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Sydney White, W Jordan HS, 2018 Awardee

When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder and spent the summer at a residential treatment center.

Apr 24, 2018

When I was six years old, I was diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder and spent the summer at a residential treatment center. I couldn’t explain what was happening to me. It felt like a wave of anger and fear washing over me and my body simply couldn’t contain the water, so a tsunami of screaming, tears, and all manner of profanity came flooding out. As far as everyone else was concerned, I was throwing a tantrum. But I wasn’t a misbehaved child, I was sick. And I certainly wasn’t possessed by the devil, contrary to some of my fellow churchgoers’ assessments. I mean, seriously? The level of ignorance was astounding. However, that was supposed to be the worst of it. As I grew older, I would become more articulate and capable of controlling my outbursts.

For the most part, that was true…until my 11th grade year. I was on new medications to help me recover from my suicide attempt the previous year, but something in me snapped 2nd semester. I felt completely alone in a sea full of people. I looked out on the faces of my peers and I didn’t see any emotions that I recognized—1,600 students and I couldn’t find one kindred spirit? They all looked happy—completely oblivious to the storm raging inside my mind. Didn’t they know what it felt like to be a slave to their own thoughts? Didn’t they get tired of their suicidal urges replaying like an endless film reel? I couldn’t take it anymore. Eleven years of baggage is too much for one person to carry.

I was on home and hospital for two months and my life became one shade of apathetic gray. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I didn’t want to do my homework, and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I wanted to drop out of school completely. Eventually, with the support of my parents, I was able to return to school part-time and finish out the year. For once, I was ready to face the future.

When I was in my dark place, 99 of “what ifs” that held me back. What if I never fall in love? What if I never get to travel the world? What if I never find my dream job? What if I never find out what happiness truly feels like? Death would rob me of all of those opportunities, and in that moment, I realized how much I wanted those things. My message for other people in my position is to grab that 1% and hold onto it with everything you have. Because one day—maybe not today or tomorrow—but one day, you will find that it’s everything.

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