I am now grateful for the moments when I am able to cry or feel things. Imagine how bleak life would be if we could not feel!

Lastly, I am no longer ashamed. I will never allow myself to feel shame for being human again. Much like cars and buildings need maintenance, so do I, and that is okay. I am fortunate for the happy moments, for the sad, for the tumultuous, and for the frustrating—what a gift and blessing it is to be alive!

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