My Mental Health Journey: Harnessing the Power of My Mind


Maya Raphael

For so long, I felt like my mind was my enemy — provoking persistent anxiety and depression — but through a challenging, introspective process, I am learning that it is my biggest asset.

Maya Raphael, Editor

The following article discusses sensitive material about mental health, including the topic of suicide.

First, I started therapy. I rendered it unfit for my needs. So, I saw a psychologist. Later, I was back to therapy. Amid all of this, I tried neurofeedback — a type of biofeedback that assists the brain in developing healthy patterns of activity. 

Begrudgingly, my family and I decided that behavioral health treatments weren’t achieving the efficacy I desperately needed. Thus, with the guidance of a medication specialist, I transitioned to SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). I tried Zoloft. Then, I got off the Zoloft. I tried Lexapro instead. It wasn’t enough. I added Wellbutrin — a NDRI (norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor).  

Attempt after attempt, I tried to curb the detriments of my mind. And now, I do think I’ve achieved a sustainable foundation of peace, after dedicating time to careful introspection and research. 

I’ve struggled with my mental health for a long time — a severe stint of mental adversity that began in eighth grade and lasted through the majority of my junior year. 

This was an extremely painful and difficult period of time and often, the feelings resurface, for our mental state is ever-evolving.

My mentality presents itself in a myriad of ways, generally falling under the umbrella of anxiety and depression. 

I have always been a naturally shy and anxious person. For the first three years of elementary school, I didn’t speak; I simply observed and thought. Calmly attending school was a challenge, as my introversion was suddenly at odds with my environment.

I don’t particularly remember my inner monologue during these few years, but I definitely was an outlier. My teachers expressed dire concern about my lack of verbal communication, often considering the possibility of a developmental issue. 

I remember my first oral presentation vividly. I was in second grade, presenting about jellyfish. For months (and I truly mean months), the anticipation of my speech plagued every moment of rest, transforming my quiet mind into a battlefield. Simply thinking about it simulated an incurable feeling of apprehension.

Often, outside of school, when I was among a crowd, I would find a corner and curl up into a tiny ball, squeezing my head tightly against my knees and hoping to avoid the interaction entirely. I called this “turtling.” I used it as a form of protection to preserve my solitude in a crowd. 

As I’ve gotten older, my introversion has fluctuated and I don’t characterize myself as an abnormally shy person anymore. However, one thing has stayed with me as my personality has evolved: the petrifying feeling of panic. 

This feeling has accompanied me my whole life, arising in numerous different situations. And while the situation varies, the feeling remains the same: I am somehow removed from the present moment, overtaken by the ardent pounding of my heart, almost broaching the confines of my chest. My hands become plagued with perpetual shaking, and my brain becomes a jumbled mess — losing my ability to think rationally. My air passages feel like they are constricting and often, I feel detached from my body and thoughts. Essentially, my fight or flight response takes over.

It is agonizing, feeling like something inside of you has taken over and losing the ability to regulate your own body. 

Currently, I experience this feeling about once or twice a week. Two years ago, I would have considered myself lucky if I got through the day with only three of these episodes. 

But what causes me to panic? 

Whenever someone asks me this, I never know how to respond, for many of my triggers are day-to-day activities — things that are practically considered second nature by the majority of humans.

Speaking in front of groups, making phone calls, any type of organized sport, all forms of social confrontation, customer service, and even crossing the street, among hundreds of other triggers, were all things that, at some point, provoked this dreaded anxiety. Anything that involves having to “perform” in the spotlight, in any sense, is likely to produce a state of severe agitation, unlike the mild symptoms that mere nervousness produces. 

Consciously, I understand that these are irrational things to get worked up about — I’ve always known, to some degree, that everyone is paying more attention to themselves than they are to you — but physically, the dots don’t connect, leaving me seemingly powerless to the effects of panic.

It’s been hard to grow up with “social” anxiety in such an extroverted world — I use quotes around “social” because I prefer to view my disorder as a handful of symptoms that ebb and flow, rather than a rigid diagnosis that comes with premeditated assumptions that are inherent to its name. However, for the purpose of concision, social or performance anxiety most accurately reflects my experience. 

