"We cannot selectively numb emotions; when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions." - Brené Brown/The Gifts of Imperfection.
At age 19, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. At age 22, I lost my dad to suicide. He was only 49. At age 25, I took my last sip of alcohol. Now at 27, I'm still actively in therapy and have my fair share of days I struggle, but I find meaning in my journey through a nonprofit, The Butterfly Path.
I was a sophomore in college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth when I noticed my anxiety. I remember thinking I was aware of what anxiety was, but I never really thought about it from a mental health standpoint. It wasn't until shortly after that I was diagnosed with depression and had major panic attacks. My parents were supportive of anything I needed. Towards the end of the school year, I was in a mental health hospital for the first time. I was so scared. I needed help, and it couldn't wait any longer. That's when I first started therapy and learning about mental health. I ended up finishing the year by moving back home to Hudson, WI, and staying in a hotel in Duluth, MN a couple of nights with my mom to complete finals.
I transferred to the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, but shortly after my junior year started, I ended up in a mental health hospital for the second time. This time for just a little bit longer than the first time. With the never-ending support of my mom, dad, and two brothers, I started a new outpatient program and finished out the year strong (or as strong as I could). Around this time was when I began dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT focuses on building skills to cope with your mental health. I also spoke publicly in person as part of a mental health event for the first time.
After some time, I graduated from my program and focused on finishing out my college years. I had finished my senior year and only had one more semester left until I graduated when my dad passed from suicide in June 2017.
Through all this, I started a blog called "Surviving Young." I wrote about my mental health struggles; it was the first time I started my mental health advocacy. With my family's permission, I shared my story. I was still struggling, but it gave me meaning in life. It was a type of therapy. I vividly remember the first time before I spoke out about my depression, someone told me they, too, struggled, and this weight that had gotten so heavy had lifted. This relief that went through my body was unreal. That's when I knew I wasn't alone.
My dad did not have any known mental health problems. His death was so unexpected. Just weeks prior, he calmed me down from a panic attack. He went to my therapy sessions with me. He got me out of the house and took me on 'mental health field trips.' We started a butterfly garden as he knew my obsession with butterflies during the start of my journey. (The meaning of a butterfly is so powerful)
I woke up to my mom saying, "Anna wake up; your dad didn't come home last night." It was the morning of my little brother's grad party, and my dad left the night before, never coming back. My life stopped for a while. Grief is wild. I had never experienced it before my dad, but grief is another story.
I put my mental health advocacy on hold for a few months because I was so confused. How could my dad, who had no mental health symptoms lose his life to suicide? Our family was so open about mental health that people came to us for resources, plus my dad knew all of my therapy tools. Then I learned that there is more to the human brain and suicide. It's not all black and white. I decided in October of 2017 I was going to start The Butterfly Project (now, The Butterfly Path).
I always talked about one day we should start an organization to house resources and to be a voice in the mental health community. I was so frustrated with the lack of resources that were not easily accessible. Mental health is so common. How can it not be easily accessible? We should be taking care of our brains like we take care of a broken bone. We go to the doctor and get help. But it's not that easy. Finally, I felt ready to do something about it. We did it with the support of friends, family, and my community. We started an organization that provides resources, is a voice, and helps cover the financial costs of therapy when insurance doesn't.
From when The Butterfly Path started to now, life has had a lot of ups but plenty of downs. I always used to say that I could add to my story every day, and I honestly could. However, I'm learning that it's essential to feel your emotions. That's a big step in healing them.