For Sara Graham, high school has been a journey, at times tumultuous, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Graham will graduate this spring with a nearly perfect GPA from Cheney High School, and she recently got vaccinated so she can attend University of Montana in the fall. She plans to complete premedical undergraduate courses that will prepare her for a master’s program in occupational therapy.
Volleyball is Graham’s sport of choice, and she played setter for the Cheney High team for most of high school, including a shorter four-week season early in 2021, thanks to the pandemic. Despite the COVID restrictions and phases the team had to go through, Graham was incredibly thankful to be able to be a leader on her team and finish her high school volleyball career alongside her friends.
Graham’s story includes some real challenges, however, when just a few years ago, she might have found herself having a panic attack in the classroom. She struggled with depression and anxiety in her freshman and sophomore years, and while volleyball was a good release for her, it wasn’t enough.
She tried to end her life twice, the first time landing her in the psychiatric unit at Sacred Heart Medical Center for a week, the second time, found barely conscious surrounded by family. It was then, lying on the floor with her family around her that she decided to make a change.
“That was when I decided, ‘OK, Sara, it’s time to fight. It’s time to pick yourself up and fight for yourself because I have family members, parents and other people fighting for me right now, why not help those people fighting for me?’ ” she said. “Why aren’t you fighting for yourself Sara?”
Today, Graham is open and honest about her past experiences, acknowledging the role her support system as well as counselors and the right medication played in getting her back on track.
“It has been a night and day difference,” she said.
For Graham, if sharing her story can help others who are feeling similar to how she was, she wants to assure them they are not alone and encourage them to reach out. She said everyone’s feelings are valid, and she has learned not everyone experiences those feelings and emotions the same way.
“A lot of my friends are scared to say they’re depressed to me, but our depression looks different,” she said. “Everybody’s feelings look different, so don’t compare or say your rock bottom looks different than my rock bottom.”
Graham credits her family, friends and support system at Cheney High School for helping her get through her tough freshman and sophomore years. She recalls her teachers working with her to catch up on assignments if she got behind and encouraging her to keep going. Graham said her volleyball coach was also her role model, seeing her through her best and her worst times.
By junior year she was thriving, playing varsity volleyball as the setter for the Cheney High School team, and aside from a concussion that took her out of play for a while, things were going well. Then the pandemic hit. At the time, Graham felt like she couldn’t catch a break, but now she’s grateful for the pandemic and the perspective it gave her.
“I think COVID was such a true blessing in disguise because it made me realize who I am when I’m by myself and who I am with – you have a choice of who you want to be around,” she said. “I figured out my true and genuine friends who care about me and my decisions.”
Graham would encourage others who are struggling like she once was to be willing to put the time in and reach out to others for help when they need it.
“Keep fighting; keep pushing for your own life and know your own worth,” she said.
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