Junior Maggie P. never expected to have an important realization about her mental health while river rafting. Yet it was her experience during a river rafting trip in Idaho that made everything click.
Prior to that, upon first entering middle school in sixth grade, she had been feeling overwhelmed. Walking into school each day, she realized all the things that were on her plate: mouthfuls of sports, different friend groups she had to juggle, social structures… It felt as though wave upon wave of worry was crashing against her, and she had to push to stay afloat.
The waves quite literally flowed to Idaho during her river rafting trip. Though what she had been experiencing in middle school had been difficult, the short trip was somehow so much harder.
“I’d never experienced what I’d experienced there—I was just scared, I was worried. I didn’t feel safe,” Maggie said. “I felt anxious the whole time.”
Processing her experience, Maggie realized for the first time that her feelings of worry and anxiousness might be larger than they seemed. Perhaps, she remembers thinking, this was something that she needed to actively manage and work on.
And yet she didn’t—not really, at least. Though it affected her in middle school, she kept everything to herself, not wanting to open up to others. She feared the judgement she would receive from others, particularly her male friends, about what she was feeling. She feared getting laughed at.
“At the time, I wasn’t really open to understanding and learning more about mental health—I really didn’t know how that would affect me and how it affects others, and I just kept it to myself.”
Eventually, the tide became increasingly insurmountable. She recognized that this was a “huge problem,” and, at the onset of eighth grade, she began seeing a therapist.
For Maggie, that choice was “pretty much life changing,” and she continues to see that therapist today. Through therapy, Maggie found a reliable way for her to work on herself and move forward, and the once seemingly bumpy transition to high school was smoothed out into a paved journey.
There was also her other 8th-grade choice which changed her: joining SafeSpace. Unlike at middle school, every time she walked into a SafeSpace meeting, she felt like she had entered an open space in which no topic was off the table. Her fears of judgement washed away.
“That was also extremely helpful in guiding myself through middle school and joining high school,” Maggie said. “Being able to listen and hear other people’s stories and knowing that other people struggle with the same things as me really helped.”
Unlike many, Maggie never struggled with confidence. Rather, she has always exuded it—from a young age, she was the kind of person who was brimming with energy and enthusiasm, who thrived in a throng of others.
Her anxiety diagnosis was like a seemingly un-liftable weight, the one thing that could pull down her bubbly persona and hinder her ability to do things.
Joining SafeSpace and talking with therapists helped lift the weight, transforming it from something that pulled her down to something that she could manage.
“Now, I know that everything will be okay in the long run and that other people will help me through it, which is a good thing for me to look forward to after my struggles in middle school,” she said.
As someone who loves being around others, though, quarantine was difficult for Maggie. It was in April, she says, when the difficulties of her lockdown life truly seeped into her. Though Maggie is incredibly thankful to have a close and supportive family, without her friends, she felt alone. There were so many laughs, so many conversations that she couldn’t experience without her friends.
“I’m an extremely social person and I basically rely on my friendships to keep me moving, so it hit me pretty hard,” Maggie said.
And it wasn’t just her friends that she could no longer talk to—during the initial lockdown lull, she also couldn’t attend her once-regular therapy, which had been put on a two-month hiatus to adjust to an online platform.
The very structure of remote learning was also difficult for Maggie; as someone with ADHD, online school felt like a rapidly unspooling disaster. When she finally closed Zoom at the end of the day and headed away from the screen, it was as if she hadn’t learned anything.
As everything melted together, she felt like she couldn’t get through the sludge. The difficulties of lockdown reality constantly stuck to her like molasses, permeating her day-to-day life. Just like millions of others around the world, she felt… alone.
When her therapy center finally ended their 2-month hiatus, though, things got better. The sludge thinned out into something more manageable.
“It just really helped me to be able to have someone to talk to,” she said. “And I obviously could FaceTime my friends, but I never really talked to my friends the way I talk with my therapist.”
As the days blurred into months, other things shone through the pandemic haze, too. Maggie became super organized: she made sure things in her room stayed spotless and followed a strict morning regimen beginning with an 8 am workout. Staying organized and keeping things clean is something which Maggie found during quarantine that helps her cope with anxiety.
Beyond that, it was the little things, like meeting her grandmother for a weekly lunch, that helped sustain her and put the worries that she had formed over her grandmother’s health to bed.
Today, though it’s not quite the same over Zoom, Maggie still relishes in the open space she finds at SafeSpace meetings, and she hopes to bring that same space to her own school.
“Mental health has always been a big thing at Sacred Heart, but it's not like they really implement it — I feel like I can tell there’s so many people that are hiding what they feel,” Maggie said. “So I want to have a lot of new members join and be able to talk about that openly.”
Already, the mental health advocacy Maggie has been doing at her school has paid off for her. She’s had friends reach out and join SafeSpace, and has gotten to talk with them about their mental health and help them when they need it. For her, the future only gets brighter.
“I can't wait to see what comes with that for the next two years,” she said.