The journey to finding my strength is a work in progress. My name, Briana, is defined as strength in Celtic. My strength is defined as finding acceptance for myself. The summer of 2014 would change my life forever.

Throughout the summer, I was experiencing more sadness than usual. At first, I did not know what to think of it. I just thought that I was going through the motions where I was having a bad day, then waking up the next day feeling fine as though nothing happened. As the summer progressed, my sadness became ongoing and the signs were more noticeable. The signs that I experienced besides sadness included a loss of control, irritability, and anxiety. I could no longer hide the pain that I bottled up for years and on August 29th, 2014, those emotions reached a breaking point.

When I experienced the breakdown, I was beginning my third year in college. At the time, I majored in early childhood education as I wanted to become a teacher. A lot of the day was a blur due to my emotions becoming too overwhelming to bear. Also, there was a part of me that purposely blocked out the memory of losing control because I did not want to see myself as vulnerable. It was an out of body experience, as I was used to putting on a brave face to mask the true feelings I had inside.

What I do recall that day was a lot of crying, irritability due to the stress of beginning a new semester and feeling conflicted on whether to stay in college. Everything that occurred in school would carry over at home as my emotions were still intense. Once I came home that evening, my mother became concerned about what happened to me earlier in the day. I had difficulty processing what happened due to my mind being numb over the stress of experiencing a traumatic event. The last thing I wanted to happen was my mother seeing her daughter in a fragile state of mind causing more stress for her to handle.

Later in the evening, my mother scheduled a doctor’s appointment to address the breakdown. The following day, I saw the doctor and we discussed my situation. He asked me what was the cause of it? I mentioned that the stress of bottling up my emotions were the cause, in addition to having off and on periods of depression and anxiety throughout my life. He gave me an evaluation and afterwards, I was officially diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Following the diagnosis, the doctor recommended therapy would be the best treatment for me and gave out a list of therapists in my neighborhood.

Once we got home from the appointment, my mother and I began researching the list of therapists in the neighborhood. We eventually settled on a therapist who had a practice nearby and made a phone call discussing further details. The next few days were met with big decisions, I had scheduled my first therapy session. Also, I was still conflicted about staying in college following my diagnosis. After thinking long and hard about it, I decided to leave college and focus on treatment. I started therapy a couple of days later and have been attending sessions regularly for four years.

During the four years that I have been in therapy, it has been an eye-opening experience, in addition to challenging myself to recognize things that I had not seen before. When I first started going to therapy, there was a mixture of emotions going through my mind. On one hand, I was relieved to get help. On the other hand, however, I found difficulty coming to terms with the diagnosis of depression and anxiety. There was a lot of shame because people who are diagnosed with mental illness are often labeled as crazy and weird. I felt that shame for a long time because I could not deal with allowing myself to be perceived in that light.

I also found myself being defensive in the beginning of therapy. I used being defensive as a coping mechanism for a variety of reasons. I used this coping mechanism to deal with not getting the necessary help for my issues when I was younger. It was also a way to appear more assertive and not show weakness. Furthermore, being defensive was a way of protecting myself from getting hurt due to being bullied throughout my childhood. During the ages of 12-19, I was bullied on a regular basis causing internal and external issues that still traumatize me today. Due to these reasons, I often took out my frustrations on my therapist who I felt at the time was overly critical of me. There were days that I did not want to attend therapy because of judgment, in addition to feeling that I did not have much to offer in our sessions.

Eventually, I learned how to trust the process. Throughout therapy, I have learned about coping skills which has helped me express my emotions in more constructive ways. I have also learned how to be more trusting towards my therapist as it is her job to help me confront uncomfortable truths. By helping me confront uncomfortable truths, it demonstrates that her approach is working and she cares about my well-being.

Trusting the process has become a common theme as it relates to a new chapter in my life. During the past few months, I have been enrolled in a job training program which specializes in technology. The time that I have spent in the program has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life. Through this opportunity, I have been able to acquire more knowledge in technology and professionalism which will help me succeed in the future.

Furthermore, this program has given me the opportunity to become more open socially and it has been eye-opening to put myself out there despite challenges. Ever since starting this new chapter in my life, I look forward to learning every day in an environment where I am surrounded by people who are open, kind and thoughtful. All of my classmates have made me into a better person who has been able to laugh and smile more than ever. Most importantly, they have given me the confidence to believe in myself once again.

The four years following my diagnosis has been a journey of highs and lows. My strength has carried me through dark times and even in those moments, I keep pushing to see the light that is shining inside of me. Through my strength, I accept that I am a work in progress.

Through writing my story, I would like the conversation of mental health to continue where people are able to express themselves without shame. Furthermore, by sharing my story, if it makes a difference in one person’s life, I feel that I have served my purpose. Everyone has a purpose as all of us deserve love, peace, and happiness.

Briana Rosario is from New York City. She is currently enrolled at NPower, a job training program that specializes in technology. Her own journey with mental health has inspired her to write again. Through sharing her experiences, she hopes that the stigma of mental health will continue to break as people are having more open conversations about it. She believes that by sharing her story, if it makes a difference in one person’s life, she has served her purpose. During her free time, she enjoys writing and spending time with her family.