I have faced many barriers in school, in my personal endeavors, and in the general social climate that seems to be at odds with my social anxiety. Our modern definition of success often involves an outspoken, exuberant individual who can perform and thus, we are educated through this lens, but what happens when someone’s inherent nature is incompatible with this? What happens when everyone discovers that anxiety isn’t something that can simply be terminated through forced extroversion? How can we hone the strengths of anxious individuals to broaden the definition of success? I don’t have an answer to this, but I grapple with it every day. 

I constantly feel like my social anxiety is at odds with my life. I must constantly persevere through that feeling, accepting extreme discomfort at any given moment. I constantly feel a certain level of anticipatory panic. And for so long, I’ve felt like I’m at my wit’s end, working to my core from this indomitable condition. 

Aside from this, yet still heavily connected, is my depression — another term that I don’t particularly resonate with, yet still encapsulates my feelings. 

It is more of a mystery to me than my anxiety is; it’s less defined by explicit cause and effect, rather a painful emotional decline that isn’t correlated to a singular event, situation, or thought. 

I’m less familiar with it because there are no origins of it in my childhood. Instead, it took over later on and its invasion was extremely painful. Therefore, it is a more sensitive topic and I am less apt to talk about it. But due to the extreme prevalence of depression, I feel as though my experience is representative, at least to some degree, of what many Americans experience daily.

All I know is that sometimes I wake up with what feels like a thirty pound weight on my chest. I get a few seconds of bliss prior to fully opening my eyes, but when I become fully conscious of who and where I am, it all hits me. 

A thick haze of melancholy plagues my perception, completely removing my ability to recognize my worldly pleasures — pleasures that may have been crystal clear just a few days prior. Everything feels tinted gray, metaphorically and literally. Not only do elevated emotions feel unattainable, but even my ability to conceptualize them feels out of reach; it is like my body can’t even remember happiness in the presence of such a dark gloom. 

It manifests itself in a variety of ways within erratic timelines, lasting anywhere from one day to a few months and sometimes the feeling goes away for a few months in which I feel genuine contentment and satisfaction. 

On some of the days where I am feeling it, it can get intense. It feels like it takes every last ounce of energy to merely sit up and take a sip of water. I am almost unable to communicate with my mom when she asks me how I am feeling; the energy it takes to form a coherent thought and verbalize it is too much to handle. I can hardly eat, sleep, talk, think, or move. Especially when a crying spell takes over, my functionality declines even further.

On other days (and I’d say the majority of days in which I am affected by it), it is more passive. I can function normally, executing all of my responsibilities of a demanding life — school, daily interactions, appointments, extracurriculars, etc. On top of this, I usually encourage myself to be social even when I’m in a gloomy state — something that often is extremely challenging. And while being in the presence of my friends is undoubtedly uplifting and supportive, half of the time I leave with a void larger than the one I came with. It is a reminder that the things that should make me happy simply don’t, further perpetuating my feelings of deep unfulfillment. 

On the worst days, which don’t occur often but leave a scalding, dark memory, I feel like I have passed the threshold of tolerance — my tolerance for the pain, the anxiety, and the feeling of perpetual apathy. I lose my tolerance for the constant mental battlefield, the indescribable exhaustion, irremediable hopelessness, and persistent irritability. Even the small things feel like too much — gulping down my meds every night, scheduling ample appointments, and the habitual completion of GAD-7s and PHQ-9s, assessments to measure my mental wellbeing. 

Standing on the threshold of tolerance is without-a-doubt the most terrifying and painful thing I have ever experienced. I live in fear of this feeling — feeling like I don’t want to continue living. Suicidal ideation, existing on a spectrum of passive to active, is very common among teens. Nearly 20% of high school students have reported having serious thoughts of suicide. 

The feeling is debilitating, shaping a downward spiral that is a challenge to break free from. 

