There is an amazing beauty about being able to empathize with others. Why? Because we like to know that those whom we look up to are human as well. When others are vulnerable with us, we become vulnerable to them which allows us to be more open to listen to their advice. However, this is contrary to what society wants us to believe. Society wants us to believe that we have to put on our best face in public and not show our fears, anxieties and failures.

That is why I am writing this series on anxiety and depression. At the age of 12 I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I won’t lie, it wasn’t the most glamorous thing to hear as a 12-year-old. Like any teenager I wanted to fit in. I would much rather have been diagnosed with good looks and extreme athleticism, but instead I had self-doubt and fear. I am no professional in the field of mental illness, but I have what many professionals can’t offer – personal experience. Personal experience with professionals. Personal experience with medication. Personal experience with the feeling that life will never be better. And all this began with a personal experience about the power of empathy.

Empathy is a powerful tool in overcoming mental illness. When I was first diagnosed with OCD I remember thinking there was no way that could be the case! Those with OCD are afraid of germs or are like Bob in the movie, “What about Bob.” I felt like a freak. It wasn’t until I met with a man who also suffered with OCD that I no longer felt like a freak. He led a normal life. He had a family. He had a job. He was happy for the most part. He still had OCD thoughts but he knew how to deal with them. He empathized with me. Because he could empathize with me I knew that I wasn’t some freak but that my mind was sick and needed help. I knew I could live a “normal” life but that would require effort from me. His empathy couldn’t heal me, but it could give me hope.

Now as a 24-year-old, after having played 17 years of competitive soccer, served as Student Body President, traveled the world, and completed a college degree, I have discovered the importance of empathy. During all of those experiences I found how empathy helped myself as well as those whom I associated with. Today I use it on a daily basis because I have learned that we all struggle with various challenges in life. We put on our best face to fool people but it never works. The best way to help others and to help ourselves with these challenges is to empathize with each other. That is why systems such as STAR GUIDES are so essential because they provide a method that promotes empathy for those who need hope.

To summarize, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”