Since I was fairly little, worrying has been something of a hobby for me. When I was sick, I would convince myself I had a rare, serious disease. When I went to school, I would cry at the slightest scolding. I didn’t ever want to leave home, because home was comfortable and safe.

As I got older, my anxiety got less obvious, but it took on new forms. For example, I was absolutely certain that people didn’t like me. That they actually thought and talked about not liking me often. Yes, that is an unhealthy and ridiculous thought, but I had no idea how to stop it.

I would replay conversations in my head over and over, meticulously deciding what I had done wrong. I would think about the vast stretch of years in front of me, and panic because I felt like I would never be an “adult.” I was scared about the past, about the future. About ending up alone.

I threw myself into school. I defined myself by the letter staring up at me from each paper. Which was fine until I got any bad grade. As soon as I saw “C,” or even “B,” my thoughts would go something like, "You’re not going to get into a good college now, or get a good job. If you had tried this wouldn’t have happened."

So I learned to manage. I read to escape whenever I could. I ate. I did a lot of theater—because on stage, I didn’t have to decide for myself what to say.

Then came the time when people got asked to dances and got into relationships. I’m not going to go into detail, but once again, my brutal self-critic was happy to do its job.

Senior year, I finally decided it was time to take control. I started talking to a counselor and was diagnosed with anxiety. I started journaling, doing breathing exercises and focusing on my friends who loved me (by the way, thanks guys, you’re amazing).

That year turned out to be fantastic. I became the captain of Scholastic Bowl, performed in the most fun play I’ve ever been in, made new friends and got into a great school. I had to go to prom without a date, but I had a good time and got to wear a nice dress. At the end of the year, I graduated as salutatorian!

Of course, it’s not like I’m absolutely cured now. Some days I still feel anxious, homesick or overwhelmed. But most of the time, I’m happy and having fun. I’m in a place where I feel safe and loved.

I am writing this for anyone who may be struggling with anxiety or other mental health issues, because I want you to know you’re not alone. I want you to know you are beautiful and important. I want you to know things get better. I promise.