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It was my senior year of high school. I was an avid runner, and I was hoping to qualify for the state cross country championship. I spent the entire summer training. Our first cross country meet was a small local meet. I cannot tell you what my time or my place was. All I can tell you is that I could not catch my breath after crossing the finish line. My legs became weaker and weaker. I laid in the grass and hoped to recover. My body shook and I cried. I was afraid. I did not know what was wrong. I could not regain control of myself. My coach expressed disappointment. He blamed dehydration and explained that I needed to set a better example as the team captain. My dad took me to the emergency room. The doctor came in to speak with me and asked why I was crying. I was not sure. She explained that this was an anxiety attack, and it would be best if I took some time to relax and maybe get involved with therapy. That memory is a memory of many firsts. It was my first anxiety attack, my first IV, and my first experience of my mental health diagnosis being misunderstood and misjudged. Since then, I have devoted the last 10 years to therapy. I originally had a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder before a more thorough assessment revealed I have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I struggle with suicidal thoughts, nightmares, anxiety attacks, and depressive episodes. I have tried several interventions looking for ways to work through the complex trauma.

Today this is a combination of therapy, medication, and so much self-care. Recovery is a journey, and this journey has led me to self-discovery and a deeper understanding of myself. As I learn more about myself, I learn more about what helps. I am a social worker, and my career has taught me that I cannot be successful unless I take care of myself first. This is no easy task. My instinct is always to help other first, but this is a necessary lesson. I found NAMI through my professional life. I am now the Director of Programs at NAMI Hancock County. In my work at NAMI, I have found a mental health family and a passion for speaking up for those of us that live with such misunderstood diagnoses. I used to think that I was not “bad enough” for a support group or additional services. I have learned that there is no such thing as “bad enough” and we can all benefit from connection to those who understand. I am now proud to be a person that understands and proud to say I have not let my diagnosis win. I am still standing, stronger than I was yesterday. My diagnosis does not define me. I get to define me, and I am still an avid runner, a wonderful friend, and a compassionate human.

Bailey Kerr is the Director of Programs at NAMI Hancock County and is currently working as a graduate intern with NAMI Ohio. She is studying social work at Case Western Reserve University and will complete her coursework later this year.