Taylor Valdez’s Story4Hope

When I was 18, my privileged arrogance made me feel invincible. I never considered myself to be one who struggled with anything I tackled and most certainly not with mental health.

The day I moved into the dorms, I attended my first cheer practice as a new addition to the Wichita State University all-girl cheerleading team after only six months of cheer experience in my life. While I struggled to make friends on the team, I was well-liked in my dorms because of my status. I thought I was so above and untouchable that, while moving in earlier that day, I rolled my eyes at the Suspenders4Hope shirt laid out on my bed with care. I laughed because it was something I thought I’d never need.

The same night at cheer practice, I tore my right ACL for a second time.

Expecting a quick and easy recovery like the first, I was let down by how much longer everything took to recover or even get off crutches. Physical therapy was painstakingly slow and so was I on crutches. The physical and emotional pain was overwhelming. I lost everything I dreamt of and didn’t see a point to everything if I couldn’t enjoy it. The positive mindset and smiley face I put on was a total facade.

Due to this major setback, I struggled. I struggled to maintain friendships, grades, and to experience new things. My biggest issue was learning to cope with my own emotions. So, I turned to alternative therapies—alcohol and my two types of prescribed opioid pain pills.

I didn’t just use these for pain management; I abused them so I didn’t have to feel. I drank orange juice and vodka before class with a pill. I didn’t eat lunch because the pills quelled any hunger. I slept more, sometimes oversleeping for my morning classes, which led to failing a major prerequisite class and losing my academic scholarship.

Eventually, a lot of my friends joined sororities and I felt more isolated than ever. The depression brought on as a result of these events led to me abusing drugs and alcohol harder. Then, on a night I became incoherent, I was abused back by a male friend in my dorm room. Thanks to the support of the few friends I had, and still have today, I immediately took the issue to Student Conduct and it was dealt with. The shame, guilt, and pain still lingered, for which I also took pills.

When I began running out of pills, I thought irrationally about getting more. I even thought about causing another injury or even seeking out heroin. Before I ran out, I found more at a party where a stranger was selling large amounts. I, along with other people there, bought some. Before I was about to take mine, however, someone else collapsed from an accidental, non-lethal fentanyl overdose.

On a night that my roommates were all gone, I thought about suicide for the first time. I hadn’t before this night, but now I was and I wanted to do it. But somehow, in this moment of hopelessness, I stopped and I looked outside of myself. I noticed the things my roommates had—the chaos that was life. Life was all around me, but I had chosen not to see it. I made a decision and I thought—not about how the withdrawal symptoms were going to be—instead about the opportunities that could come with my decision.

In addition to that, I dug out the Suspenders4Hope shirt from the drawer along with the resources that came with it. I scheduled my first ever therapy appointment the same week I chose to keep living. It was the constant urging of my friends and roommates that kept me going out and being social. It was the group chats and random thoughtfulness of my closest buddies that kept me connected.

My life, the skills I was learning from therapy, a free 90-minute training, and the therapist’s office started to become a safe, warm space for me. I was no longer afraid of myself and didn’t feel powerless to the subject of mental health or suicide.

Now five years later, equipped with a bachelor’s degree, a trusted therapist, and knowledge and empowerment for advocacy, I only hope to empower others who feel they’re above or incapable of taking care of their mental health or seeking help. A year after I started therapy, I began working for an organization that values the community’s well-being and, a few years later, was beyond eager to help bring Suspenders4Hope to those who need it.

Without CAPS, Suspenders4Hope, and the support of those who care about me, I wouldn’t have been able to painfully recap and heal from those events. When I find myself embarrassed of who I was or what I did, I am reminded of who I’ve become and all I’ve accomplished.

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WSU students, faculty and staff are encouraged to share their mental wellness stories, as it can be both internally and externally empowering.