College Essay: Putting My Health First

It’s 1 a.m. on one of the coldest days in December and I find myself sitting outside on a lone metal bench. The harsh wind is nipping at any exposed skin it can find and my mind seems to be just as numb as my gloveless hands. I stepped out of my suffocating room and into this near-negative temperature hoping to clear my mind and make my breathing steady again. I feel an oncoming panic attack and can’t help but blame myself for overworking myself to this point and causing damage to my mental health.

Lack of care for mental health has been a long-standing issue in my family’s health history—along with the denial of any mental health issues that may be occurring—because of cultural influences and potential damage of pride they may feel. Having interacted with these family members my entire life, I have been able to witness firsthand how this denial and lack of attention shown towards mental health within my family has negatively affected my older relatives’ personal lives and careers. Growing up surrounded by these harmful influences, I began to deny the downfall of my own mental health and fail to provide myself with the proper resources needed to keep my mental health in an acceptable state.

Fatima Acosta-Mendoza, Harding Sr. High School
Fatima Acosta-Mendoza, Harding Sr. High School

Toward the end of my sophomore year, I began to clearly see the harmful effects of this denial of care for my mental health. I had placed unrealistic expectations on myself through comparison to others and thinking my efforts weren’t enough, and I had placed a toxic amount of pressure onto myself. This stemmed from me believing that to be successful and reach my full potential, I had to be among the best in everything … and that if I was not doing as well as others, my efforts didn’t count. This want to be the “best of the best” became a source of motivation for me, one that was damaging the way I viewed my situation and myself. My toxic behavior eventually became an obstruction to my ability to work towards my goals.

After coming face to face with a near-panic attack, I quickly realized that I couldn’t continue forcing myself to work towards goals that were not realistic for me. Despite having this realization, I didn’t immediately begin to treat my mental health with more care. It was a long and tedious process to confront my problems and find a solution, but one that I am immensely grateful for nonetheless. I had to learn how to manage myself better, by giving myself space to clear my head and not get overwhelmed with the expectations I had forcefully drilled into my conscious. This new understanding of myself has opened up sides of me that I was not aware of before. I now know that I am capable of working my way towards a solution that can control my negative thoughts and ease them into something manageable.

Being disadvantaged with my family’s health history, and my own harmful attitudes and actions, it was easy for me to neglect my own mental health and consequently let it affect my personal and scholarly life. Having to face this reality and come to terms with the fact that I was harming both my present and future self was troubling, but something I believe was necessary for me to go through. I realize where I went wrong and am able to grow from it and become a better version of myself. I can now reflect on my actions, and the consequences they may have, and use that to improve and work towards my ideal future. Having this unexplored understanding of myself allows me to constantly improve my life by reflecting and managing my emotions and their effects better, making me eager for what the future has in store for me.