Andrew Watts SpeaksUp

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Hello, my name is Andrew Watts, and this year I am a high school senior. In sixth grade, life as I knew it was forever changed.  During my transition into middle school, I began to suffer from trichotillomania, panic attacks, and an anxiety disorder.  Since that time, I have been coping with the effects of these disorders. Instead of being able to hang out with my friends, many times I had appointments with psychologists and therapists. With the unending support of my family and help from professionals, my life began to return to how it once was.  Sadly, this improvement was only temporary.   At the beginning of my freshman year, I struggled with the transition into high school, and the challenge of being an International Baccalaureate student. During that time, I had to find a balance between my schoolwork and just being a kid.

I had many long and stressful nights when I couldn’t sleep, and I didn’t have an appetite, so I lost weight. I returned to therapy and focused on taking better care of myself.  My appetite returned, and I was sleeping better.  In therapy, I was taught new strategies on how to shift my mind to focus on my life in front of me.  Exercising, listening to music, and using the breathing techniques I was taught also helped me to relax when I felt anxious.   

Now that I have learned to cope with my anxiety, I feel a responsibility to help other teenagers in their fight against mental illness. I know that I am not alone in this fight considering that one in four teenagers suffer from mental illness.  On October 22nd, 2016, I volunteered at the first annual Cameron K. Gallagher, SpeakUp5k race in Tampa, Florida. It was such an amazing and positive experience.  The energy from start to finish was so positive and supportive.  It makes me so proud to know that Cameron’s dream has become a reality, and she is helping others who suffer from this illness.   This year, I am honored to have been selected as a high school ambassador for the Cameron K. Gallagher SpeakUp5k race in Tampa.  I am working hard to SpeakUp, and help others like Cameron and I.  I know together we can eliminate the stigma associated with this illness. I wanted to share my story with you today in the hope that someone who is struggling can find a pathway to their own inner peace, just as I have.

Katherine Cook