Introduce yourself! Who are you?
My name is Maddie, I’m 18 years old, and I’m a psychology major at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, studying to be a therapist. I have struggled my entire life with mental illnesses, low self-esteem, and chronic illnesses. I have been sharing my journey in hopes of raising awareness and helping people feel less alone. I live with major depressive disorder, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, anorexia with bulimic tendencies, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (a connective tissue disorder), and other chronic illnesses. I want to use my voice to educate others on some of the conditions that I have and create a sense of community and belonging for those who may share the same diagnoses as me. I do my best to give advice, coping skills, chronic illness life hacks, and have a safe space for people to vent.
Did you always know what you wanted to do as a career?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to help people. Around age 16, after an amazing therapist changed my life, I decided that I wanted to become a therapist.
Were you scared to start the process?
I was terrified to even start applying for colleges. I had severe anxiety and was not in the most stable mental state. I didn’t even want to think about leaving home and being around so many strangers.
What is one thing no one really knows about you?
Despite being sick and having multiple surgeries, I graduated high school a year early and enrolled in college at a sophomore standing.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You are not seeking attention for bringing light to your struggles. You are a survivor and you are making people feel less alone.
What would you say to 16-year-old you?
You can do it. You have gotten through so much more than anyone will ever know. Ask for help, use the support of your friends and family. The sun will rise, and we will try again.
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
I have been doubted many times in my life, by others, and by myself. Simple doubts sometimes made me feel better. Like when the boys in swim practice would say that I couldn’t keep up with them. It made winning even more satisfying. The hardest doubts were the ones that I put on myself. I doubted my strength, I doubted my life, and I doubted my worth. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me, like I was weak, worthless, or broken.
What message do you think every woman should hear?
“You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth, and raging courage.” -Alex Elle
Have you always had confidence in yourself?
I have never really had confidence in myself. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been self-conscious of my body. I didn’t like the way that my stomach stuck out and that I wasn’t as skinny as some of my friends were. I very isolated and lonely about my mental illnesses and was too afraid to stand up for myself.
Now, I can’t say that I have amazing self-confidence, but I can say that I have amazing self-acceptance. I accept my body for what it is, and I am so grateful for all that it does for me.
What do you love most about yourself?
I love my strong desire to help others.
Do you remember a specific time you overcame adversity?
My junior year in high school was one of the most difficult things that I have lived through. I was new to the school (a school of over 50,000 students), and I was too socially anxious to really make friends. I went to school and worked as a hostess at a restaurant for most of the school year. Around February that year, I began having seizure-like episodes. Not full on seizures with body convulsions, but episodes of syncope with seizure behavior in my eyes, I refer to them as episodes. I would have episodes at least twice a week, but more often, daily. It was a difficult period of my life because not only was I having these episodes, I was being bullied and doubted for these episodes. People called me seizure girl and asked if I was faking to get attention. During two of these episodes, I hit my head on the way down and sustained concussions. Despite all this adversity, I still finished out the school year and passed all of my classes.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that, by sharing my story and raising awareness, I can help others.
What motivates you most?
My support group motivates me the most. My friends, family, and loved ones keep me going through my hardest days.
How do you manage your work-life balance?
I write out schedules for each day of tasks that I need to complete, as well as a weekly overview, and a monthly planner. I also schedule reminders for important things and write things on a whiteboard.
What do you do on a daily basis to grow and move forward?
I journal on a daily basis. I take time to just write out everything that happened, how I felt, and how I’m feeling now. It’s a great way for me to express myself and then organize my thoughts.
What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?
I dropped out of my first high school due to bullying. I reenrolled the following year at a new school.
If you weren’t doing the job you have now, what would you be doing?
If I weren’t working on obtaining a master’s degree in psychology, I would run a dog rescue. Mostly for Pitt Bulls (they’re my favorite), or any other dogs that have been abandoned or need homes.
Who is your biggest role model? Why?
My biggest role model is Tyler Joseph, from twenty-one pilots. During some of my darkest times, Tyler’s voice and words were the only thing that got me through. He made me feel less alone. He sang about the same feelings that I was having, the same sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, and fear. He sang about those feelings and he sang about how it gets better. He sang and asked you to continue your life no matter how difficult it was. Tyler Joseph started as a depressed/suicidal teen, he held on and continued to do the thing that he loves. Now he’s touring the world with his best friend, he has an amazing wife and a child on the way, and he’s saving hundreds, if not millions of lives.
I want to continue fighting my battles and get to a point where I can do what I love, where I can have a family, and look back and think “I really did it.”
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration through many different things. The music that I listen to often inspires me. My friends and family inspire me, as well as many people that I’ve met through the internet that face struggles similar to mine.
Maddie Perry is a mental health advocate and body confidence spreader. She is learning to love herself while navigating life with EDS and chronic injury.