‘By chance, I met his school counselor. She was a sweet lady with long dark hair and a petite build. ‘What are you doing currently?,’ she asked. I sheepishly admitted, ‘I dropped out.’

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“Dear seniors whose mental health is affecting their ability to graduate,

I was probably a lot like you three years ago. School was incredibly stressful. I cared so much about my grades, but when I didn’t get something, it threw off the entire class for me. I attempted chemistry for two years, and both years I failed no matter how hard I tried, or who I asked for help. I just didn’t get it. On top of that, my medications weren’t working like they should have, and my father was very ill. My parents were separated, I was adjusting to my dad’s new partner, and our house was being foreclosed. I lost everything in a very short amount of time. I even had to give my beloved cat away. She had been my rock, but we couldn’t take her to the apartment we were moving into. After that, stability was a fantasy. We moved to a new town by November of 2015.

So, I had dropped out of school August 2015 with the intention of pursuing the rest of my education online. That didn’t happen due to financial issues, and I had trouble finding a job. I spent my days cleaning the apartment and cooking while my mom worked. My little brother was being sent to a new high school. He invited me to go with him on his orientation day.

That’s where I met his school counselor. She was a very sweet lady with long dark hair and a petite build. Everything she said was with a smile, or a fortified look of determination. As she showed us around a school that had been twice the size of our old high school, she asked what I was currently doing. I sheepishly admitted that I had dropped out.

Right then and there she dragged me back to her office. She asked me how many credits I would have needed at my old school to graduate. I admitted I needed two science credits, another English credit, and one more history credit. When we were done calculating these things, she revealed that if I worked hard enough despite missing nearly all of the first semester, I could still graduate, and walk with my class. As long as with my normal classes I worked on three computer classes I could graduate. I was ecstatic, but nervous.

The transition to a new school was easier than I’d expected. I didn’t care to get to know any of my new classmates, but my cousin who was my brother’s age dragged me around with his friends, and I wasn’t as lonely as I could be.

Still, at home I was having trouble. Often, I’d skip several days. I’d lie in my darkened room with tangled, greasy hair on the days I skipped. I wondered why I was here. I wondered why I was always hurting. I wondered why I wanted to die. The list went on and on, and when I wasn’t wondering I was sleeping. I slept a lot. So much so that a lot of my memories of that little apartment are of that bed, and my king-size wolf comforter that I always had wrapped around me. My bed was safe. Nothing else was.

Eventually may came, and my school counselor, a stout, grumpy-looking man with salt and pepper hair and a beard told me I wouldn’t be able to graduate with my class. We were days away from the last day of school I was finishing finals, but I had procrastinated on my computer classes. I still had half of my online government class, and nearly all of my physical science too. Graduation practice was quickly approaching, and I was screwed. Or. . .so I thought. I looked my counselor dead in the eyes and told him I would graduate. He replied that the day of graduation practice at 8:00 am was my deadline.

I had four days to finish a semester and a half worth of work. I worked tirelessly, staying until the early hours of the morning with help from the coffee gods. On my last day, I sat in the library. My fingers moved faster than they could on the keyboard, and I read passages faster than I ever had. I turned in all of my papers for the online courses, and my friends and I waited in the library with my laptop screen open in front of me. There was a progress bar that showed me how much I had to go. I had to have over 60% of the coursework completed to consider the class passed. I held my breath and watched the clock and the progress bar while my counselor steadily graded the papers in his office. Every minute felt like an eternity.

It was nearly eight. Would I make it? 8:05 came, and I hung my head in defeat. The progress was just short. . .

Or so I thought. My counselor found me in a corner of the library, and he pointed his finger in the direction of the auditorium. ‘I know I said 8:00 a.m., but we’ll pretend that’s what the clock says. Now get to graduation practice.’ I nearly ran there.

I made it! I couldn’t believe I’d made it. If anyone had told me at the beginning of the year that I was graduating, I would have scoffed because I had no intention of going back. It caused too much stress, and I was tired of the panic attacks, but somehow I did it, and it was honestly one of the most euphoric feelings in the world because I had been at a point in my life where I’d given up all hope for myself. Yet, a few days later I walked down that aisle in heels, and I gladly shook the hand of the man that handed me that little piece of paper with a huge smile on my face.

My point for telling you students struggling with anxiety and depression my story is this: Depression and anxiety are not easy to live with. No matter what it does to us if you have even a spark of determination inside of you that you should cling to that, and you can succeed. Just remember that the things you do in your darkest moments determine your future. I’m glad I graduated. Otherwise I wouldn’t have the job that I do today. I wouldn’t have met amazing people and I wouldn’t have learned so many things that were thrust upon me through first-hand experience. Depression and anxiety may beat you down so much you feel like you can’t breathe. You feel like you can’t even get up. You feel like your body has been through a great battle without any of the glory worthy battle scars to boast about, but we can all get back up. It doesn’t matter how long we stay up until we’re knocked back down again because at the end of the day, we can always get back up.

So go forth this graduation season and take your diplomas with a smile. Be proud of yourself for the difficult days you slogged through, and the days that you wondered if you’d even be standing on that stage or staying in this world. Take that little paper because you earned it. And to those of you that won’t be taking that diploma in your hand this time, your story isn’t over. Get back up whether it be getting your GED, taking another semester, or simply finding a job that isn’t what everyone would choose, but it’s something you like to do. We’re all running a race, but it’s okay if we don’t finish quite like everyone else. Do what’s best for you. You’ve got this.”

Courtesy Cheyanne Burkhalter

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cheyanne Burkhalter, 21, of Sterling . Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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