Wake up. Go to school. Do extracurriculars. Walk home. Do homework. Remember to eat. Try to sleep. Repeat.

That was my life for several years. I knew I was... different. I was terrified of people, nervous about anything and everything and had less energy than my friends. Growing up, no one noticed. I was always in honors classes, had the highest grades in school and was the model student.

By sophomore year of high school, I couldn't deny it anymore. I managed to keep my grades up and go to club meetings, but I stopped eating and sleeping. I had a panic attack every week. I bit my nails so badly, my fingers were torn up. I knew I had to do something before I got any worse and listened to the voices in my head. I was–finally– diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and Depression. After two years of taking medication and going to intensive therapy, I learned how to manage my mental illness. I graduated valedictorian with a full-tuition scholarship. I still can't believe that I did it: that I stayed in school... That I survived.

With this amazing transformation from timid girl to confident woman, people often forget why it took me so long to get help. No one noticed my illness because I seemed normal–perfect– and didn't fit into any boxes. It wasn't obvious to people that I was drowning in my thoughts. I had to find the courage within myself to reach out for help; it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

Students, like myself, often slip through the cracks. It took me months to get the help and support I needed because my high school didn't deem me a 'high risk' student; I was at the bottom of the list for services. Students who are the model for others are usually the ones who suffer in silence because they don't show obvious signs of mental illness. I did for practically my whole life and didn't even realize it.

People often ask me why I share my experiences with others; how I can be so candid about my mental illness. The answer is simple: someone will get help after learning about my situation. I knew near nothing about mental illness; it was never taught in my health classes. When I was at my worst, my best friend guided me to the answers to all of my issues because she shared her struggles with me. If I can do the same thing for another student who has a well-hidden mental illness, then I know that the hell I've been through can become something beautiful. I want to encourage hope in those who can’t see the light anymore. I only saw darkness for a long time and I eventually found my light. I hope I can help guide students to their light, too.

Never be afraid to seek out help, no matter what people may think. If you feel like you are struggling and school is becoming hard for you (even if others don't notice) it may be time to take action. It is a long process, but in the end, you become a stronger person.