Coping with mental health and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic

Emily Rose, a Davison High School graduate, was one of two scholarship winners in Genesee Health Plan’s annual essay contest. Students across Genesee County participated, discussing topics related to their family health histories and the impact it could have on their future health.  Flintside has partnered with Genesee Health Plan to publish the two winning essays.

Rose finished with three associates degrees in sciences, arts, and general studies via the early college program. She will attend Wayne State University this fall and major in psychology, with plans to attend medical school for psychiatry. Her essay below is focused on mental health and eliminating the stigma around it.  

Before getting into my future plans I would like to say a bit about my past. I am going to be a graduate of Davison High School. I have a 3.853 GPA and 200 plus hours of community service. While in High School I took Advanced Placement (AP) classes as well as participated in the Davison Early College Program. This will allow me to graduate high school with two associate’s degrees, one in science and one in arts. I have played the clarinet for eight years and was in Davison’s Wind Ensemble while in high school. I also participated in the competitive marching band for all four years of high school.

My career path has recently changed due to a life event. I had spent most of my life
planning on being a doctor. However, during the pandemic, I have come to terms with my lifelong anxiety. I think my anxiety is the biggest obstacle I have had to overcome in my life. It hindered me from functioning properly and meeting all my goals in life. It has affected me for as long as I can remember. I used to have at least two panic attacks every week. When I would get this feeling of not being able to breathe, coupled with shaking and heart racing it was debilitating.

For anyone who is not familiar with this condition, whatever you are doing stops
when a panic attack hits. I had felt like that for so long and I thought everyone else felt like that too. As I got older though I realized the panic attacks and the constant worrying was not something everyone faced as I did.

Eventually, it got to be too much for me and I was struggling to function at work and at school so I decided to seek help. This was a tough decision for me since I felt like I was admitting defeat or that there was something wrong with me for having these problems. Despite that, I knew I had to face my problem, so I started going to therapy and learning how to cope with my anxiety. They educated me with many tools to decrease and manage my anxiety.

This, coupled with medication, now empowers me to control the condition much better and I am able to function and do all the things I want to do. Anxiety is a battle I still fight every day, but I learned and am better prepared to manage and fight the battle. The most important thing I learned from my struggle with anxiety is that it is okay to ask for help when you need it. Before this point in my life, I don’t think I ever asked for help because I am a very independent and strong-willed person. Now I know that asking for help from others is not admitting defeat, but rather it is a way of bettering yourself.

After the life-changing assistance I received from my psychiatrist, I decided that is what I want to do with my life. I want to make a difference and assist others the same way that I was helped. Mental health is a problem for so many people and it still has a stigma around it.

When I went to my parents about my anxiety I found out for the first time in my life that my father is also medicated for and struggles with anxiety just like me. He told me that it has been a battle all his life and that all his siblings and mother (my grandma) deal with this same issue. It is amazing to me that I could go nineteen years without knowing such crucial and impactful information, but there is such an unfound shame around mental health that even those closest to me felt that they needed to keep their suffering from me.

Learning this just pushed me more towards my conclusion that psychiatry is what I need to do with my life. The Coronavirus solidified this even more for me. During the pandemic, people with mental health problems, myself and my family included, felt their mental health problems become exacerbated.

Therefore the field of psychiatry was impacted heavily by the Coronavirus. People needed help now more than ever, yet everything was closed down and inaccessible. So professionals in the mental health field had to adapt and come up with innovative ideas. My in-person meetings with my therapist and psychologist became phone calls and zoom meetings. This was true for many people and eventually, when restrictions were lifted, meetings resumed in person but with masks and other safety precautions such as social distancing. I personally prefer to hold my sessions over the phone and I know that a lot of others feel the same in these uncertain times. 

Psychiatrists had to adapt to reading people over the phone and assessing their well-being and progress while they were not in the room. This surely made their jobs much more difficult, but they persevered and continue to help those in need during the pandemic when they need it most.

I am inspired by this resilience in the field and it only pushed me more towards my decision to enter the field myself. So I set my decision in stone and when I applied to colleges I put my major as psychology. I am thrilled to report that I was accepted into my dream school Wayne State University for the coming fall semester. I am so excited to have this amazing opportunity to begin traveling the path towards helping others the same way that mental health professionals have impacted my life and helped me.

After I finish my bachelor’s degree at Wayne State University I plan to continue on and pursue my doctorate. This will allow me to not  only counsel those in need but also provide the often needed medication management. The pandemic poses challenges to everyone in their day-to-day lives however it is important to find the good in any situation and be grateful for the small things like bonding with a family member or the big things like finding your passion. 

Although the Coronavirus has placed multiple levels of uncertainty in the daily lives of everyone around the world, it is a lesson to embrace and use for future positive outcomes. It is times like these that foster unity and will allow us to look back and know that working together to overcome such situations can have an impact on future generations to come.