Last year especially, my hopelessness grew unbearable. Not only was I in constant mental pain and exhaustion, but I also felt like I had tried almost every form of treatment that existed — from cognitive behavioral therapy to SSRIs to neurofeedback — and none of it made a significant dent in my anxiety and depression.

I thought: Is this how life is supposed to be? Will I feel like this forever? I was consumed by my desperation, considering the possibility that I was subject to incessant misery.

But, little did I know that something was brewing amid this hopelessness — something that held more power. 

In fact, it is something that I think holds more omnipotence than anything else. 

The beginning of this revelation began in some of my most vulnerable moments about a year ago, in which my misery was so rampant that I physically couldn’t sit in it. I had to distract myself. This fueled me to start researching a variety of diverse topics that satisfied my intellectual and emotional curiosity: Buddhism, quantum physics, the mysteries of consciousness, space, meditation, and spirituality among many other topics. 

For a long time, I viewed these various interests as disparate obsessions that satisfied me intellectually but had no significant effect on my philosophical view of myself or my world. But in retrospect, I see the interconnection: the unconventional concepts of the physical and spiritual world. 

I spent hours on end emerging in an other-worldly state, in which my conventional ways of thinking were being challenged. And of course, I didn’t see this as a gateway out of my mental adversity at first, but for the first time in so long, I was entirely consumed by something that wasn’t merely my alternating gloom and panic. I was excited and curious. 

The true catalyst of my revelation appeared in the aisles of Powell’s Books: “The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual guide for escaping our preoccupation with the past and the future, and immersing yourself into the present moment. 

I can confidently say that this book — along with “The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, which had been sitting in my closet for years — entirely changed the trajectory of my life and I mean this in the least cheesy way possible. These books, paired with my other research about Buddhism and spirituality, introduced me to age-old philosophies that I now employ every day and will for the rest of my life. 

My mindset, compared to just twelve months ago, has drastically changed. 

I no longer feel controlled by my mind, ceasing to view my adversity as an outside force acting upon me. I now understand that the vast majority of suffering is self-induced, fueled by attachment, desire, and resistance to your present circumstance — a direct correlation to Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths: dukkha (the truth about suffering), samudaya (the truth about the cause of suffering), nirodha (the cessation of suffering), and magga (the path to away from suffering). 

This can be a hard pill to swallow, but it has helped me learn that I have full control of my identity, mental state, and inner-peace, unaffected by any influences that are not my pure consciousness itself. 

Pure consciousness is not your thoughts; it is the observer of your thoughts — another key principle of my new mindset. Your thoughts are not “you,” and thus, you cannot let them define you. I utilize this when my mind tells me that “things will never get better and misery is your purpose“ or that “you are going to mess up your answer to this question and everyone will judge you.” Every day it gets easier for me to distinguish between my harmful, unconscious inner-monologue and my helpful, conscious inner-monologue.

Your thoughts don’t directly bring things into fruition; they shape how you perceive your life, which then affects your actions. If you can observe a thought before it changes your perception, you put a barrier on the bridge between your thoughts and your reality. It may seem trivial, but it is extremely powerful.

Moreover, since all of us have thoughts that shape our perception, we are not experiencing the same objective reality — everything is subjective. The things people say to you, how they act, how you act, our opinions, and literally everything else is just a reflection of our own unique mindset. This realization removed the harshness of life for me, for we are all on our own journey, experiencing our subjective realities that are only authenticity influenced by ourselves. No circumstance truly has the power to alter your wellbeing — only your mind can do that.

As much as I would like to do so, I cannot discuss everything I have learned and realized. There is simply too much to write, but I will elaborate on two more things which were debatably the hardest concepts to adopt but also the most powerful: the present moment and our inherent spiritual nature. 

The Power of Now taught me that the present moment is the only thing that exists, as past and future are merely constructs. Yet we spend almost all of our time living within the illusive past and future — overthinking the things we said, analyzing how people treated us, worrying about what will happen in a few hours, or trying to imagine the rest of our lives. We are rarely content within the “now.” 

But the “now” is all that is tangible and that will always be the truth. 

