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You know those days when before you even get out of bed you feel the darkness hanging over your head? You know when sitting up, then standing up, breakfast and teeth brushing feel almost impossible. I know those days. I know them well.

Tomorrow is JMU’s graduation ceremony, and while I’m not participating in the event, I am still a graduate. People are so proud, or so they say, I’m just kind of glad the whole thing to be over. I know what I accomplished, and the list has very little to do with anything academic. I’ll leave here with my BA but more importantly my life. Coming to James Madison University I expected to learn and study ideas, principles, and topics that would change my outlook on life. I entered JMU a high achieving high school senior hungry to prove and conquer any test put in front of me.

I’m leaving here looking back and laughing at myself (sympathetically). I didn’t know the extent of what I was dealing with mentally and emotionally when I arrived in Harrisonburg in 2008. And while some days the weight and frustration of the work I’ve done and am still doing today feels all consuming, the awareness of it has given me more power over my life than I ever thought possible.

As I reflect back on my time at JMU I laugh because I don’t remember the people’s names in my freshman hall (or sophomore for that matter). However, I remember the girls in my first eating disorder group. I don’t remember many of my professors names or the classes they taught, but I remember all the providers I’ve worked with. I don’t remember every test – but I remember those light bulb moments that taught me why I did what did or remembering something I tried hard not to.

I have written many papers topics I couldn’t tell you – but I remember writing prayers begging God to keep me alive, or sometimes not to. I remember not being able to drink with my friends because most of the time I was on a new medication.

When I look back on these past five years – I’ll remember treatment, and my passion for mental health advocacy that has been the off shoot of that. I’ll remember the people who saved my life. I’ll remember realizing that I have the power to make my own decisions. I came into the University ready to prove to everyone how smart I was. And I leave knowing I have nothing to prove anyone.

With an average grade-point average I will receive my diploma in the mail, and I give every bit of thanks to God for teaching me finally, that no matter what anyone says or thinks, I Erin Casey am exceptional, for He made me that way.

Spreading hope from a place that was once dark.

Spreading hope from a place that was once dark.