Dalia Michaelson said she has always been a perfectionist, and she began to fear failure when she started high school.
Dalia Michaelson, 18, and her family felt especially proud of her graduation from Berkley High School.
“It’s a big deal that I graduated,” she said. “There was a time last year where we thought that I was going to need to be sent away. We didn’t think I would be able to finish junior year.”
Michaelson refused to go to school during her junior year. Most mornings she wouldn’t get up. If she did make the drive to school, she’d circle the block in tears. Some days she drove the loop for an hour. Other days she’d drive home after just a few minutes.
“I felt really overwhelmed by the expectations that I put on myself,” Michaelson said. “It felt easier to not go than to go and fail. We thought it was just me not wanting to get a bad grade, but it was a lot deeper than that.”
Michaelson said she has always been a perfectionist, and she began to fear failure when she started high school. She often felt scared and anxious during her freshman and sophomore years, but Michaelson had her first panic attack as a junior. She also had a difficult time opening up to family and friends.
“No one knew what was going on except for me, and even I didn’t completely understand it,” she added.
One morning, Michaelson hit her lowest point. While her mother dropped her brother off at school, Michaelson sat on the toilet trying to make herself throw up to avoid going to school. She was bawling in the bathroom when her mother came back.
“I didn’t want to keep going anymore,” Michaelson said. “If she didn’t walk in the door when she did, I don’t really know what would have happened. That was my turning point.”
Michaelson revealed her thoughts and feelings to her parents. They acted immediately. Michaelson saw a therapist the same day and a psychiatrist shortly after. She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. With medication and therapy, Michaelson quickly started improving.
“As soon as I started talking it out with someone, that really helped,” she added. “It made me feel like myself.”
Michaelson found more support at school. She reconnected with her friends and set up a meeting with her counselor. She told Michaelson to come directly to her office whenever she felt anxious so she would stay in school.
“I don’t think people realize what an ally a school counselor can be,” Michaelson said. “Whatever you are going through they have seen before and know how to help. I would not have made it through the year without mine.”
Michaelson further improved when she got involved with UMatter, a program focused on empowering teens to shatter the stigmas surrounding mental health challenges and suicide. Michaelson was inspired by her friend Lauren Schostak when she shared her experience with mental illness at the 2019 One Thing I Wish You Knew event.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about how many people in that room she helped by doing that,” Michaelson said. “I realized how big of an impact it can have.”
She was inspired to join the UMatter Teen Board, which plans events and social media campaigns.
“The way I felt helping people through UMatter made me realize that this is what I want to do in my future career,” she added.
Michaelson will be attending the University of Virginia in the fall to study nursing and become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. After refusing to attend school, Michaelson has come to appreciate it.
“It was crazy to think about how bad things were based on how good things are now,” she said. “It helped me reflect and realize how much I appreciate school. I will miss it.”
This is the third in a four-part series profiling teens who have triumphed over mental illness challenges.
Check out more stories part of this series below.
Dealing with Dyslexia: Local Teen Shares His Journey to Overcome Learning Challenges
The Power to Help Yourself: How One Young Adult Found Peace With Anxiety and Depression