In honor of mental health awareness month, I was going to just write about CODA, or Co-occurring Disorder Awareness, and the work I have done with the organization recently. A co-occurring disorder is when someone suffers from a mental illness and then uses drugs or alcohol to cope with it. I happen to be the co-vice president of the SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) club at my high school, and I, along with some friends had the privilege of going to the Westchester County CODA Conference this past March. This leadership conference focused on co-occurring disorders and how we can spread awareness through different mediums whether it’s social media, sports, or other platforms because, as the 9 of us eventually realized, no one really knows about CODA.  I, along with a few others, came up with an idea of how to spread the message of CODA through social media. The logo of CODA is two stars based on the poetry that was written by Harris, a young man who passed away due to a drug overdose, who is the inspiration for The Harris Project. The Harris Project is the leading organization involved in CODA. The idea we came up with is #Youareastarbecause, a social media challenge, where you post on your instagram story (or other social platforms) telling someone why they are a star, using the hashtags #youareastar, #codaconnects, and #bethelink. Then, you nominate others to do the same for someone else. I hope you participate in this because I think that it’s important for people to know their worth. Hopefully, this gesture reminds people that they are never alone and even when life seems to be at its lowest point, there is always someone out there who cares. Always. Because the truth is, everyone is a “star” for their own unique reason.  

I’ll attach a video about CODA that my friends and I are in, but for the purpose of this blog, I also want to bring the conversation over to connecting mental illness with the emotions we all feel. I realized that part of the stigma that comes with mental illness is that people often feel that no one relates to their feelings, but the truth is we all experience emotional issues on different levels.

I have never been diagnosed with a mental illness, but I think that everyone goes through states of mental exhaustion and distress, so this is in no way me trying to make my emotions comparable to other individuals who suffer from a life-altering mental illness in any way. 

Some of you non-high schoolers may not know this, but we are in the midst of AP season. May is the time of year when many high schoolers are getting ready to take huge standardized tests on all of the content they have learned in select subjects. It’s a time of cramming, stress and forgetting that the Panic of 1873 was different than the Panic of 1837, or that the amygdala is the part of the brain that deals with fear, and trying to distinguish the difference between writing a synthesis essay and a rhetorical one. Some of you non- high schoolers may not realize that this is just a blip on the screen compared to what teenagers go through all school year. High schoolers often suffer from anxiety and depression because the combination of fulfilling your teacher’s expectations and your parents’ is just too much. And don’t even get me started on trying to fit in, often doing things to impress people who are judging you just because they don’t want to be judged themselves. It’s a vicious cycle that seems like it may never end, but when stuck in the dark hole, teenagers, including me, tend to perpetuate the state of mental exhaustion they are in. 

I have never fully admitted this, but I often have feelings of anxiety that come from always wanting to be perfect and do the right thing. I often tell myself that I am not good enough and I end up blocking myself, which ironically prevents me from reaching my perfectionist goal anyway. I lay in bed thinking about the exact terms I need to know for a test the next day, and I run through my dance solo 20 times before I go on stage making sure I don’t miss a single beat, and when I forget a term or miss that one shuffle I shut down and tell myself I have failed. I am never satisfied, and it is like I mess myself up before I even begin. Sometimes, even I could use a little reminder of why “I am a star.” This, by the way, is in no way me asking for attention, it is just my truth. What makes this worse is that I hide it from the world, bottling things up and immersing myself in helping others, making it seem like I always have it together. But the truth is, no one does. Nobody in this world is always okay, and I don’t think people realize this, whether it’s because they are worried about their own issues or in my case, it’s because I don’t want people to worry about me. “I can handle it,” I always say, or I change the subject when people ask, until one day, a day just like today, something pushes the breaking point and I let it all out. Then, just like that, I reset and the cycle starts from the beginning. The cycle needs to stop. For everyone.

I know most of you reading this have your own array of feelings and that many of you keep it hidden just like me, maybe for other circumstantial reasons. Take it from me, keeping your guard up just is not the answer. Talking about it with someone you trust or a professional is always the way to go, but if you don’t feel comfortable with that right now, try finding an activity that just lets you escape. Maybe it’s dancing, or running, playing a sporting, painting, or listening to music. Hey, maybe even try writing, it sure seems to work for me. Just find something in this world that makes you feel better because mental exhaustion turns to physical exhaustion and soon enough learned helplessness might just kick in (thank you AP psychology, maybe I will get a 5 after all).  I did not open up because I wanted to be treated differently, or because I wanted the attention. My neurotic tendencies are part of what makes me who I am. This was not to generalize everyone, but merely to describe my own experiences and emotions, while hopefully reaching out to someone who feels similar things. I just wanted to start the conversation that for some reason seems to be prevented by human nature. I just wanted people to realize they are not alone, and it’s okay to not be okay, and if you feel that someone around you needs help, reach out to them first because asking the right questions can make someone feel that much better. 

Okay, now back to making sure I remember that the Panic of 1873 caused the North to lose interest in Reconstruction and that the Panic of 1837 was due to the PET banks and addition of species circular under President Andrew Jackson…

Link to CODA video

Anastasia Meininger, aka “Offbeat Rhythms”, is a high school student in Westchester County, a suburb of New York City. She lives with her parents and older brother, and her life is filled with her hilarious and loving Italian, Irish, Greek, and German family, as well as her wonderfully crazy, and diverse group of friends.

Anastasia is a normal, yet distinctly unique teenager who loves performing, making people laugh, and even going to school! Her favorite subject is Science, especially Chemistry, and when she’s not studying, you can find her at her dance studio, where she rehearses for her dance competitions, and vocal showcases.

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