‘I pull into the school parking lot. I check my makeup. I walk to the front doors and wait to be escorted in. Memories flood my mind of all the chaos.’

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“I pull into a school parking lot. I put my car in park and pull down my visor and look in the mirror to check my makeup. I walk through the parking lot to the front doors of the school. With an ID in my hand, I wait to be escorted to the auditorium.

Walking down the halls, memories flood my mind of all of the chaos I experienced in school and how I am about to tell hundreds of kids my story. It may have happened a long time ago, but every time I retell it, I feel vulnerable and exposed. As I take a deep breath, I walk into the huge room and instantly smile. There, upon the projection screen, in front of hundreds of empty seats, is the Listen, Lucy logo. Any minute now, the kids will start flooding through the doors and my heart will start racing in the best way. All my nerves will be gone and I will do exactly what I was put on earth to do.

I will openly share my battle with mental illness.

I will talk about when I was just 18 years old and felt more isolated and alone. I thought about how people offered to help me, but the stigma around mental illness at the time was so strong that the embarrassment of my admission kept me from opening up. I will share about how I was bullied before bullying was a thing discussed on the news. The words of my bullies stuck with me for years way beyond high school. I talk about how the bullying started over my relationship, as so many problems in high school do. But when those awful people who were targeting me started to whisper and blatantly make fun of my health, I was horribly triggered for the first time.  Also, I will share that when people were starting rumors that I made myself throw up, prank calling me and posting things online, my issues were magnified to a degree I can’t explain. My issues ran so deep that for four years after high school, I was still in therapy working through the garbage.

Woman who struggles with mental illness smiles
Courtesy of Jordan Corcoran

I will talk about how the combination of bullying and an undiagnosed mental illness created the perfect storm of chaos when I finally escaped Pittsburgh and went to college.

I will talk the terrifying, relentless panic that consumed my life my freshman year of college and how, when I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder, I was shaken to my core but also relieved. I will share about the daily panic attacks, the hospital visits, the weight loss, the sleepless nights and the terror that lived around every corner as I navigated something that felt so dark that no one else could see.

I will describe the loneliness I felt with every breath and how it felt like I was speaking a language no one around me understood. I will discuss sympathy versus empathy and my anger of being looked at with sad eyes but good intentions. I will share how I found solace in writing. How it gave me the opportunity to take my time and express how I was feeling without judgment. Writing gave me the tools I needed to be heard and to heal. Writing, quite possibly, saved me.

From there I will discuss how writing and publicly sharing my story in my college newspaper gave me acceptance from my peers that I never knew I needed. It helped me get over the obstacle of worrying about people finding out what was ‘wrong’ with me and left me to fight the anxiety with everything I had. That acceptance is what helped me create the platform from which I speak from now.

Woman who suffers from mental illness stands speaking in front of room full of people
Photos by @samisaundersstudio

Listen, Lucy, my creation, is a place to express yourself–freely, creatively, anonymously– to find comfort in seeing you are not alone. It is where the world is becoming a kinder, more accepting place. It is where I created a purpose for all of the crap I experienced. It is a community of people who accept themselves and each other and gives others permission to do the same. It is where I take something awful I live with and create something beautiful that will hopefully outlive me. Creating Listen, Lucy has given me the privilege to speak in front of thousands of people of all different ages from all different walks of life. It has given me the chance to impact people and help the audience not only realize that they are not alone, but that there is power in their stories. I bare my soul in hopes to help someone get the help they need and so deeply deserve. It took me way too long to speak up and so much damage was done. The damage that I am still sorting out 12 years later.

Woman who struggles with mental illness stands in front of auditorium speaking
Photos by @samisaundersstudio

I will share everything I can with the kids sitting in silence listening to me. I only have an hour, but I plan to make the most of it. I will tell them about the importance of acceptance– of others and of yourself– and how that acceptance of things you may not understand makes this world a much better place. I will tell them how acceptance of yourself is the most freeing and empowering way to allow yourself to heal. I will aggressively, but kindly, recommend seeking the help of those around them. I will tell them that we are not meant to face these things along.

After taking questions from the crowd, I will stick around and hear the stories of different students that want to share. They wait in line to talk to me and my heart explodes as I meet so many kids going through so much– feeling the way I felt all of those years ago. I do my best to give advice, to listen and to be supportive. We usually hug and I thank them for being so strong. This is, by far, the most humbling and rewarding part of my job.

As the last kid walks back to their class, I am escorted back to the office to sign out and I thank the school for this important opportunity. I walk back through the parking lot and get back in my car. As I leave the school, I think back to how awful I felt for all of those years, how much I have been through and, more importantly, how much I have accomplished. It is such a beautiful thing to be able to reflect on my evolution.

I park my car again, walk into my office, open my computer and get back to work. There is still so much to be done and I have so much left to give. I am not done sharing yet.

‘[My anxiety] tried to bury me. It didn’t know I was a seed.’ -unknown”

Woman who struggles with mental illness smiles in photoshoot
Photos by @samisaundersstudio

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jordan Corcoran of Pittsburg, PA. You can follow her journey about mental illness on Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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