I Can Be Even More Vulnerable

by Katie Garrison


Heart racing, tears falling, hands shaking. I will never forget that day in April of 2021- I have never experienced such hopelessness and fear. I could never have imagined that the most vulnerable and terrifying moment of my life would ultimately lead me to want to share my story, although it is not always easy to open up about it, and help my peers to realize that they are not alone in needing support with mental health.

Why am I so driven to make a difference and to eliminate the stigma that surrounds mental health? From my experience as a leader, the best way to connect with my peers is to be honest and authentic with them. To share my own shortcomings and to be vulnerable. I experienced anxiety attacks during the lockdowns due to the COVID Pandemic, as the loneliness and isolation contributed to a very frightening decline in my mental wellbeing. I was in a dark place, and needed to reach out, but didn’t have any idea of how to do so, what resources were available, or who I could talk with. If I had anyone share their experiences and be vulnerable with me, I would not have felt so alone, broken, and would have been on track to get support so much sooner!

When I hit my lowest point of anxiety and panic, my mother found me frozen and almost lifeless after online school, just numb to the world. She is one of the people I am closest with, someone who has raised me and known me my entire life, and I was still terrified of being vulnerable and opening up about how I was really feeling. I was uncomfortable and scared, and I perceived my breaking down and confiding in someone as weakness, which was so far from the truth. The truth was that these moments were important in ways I couldn’t even comprehend.

Because of my anxiety attacks, I sought guidance and support. Because I sought guidance and support, I began to think about my peers and my community, and how many teenagers like me face similar struggles and do not know how to be vulnerable, or don’t have someone that they can be vulnerable with. I committed to becoming an ambassador for mental health and a leader at my school and in my community. My experiences with anxiety led me to apply to become an ambassador for two different mental health organizations: Morgan’s Message and the Hidden Opponent. Getting involved with these organizations made me realize that so many people struggle with mental health and wellness, but don’t have the support that they need to work through their challenges. I made the decision to start a Morgan’s Message chapter at my school, as I saw that in my community, there was absolutely no discussion around mental health, and I knew this needed to change.

When I started the Morgan’s Message chapter at my school, I had to be out in the quad with the entire school swarming around me. I shook many different hands, introduced myself and promoted the club. I had to be vulnerable and reach out to many students, teachers, and administrators about what I was doing. Leading meetings and introducing guest speakers was quite uncomfortable, and yet again, I felt incredibly vulnerable. However, my advocacy for mental health and wellness at my school proved to pay off, as my club attracted a group of athletes that truly listen and are passionate about mental health. As I invited guest speakers to share their stories with the club, it struck me how willing and ready they were to be vulnerable themselves with a group of athletes that they did not know. As I listened to one of our guest speakers open up about losing a friend to suicide and falling into a deep depression, I was floored by the emotion and the raw truth from which she spoke.

Social media is another tool that I use to tell my story and advocate and promote sharing and resources about mental health. I am going to share more articles and resources on my social media, and be relentless in my advocacy and my passion for mental health. I am going to be open and honest with those who follow me, and share my journey and the path that led me to where I am now. And in doing this, I know that I will move others to use their platforms as a safe space to open up about their own mental health experiences.

Writing this essay has made me realize that, while I have opened up to my peers and community, I know that I can open up so much more! I have realized that I can be even more vulnerable with those around me, especially my peers and my community. Like most people, I often hold back at times and do not always confide in others about my mental health. The feeling of powerlessness and fragility comes to my mind when I think about opening up to my peers, and it is a terrifying feeling. However, I know that as a leader in my community, the choice and the decision to fully share my experiences with mental health will only serve and benefit others. I firmly believe in the ripple effect: if sharing my journey with mental health and wellness inspires just one person to open up about their own mental health, and then another person, then I have done my job. I have led by example.

Although relinquishing control is not easy, there is a beauty in letting go and allowing myself to be vulnerable with those around me. Pure honesty and authenticity are hard to find, particularly at this point in time, and if you can open up your heart and tell your story, you will compel others to follow your example.


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