From as early as I can remember, I was an anxious child. My anxieties ranged from worrying about what I would do if I got lost in a grocery store to how I would be able to pay for my own house as an adult. Although my parents could probably sense my anxieties, it was never something that was openly discussed in our household. By middle school, I was struggling with several physical health challenges, which led to being bullied at school and ultimately to what I now know as major depressive disorder.
My mental health was a part of me that I tried to hide from the world. My depression and anxiety significantly impacted my daily functioning, my relationships, my confidence, my motivation, my energy level and my zest for life. In high school, I reluctantly agreed to try therapy and bawled my eyes out on the drive home from my first and only session.
In my junior year of high school, I was introduced to psychology. Not only was my teacher engaging, but the material made sense. How was this the first time I ever had a real discussion at school about the brain and how it can impact a person’s functioning? I was hooked.
At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, I learned about the brain, motivation, mental illnesses, stigma, social interactions, among so many other aspects of psychology. Through class discussions, research labs, and becoming friends with others psych majors, I became more and more comfortable in my own skin. I was finally able to acknowledge my mental illness and started to realize that I did not need to feel ashamed of it. After all, I had never been embarrassed talking about my Crohn’s Disease. With more education and normalizing discussions around mental illness, I developed the vocabulary and confidence to talk about my mental health struggles just the same as talking about my physical health.
After graduating with a BA in Psychology, I returned to Michigan to pursue my MSW at U of M and then joined Jewish Family Service as a case manager. Then in August, I leapt at the opportunity to become BBYO’s social worker.
During my first three months with BBYO, teens have shared their mental health struggles with me and with each other. Even though I am less than ten years older than most of them, I am noticing how stigmas around mental illness have dramatically changed — for the better — since I was in high school.
I am at a defining point in my life where I am out of school but still fresh in my social work career. I am still trying to figure things out. I still have lots to learn. But I am proud of myself for my noticeable growth over the years. I think back to mini me losing sleep about being able to support myself as an adult. I am proving to myself right now that I am capable as I am financially independent and living on my own in Detroit.
I don’t want to sugarcoat my story and say that the transition to adulthood has been easy for me. It hasn’t. There are some days I feel alone. There are some days I am overwhelmed by the responsibilities of “adulting.” Every single day, I wish school had included more life skills around becoming an adult — budgeting, financial literacy and navigating different career paths and professional resilience.
I am so excited to facilitate BBYO’s Building Entrepreneurship program. Building Entrepreneurship is a program for 9th-12th grade Jewish teen girls. The program kicks off this month, runs until April — and you do not have to be in BBYO to apply. Building Entrepreneurship, generously funded by a private donor, is limited to 25 girls.
Throughout the year, teens will work with dynamic women entrepreneurs from metro Detroit. With support from these mentors, teams will develop their own business ideas and present them to a panel of judges, Shark Tank style. The winning group will be awarded $500 in seed money to put their idea into action. For some, presenting in front of a crowd may be intimidating, but it’s a critical skill to practice from an early age. I am hoping to create a judgement-free zone where girls feel safe putting themselves and their ideas out there.
Through the program, participants will learn leadership and financial literacy skills, gain confidence, form genuine friendships, and establish lasting connections in the community. I am looking forward to learning with the girls throughout the year. In the spring, everyone will receive a certificate of completion for participating in the full program.
While the girls in this program may not share my experience with anxiety, everyone has her own obstacles. My hope is that Building Entrepreneurship will empower them to develop skills and inspire them to take chances.