The Road Ahead

by Lexi S.

I soar downhill, the autumn breeze blowing in my face: it smells like crisp fallen leaves and school spirit. Enjoying a bike ride with my family on a beautiful October evening, I am extremely content with life. I feel as though I could ride forever. But for the past five years, happiness wasn’t always this easy to grasp.

As a 13-year-old, I was so confused as to why I would become sad over the smallest things. I remember getting anxiety just from the thought of having to get up and go to school. It was as if there was a weight in my chest pinning me to my bed and making it impossible to continue with life. Then, the next week, I would feel like myself again and wonder, “What was I thinking?” My monthly migraines got so bad in middle school that I almost had to be hospitalized, but it wasn’t until sophomore year that I discovered the cause: premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a form of premenstrual syndrome characterized by temporary depression.

While it was a relief to have a diagnosis and to understand, “Yes, this is why I am the way I am,” I still struggled. PMDD is hereditary, and my mom has it too. Fighting with your mom and getting mood swings is part of being a teen, but being a teen with PMDD and having a mom with PMDD takes everything up a few notches. Relationships were another thing that weren’t exactly “normal” for me. Because my PMDD would give me only two good weeks and then two extremely bad weeks, I found it easier to deal with it alone rather than involving another person’s feelings. But slowly, I learned how to control my bad days. I took up running and began eating healthier foods, and my PMDD, while still a part of my life, started getting better.

Learning how to manage my condition was life-changing, but I wouldn’t be who I am today without it. Dealing with PMDD helped me figure out which majors I would like to pursue: kinesiology and psychology. I’ve always loved science and learning how the physical world works, but my experience with PMDD sparked a fascination with how the brain and body communicate. I want to learn more about depression and other psychiatric disorders, and the brain science behind them, in order to help resolve the stigma around mental illness.

Along with psychology, kinesiology is exciting to me because I am eager to study how the brain communicates with muscles in patients with disabilities. From as early as third grade, I remember working with a classmate who was struggling to pay attention, sitting together at a large desk to help keep him on track. His success ignited a lifelong desire to help anyone who needs it. Sophomore year, I met my friend Mandi, who has Cerebral Palsy. Through peer tutoring, I got to work with her and her whole class. When the bell rang, it was hard to pull myself away. Junior year, I discovered the field of Occupational Therapy, and I strongly felt the urge that it was something I wanted to do as a career. While working as a nanny, I would take one of my children to OT for handwriting help, and it was amazing to watch all the kids with more severe conditions improve dramatically. Soon after, I found out that a family friend is an OT therapist. She answers all my questions and has been an incredible mentor.

In the end, I’m grateful for my PMDD because it helps me connect with others in a way most people may not be able to. I have seen that bad days are just temporary, and better days are ahead. Most importantly, I’ve learned that you don’t have to be completely “normal” to find pure happiness, to accomplish your goals, and to help others accomplish theirs.