By Brooke Johnson
It started when I was 13; unbeknownst to me, I was dealing with depression and anxiety. During seventh grade, I was bullied quite a bit. I can clearly remember one time—a few girls were verbally ganging up on me at a lunch table in the cafeteria. Since I was cornered at the table, it was on the brink of getting physical.
Luckily, I had a friend who wasn’t afraid to stick up for me. She was so upset that she slammed the lollipop she had in her mouth on the lunch table and said, “You aren’t going to talk to Brooke like that!” She started arguing with the group of girls and I got up and ran down the hallway into the bathroom and started sobbing. For a week after, I stayed in my favorite teacher’s room, too scared to go back to lunch with everyone else.
When I was 13, I started to harm myself. This lasted for a few years between middle school and high school. Many people ask me, “How could you do that to yourself? How did that make you feel better?” Well, I was hurting so much inside. I didn’t know how to come up from that dark place. I lost interest in everything. I was constantly feeling guilty about everything I did. I felt inadequate. I had negative thoughts racing through my head every second of every day. I didn’t know how to stop it. So, to me, outside pain was the only pain I could control.
There’s a behavioral health center for young adults in my town. I can remember the time I took a pamphlet to an adult hinting that I should go there for help. They said, “You’re too young to be depressed.” I had taken a “Do you think you’re depressed?” test online, and I had checked yes to many of the listed symptoms. I printed the paper off and showed that to them as well. To no surprise, they expressed that I was being dramatic.
Later on, I made an appointment with my guidance counselor. I was crying as she asked me if I ever had suicidal thoughts or if I had ever harmed myself. I said “no” because I felt that if I told her “yes,” I would get in trouble. I didn’t feel safe telling her everything. I left and went back to class with dried tears and a sense of hopelessness.
See, I’m known for having a very outgoing personality. I was always the student who participated in many activities, volunteered, played sports, led the cha-cha slide at the school dances—a social butterfly. So, to other people, I didn’t “fit the mold” of someone who was depressed.
Fast-forward six years: I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It was six years of feeling completely alone. Six years of feeling like I was the only person that felt the way I did. Six years of feeling helpless.
I couldn’t sit still without answers, so I dedicated time to research how chemical imbalances in the brain affect us. I learned that so many other people are affected by mental illness as well. Then I thought, “If there are so many people with similar issues, why aren’t more people talking about it?!”
So, I started a project called Crowning Confidence, geared towards young adults experiencing mental health issues and bullying. It all started after I saw a Facebook post by a mother of a 7-year-old girl named Hayden who was being harshly bullied. As Miss Alaska USA, I felt I couldn’t have this go unnoticed. I reached out to her mother and asked if there was anything I could do to lift Hayden’s spirits. She expressed that her daughter loved princesses. Taking that as inspiration, I made her a video message with affirmations and tips on how to deal with bullies. I then proclaimed her honorary Queen Hayden and sent her a crown. I told her that whenever she felt down, she could always put on her crown to bring herself up.
My experience with Hayden propelled me to become the person my 13-year-old self needed, and start Crowning Confidence for all the amazing girls out there in similar situations. This project came full circle for me when I had the opportunity to bring it into my old middle school. In my favorite teacher’s class that I used to hide in all those years ago, I was able to speak to young ladies about self-esteem, mental health and give them all their own crowning moment. I want to do the same in as many schools and organizations as possible.
Ultimately, no one is to blame for my experience. I tried to reach out when I was younger, but they just didn’t know what to do, or the signs or symptoms of mental illness. That is why I am here. I want to make a positive and open space for people to speak and ask questions about mental illness. Increasing awareness and opening up conversations will allow more people to have access to necessary mental health information.
With more information, people can receive the proper help they need, no matter how old they are. I sometimes think of how different my life would have been if I had more information, but then again, I was supposed to go through this journey, because now I know how it feels and I can use my experiences and platform to help people—especially young adults—who feel they have no one to reach out to.
Brooke Johnson is Miss Alaska USA 2018, a NAMI Ambassador and an actress. You can keep up with everything she’s up to at www.brookej.com. She recently started a YouTube channel for people to follow her Crowning Confidence Project, Mental Health Awareness Platform and her journey to Miss USA. Follow her blog/vlog here.
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