Hi, my name is Rebecca Riggs.

I thought you might like to know this information since you never bothered asking me my name while you scolded me for my life choices as I stood in the store where I work, trying to help you find a handbag.

I'm used to people asking me questions about school. I am a young person working at a popular clothing store in the South, so I am used to being asked questions about my future plans, but you overstepped the line.

I thought nothing of it when you asked if I was in school, but I was taken aback with what followed. You decided to voice your opinion when I told you I was going to a community college, not considering that maybe things have happened in my life leading up to this that have lead me down this path.

In the fall of 2014, I began school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (so obviously grades were not a problem as you so rudely pointed out might be a reason I would have to go to a community college). For years I had dreamed about going to UNC. My dad would take me to basketball and football games and while I was there I marveled in awe of the Bell Tower, the Dean Dome, and all of the other amazing buildings on campus. I knew from the age of 10 that this was where I wanted to go to college.

As the years went by, I worked extremely hard in school to have good grades. I also joined many clubs, played several sports, volunteered, and worked a part time job, all to build up my resume so UNC would see that I was the type of student they wanted. In the end, my hard work paid off and I was accepted. I thought it was the best day of my life.

I moved into the dorms and started my new life at college the next fall. I even had a work study job as a manager for the volleyball team. But as time went on, I could tell things weren't how they were supposed to be. I began to feel sad and depressed most of the time, my grades weren't as good as they were in high school (so in my eyes I was failing), and I was having a hard time making new friends. I decided to go to the CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) center. There the doctor diagnosed me with severe depression and anxiety. She also put me on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds, but it was too late.

I had waited so long to tell someone how I was feeling that my depression had taken over my life. I wasn't eating or drinking and even had to be admitted to the hospital for dehydration. I had no idea how to handle this because I had never been in this situation before or even known anyone who had been in this situation. UNC was supposed to be my dream school, so why was I feeling this way?

Eventually it came to a head on October 22nd, 2014. I had just gotten back from class and called my mom. I just couldn't do this anymore. I had no idea how I was going to make it through the day. She got scared and called campus police. They escorted me out of my dorm room and to the hospital. I was not admitted the first time because they were overcapacity, but a few days later I was admitted into the hospital at UNC.

I was terrified.

All I knew about "psych wards" were what I had seen in movies with people talking to themselves and screaming. I thought to myself, "I'm not one of those people, why am I here? I'm different, I don't belong here."

Luckily, I was not taken to the adult psychiatric ward, but to the perinatal psychiatric area meant for women who were depressed during or after pregnancy. I was there with two other women, one of whom had given birth a few months prior, the other was like me though.

I made so many realizations about my life while I was in there. The first couple days were weird, I had to get used to the schedule and being locked into an area with three hospital rooms, a TV area, and a phone area. I honestly could not believe this was happening to me. Before all of this, I knew nothing about depression or anxiety. This experience was so eye opening to me about the ways of the mental health system and how mentally ill people are treated.

I had it really good the first time, we got outside time and even an Occupational Therapist who would buy us Starbucks. They taught us relaxation techniques and we did yoga with aromatherapy, the latter of which I found to be extremely helpful with my depression and anxiety. I was released after about eight days.

I had decided while I was in there that I would not be going to back to UNC the next semester, so I took a medical absence from the school, which still stands to this day in case I want to go back. Moving out of the dorm was really hard. I had worked so hard to get here and this happens???? I couldn't understand it. I didn't know how to explain the situation to my suite mates and I was scared so I made up a story about having pneumonia and missing too much class.

Just because I was out of the hospital didn't mean my depression was "cured" or "went away." I struggled every single day and some days I still do struggle because it doesn't go away. Medication was a hard thing for me too because in my mind I was like, "Great, now I'm on crazy meds." I believed the stereotypical things that I had heard about mental health because I did not know any better. But honestly, take the medication. You may not find the right one the first time and have to change about 10 times like me, but once you find the one that works, it's so worth it.

It is at this point that I first come in contact with community college. So, lady at the store, this is how it happened. I decided to go to Sandhills Community College because I was not in good mental health and needed to be at home with my family. And guess what? I'm still here. I did not receive any credits for my uncompleted semester at UNC and did not go full time my first semester at Sandhills because my therapist thought it would be good for me to ease into the spring semester. So this is my last semester here and I will be graduating in May and then transferring to a four-year university.

That's right, I have a therapist. She is actually really awesome and has seen my life completely transform from the lowest point to now the highest point so far. I still see her, but about once a month instead of once a week because, as I've said before, depression does not just go away. Once you have it, you have it.

Which brings me to my second stay in the hospital. This one was in February 2015 at Moore Regional Hospital. And this time, it was just as scary as I thought it would be. They only had an adult ward so that's where I was put. In my three days I was there we were put on lockdown about three or four times because of patients who were violent and would scream and throw things. It was not just patients with depression or anxiety -- it was all of us together and it was scary. I got out of there as soon as possible.

My parents have really been a big part of this process too. They were there the whole time and were going through it with me. My mom visited me every single day when I was in the hospital and sometimes my grandma too. They were all learning about this as I was. At first they did not understand, but neither did I. Now though, we are pros.

Eventually, it got to where I could handle school and my depression so I wanted to get a job because I hate being broke. I eventually ended up at my current job and that's where you come in!

I have been at this job for over a year and you are the only person who has had the audacity to talk down to me for going to a community college. You told me how awful it would look on my transcript to go to a community college first and then transfer. You asked me if my grades were the reason I had to go to community college. You asked me why I would do that -- why wouldn't I just go to a four year university first? Well, here's your answer. So next time you think about looking down on someone for going to a community college or whatever else they do that is so above you, think about everything that you don't know about them. You don't know what they have been through in life to lead them to where they are at now.

Going to Sandhills was the best decision I could have made at that time. The school and people have been absolutely amazing and the teachers there have given me a new outlook on life. Oh yes, the teachers! You also looked down on me when I told you I was going into Elementary Education because, I mean, "Who would want to do that?" Well ya know what lady? I do. I want to make a difference in someones life like these teachers and so many others before them have made in mine. I don't care about the money. Shocking to someone like you who could not stop talking about her Ralph Lauren purse that she bought for $400, but yes, I would rather do what I love than just do something for the money.

My life has changed so much since October 22nd 2014 and I am so grateful for that. The healthcare system, especially the mental health care system, in this country is far from perfect. But nevertheless, I'm grateful for my time in the hospital that helped me realize I needed to make some serious changes in my life.

As I graduate from Sandhills this semester I will be transferring, but not back to UNC. I love UNC with all of my heart, but sometimes the things we love aren't good for us. I was not happy there and it did not live up to the image I had built of it in my head. But that's OK. I have decided on another school that I feel will be a better fit and will help me on my journey to become a teacher.

There is a lot of stigma that goes along with mental illness in all of its forms and it can be hard to talk about. But, TALK ABOUT IT. I can guarantee you, you pass so many people with a mental illness every single day and you don't even know it, maybe it's a friend or family member.

It just goes to show that you never know what somebody is going through, so be kind to everybody. It's easy. So lady, I hope you remember that next time you want to judge somebody and their life.

Wishing you all the best,

Rebecca Riggs


My life is so much better now, but there are still millions suffering everyday. So go to: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Or call at: 1-800-273-8255

All information is confidential.

"Stars can't shine without darkness."