When I was seven, my parents announced that they were getting divorced. If I knew then just how much that would affect me and my life today, I would have run far away, as fast as I could, in hopes that reality would never catch up to me. In hopes that nothing would have changed. But it did change, a lot. I wouldn’t be the person who I am today if that hadn’t happened.

It was late July of 2007 when disaster struck. We were camping with my mom’s siblings. I remember the rustling of the tree branches under the cool breeze. I remember the smell of the campfire, but not the warmth of it. I can still feel the cold picnic table against my legs, and the feeling in my stomach that something was not right. This was something I never imagined would happen to my family. It created a barrier between my parents, and their relationships with me and my siblings.

The main thing I remember happening after they told us, was the crying. It felt like I was sitting there for hours on end shaking my head, begging God to take all of the pain away. When all was said and done, dad packed up his things and went home. He would move out of my childhood home. The only thing I remember doing after the announcement, is sitting in a camp chair around the campfire with my favorite stuffed bear, playing with my mom’s engagement ring. My aunts and cousins all had looks of sadness on their faces, and I knew that they were told before we were. I’ve even come to find out just this year that my oldest sister, ten years older than me urged my mom to divorce my dad.

I couldn’t help but blame my parents ruined marriage on myself, and my siblings. It was unfathomable to imagine that it was the fact that my father didn’t truly love my mother anymore that drove them apart. They spent eighteen years in a loveless marriage, only because it was the ‘right thing to do’ when you have five kids. Eventually even that wasn’t a good enough reason to stay married.

Growing up after this was hard. Not only was I one of the only kids in school whose parents were divorced, but I was the fat kid too. I was bullied throughout all of my elementary school years because of this. Between the fifth and sixth grade I had to go on antidepressants. Even now I have issues about my body image. From then I’ve discovered my anxiety as well. Just last year I had more panic attacks than ever before. I turned to music, internet friends, and self-injury instead of my real friends and family to cope with this.

For nearly three years early in my teens, I was suicidal. I imagined ending my life constantly. One night I even posted on my private social media account that I was about to take my own life. I had the pills in my hand, ready to take them. I don’t know what, but something inside of me prompted me to take a shower and not think about it. When I logged back into my private account, I had over 200 messages from people I didn’t know begging me not to do it, and to talk to them. To this day, this makes me cry knowing that complete strangers were actually there for me in the time of my life I needed someone the most.

Since then, I got better. I opened up to my family and friends, and I went to therapy. I got on medication that helps with my depression and anxiety. I channel all of my emotions into my schoolwork, music, writing and other creative outlets. Going through this has made me a stronger person. I know what the warning signs are for my specific conditions, and I know now to reach out to the people closest to me and let them know what’s going on.

Seeing this scholarship gave me this enormous feeling of relief. The world is finally opening up about mental health issues and how much they affect people. The support of my friends and family has quite literally saved my life. Knowing that things are changing, and that the stigma is being erased, makes me hope for a better future.