On Sunday nights, you can find rising senior Mira D. relaxing in a face mask while spreading a glossy coat of varnish atop her nails. Known as her “skincare nights,” for Mira, self care has become a weekly tradition.
Whether it’s those Sunday skincare nights, devoting a part of her day to reading, or watching an episode of her go-to show, self care is now an important connection in the support network that Mira has developed over the years — but things weren’t always that way.
When Mira began her mental health journey, she felt alone. Though she suffered from mental illnesses, she didn’t know much about them. Back then, she didn’t do self care either: it seemed insignificant, paraded around as something more important for mental health than it really was.
“I was very uneducated on all of it—I didn’t really understand,” Mira said. “Something I misunderstood early on is that I always thought that in order to feel better, big things need to happen.”
The 5th-grade Mira that had just entered middle school felt trapped in a bubble of confusion and isolation that wouldn’t pop for years—not until she found SafeSpace.
She walked into school one day in her freshman year, not knowing that day would, in many ways, change her life. Mira, who goes to Menlo School, found herself at a presentation explaining what SafeSpace was. Sitting there amongst the audience, she was interested almost immediately, although she didn’t imagine herself becoming a large part of it. Joining SafeSpace was more like sampling a new ice cream flavor: she just wanted to “try it out.”
But just as sampling new flavors can lead to household favorites, trying out SafeSpace was a success. Not only did she become enamored by it, but she found what she had been chasing all these years: a thorough understanding of what mental health was and meant. With SafeSpace, the bubble finally popped.
“When I joined Safe Space, [my mental health] got a lot better because I actually learned what mental health is and I developed coping strategies and learned about self care and all that kind of stuff,” Mira said.
SafeSpace also sparked something other than understanding: passion.
Through her work at SafeSpace, Mira realized how much she loved learning about mental health. As she dug deeper, she uncovered intersections with other fields — in particular, psychology and neuroscience. Just like with SafeSpace, after dipping her toes into those fields, she knew they were for her. She dove head-first into studying them.
Now, there are two sides of Mira’s relationship with mental health: what she calls the “human” side of it—her own mental health, working with others affected by mental health, and untangling the stigma—and the scientific side. Deftly exploring both, Mira isn’t hunting for the “what’s” of mental health anymore, but the “why’s.” She wonders, why do we have mental illness in the first place? How are certain illnesses developed and how do they affect people?
“Working with SafeSpace has really allowed me to find myself and what I want to do,” said Mira, who now envisions herself becoming a psychiatrist.
Another part of finding herself has been seeing how mental health has chiseled and sculpted her personality over time.
“I think that mental health in general changes who you are in terms of your personality—you definitely develop into a different person,” she said. “I would say that I’m much more empathetic than I would have been if I didn’t have mental health struggles.”
Her mental health journey, though, also raised difficulties for her personality; she was forced outside the boundaries of her comfort zone in order to seek help.
“I’m pretty private—I don’t like to talk about mental health. Even after I got involved with SafeSpace and stuff like that, it was still really hard for me to talk about my mental health,” she said.
That attachment to privacy led Mira to build her walls higher and higher, not wanting to open up. She recognized that she needed to tear the walls down, but she couldn’t bring herself to. In the end, like a shell, in order for her to open, someone else had to do the prying.
Her walls first began to crumble with one of her close friends a few years back. For Mira, opening up to them was “such a sigh of relief.”
“Just knowing that there’s someone there who can notice when I’m feeling down and can check up on me every day is such a nice feeling when you feel bad or when you feel isolated,” Mira said.
Mira recalls one instance when she and her friend both attended a meeting. To her friend, Mira felt different — so after, she checked in with Mira on how she was doing.
“That is a moment that I’m proud of,” she said, “and I think it’s so important to reach out to other people because there’s no harm—it’s easy to feel like that’s just an extra thing to worry about and a burden for them, but that’s not really the truth. People want to check in on you and make sure that you’re okay.”
From that moment when she first broke out of her shell, Mira has been working on building a larger support system. Recently, a new connection she formed in that support system was with her guidance counselor. Mira had known him for three years—because of Safe Space, she has been working with him to improve the mental health culture at her high school—but she never before considered talking to him about her own mental health.
During the last month of her junior year, things changed. The friend she had confided in encouraged her to reach out, and she made the leap. Since then, she’s developed a relationship with him where she can openly speak about her mental health, which is rare for her.
Mira carries the importance of openness to other parts of her life. Openness is why she became an active part of SafeSpace and found the subjects she is passionate about. Why during COVID, she made an effort to visit her friends, or started giving more honest answers when people asked ‘how are you?’ It’s why on Sunday nights, you can always find her with skin care products before curling up with Netflix or a book.
Though it has since evaporated, she still remembers the bubble of confusion and isolation that she was once entrapped in. She knows how difficult it can be to talk about mental health, and she wants others to recognize that there is no shame in not feeling comfortable with opening up.
“It’s understandable if you’re reluctant to open up—a lot of people are—and I think people berate themselves for being like, ‘why can’t I just talk to someone about this’ and don’t understand that sometimes you can’t talk to your family or friends, and that’s a sign of getting help outside of that,” Mira said.
She underscores that not being able to talk with a regular close-knit circle of individuals doesn't mean that there is no one else to talk to—she turned to her guidance counselor because she didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone else.
It can be really scary trying to navigate your own mental health when you don’t really know what’s happening, so I hope people know that there’s a lot of people going through what you are even if you don’t really see it,” she said. “I think that we need to be a bit more open so that people aren’t feeling so alone.”