This concept is intrinsically linked to mindfulness — the act of being present and aware within your own head. I quickly realized that this practice was easiest for me when I was in nature, away from any man-made creation that distinguishes a disjunction between the natural world and the manufactured world.

I remember one of the first times I experienced this and could recognize it for what it was. 

I was at the Oregon Coast, sitting in a circle with a group of friends, and I had a direct view of the ocean, which I assumed was the prime position to be in, the vibrance of the orange and pink sky complimenting the faint sound of “Could You Be Loved” by Bob Marley perfectly. Just as the sun was reaching the horizon, I turned around, curious about the view my friends had.

There, I saw the dark sky filled with stars, a distinct contrast to my dynamic view. I scanned the sky, observing the gradual shift from vibrancy to darkness, night to day, and sun to stars. It was striking — a microcosm of nature’s compelling impermanence. For the next fifteen minutes, we were silent, infatuated by the visual invasion of darkness. We didn’t have to try to be mindful; it was an intrinsic part of the experience. The activity in our minds ceased to exist in the enveloping presence of the natural world.

Nature plays a critical role in my mental and spiritual journey, providing an easy escape from the crevices of my mind and into the natural world — something that a single human (or even the collective human race) simply cannot amount to.

The more I mindfully experienced the presence of nature, the more I felt connected to the spiritual world — something that I never thought I would experience.

I didn’t grow up in a religious or spiritual environment. For my whole life, I took life at face value — merely perceiving its physical nature. But through quantum physics (a scientific field that is urging us to question if the world as we experience it may not be how it really is), consciousness (the mystery of discovering where our own sentience comes from), and my spiritual research and experiences, the role that spirituality plays is my life is growing exponentially. 

I am nowhere near the point of understanding where I desire to be, but a simple change in mindset to re-evaluate my perception of the world has had massive effects. 

Every day I feel more connected with my “higher self,” which I believe to be my pure consciousness without the effects of the ego-centered mind.

Every day I feel more in control of my suffering and less constrained by my anxiety and depression. 

Every day I feel more connected to everyone and everything — understanding the oneness of the universe. 

Every day I feel more engaged in the present moment, surrendering to my current circumstances and terminating resistance to what is. 

All of these things parallel my journey in healing — healing from the past pain I’ve felt and mitigating the severity of the pain I feel in the future.

This summer, for the first time in a long time, I felt genuine joy. I wasn’t just at the mercy of my mental adversity; I felt like I was genuinely experiencing life from a new, reconstructed lens. I felt ambition and desire, emotions I had not experienced in so long. Nothing had the ability to terminate my joy, because I knew that nothing was more powerful than myself — I just had to learn how to harness my power correctly. 

Now, I’m not telling this story because I want to lament in my sorrow and transmit my pain to whoever is reading. 

I’m telling this story with the desire of providing hope to people that feel controlled by their mental health issues, desperately trying to find themselves again.

I’m telling this story because my heart aches for my 15-year-old self who didn’t have the knowledge I have now — the girl who was experiencing a threshold of pain that felt overpowering compared to any other force in our universe. 

I’m telling this story because adolescents are experiencing a mental health crisis; mental health issues have never been so rampant

Lastly, I’m telling this story because Western medicine has distinct weaknesses, in which chemically-powerful medicines can be too easily prescribed without the patient understanding the origin of their condition. This is not to say that antidepressants are deficient (for I take them myself), but often a comprehensive deep-dive into your habits, thoughts, and perceptions can be the most powerful solution in existence. 

That is exactly what happened for me. However, I am still on this journey; I still feel immense pain, experiencing the power of anxiety and depression. I am still experiencing the petrifying feeling of panic that has accompanied me throughout my whole life. I still have days where my existence feels dreadful, thirty pounds heavily weighing on my chest.

But it feels incredibly different than it used to. I am in control now. I have the power. I am able to experience pure joy. It is incredibly liberating. 

This journey is hard-fought and never-ending, but I believe I have finally found the correct prescription: myself. And I am irrevocably proud and grateful to her.