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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

Health & Well-Being

Max, Flourish Stories. (AI edit) Credit: Andrew Brodhead


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Content Note

Flourish Stories may include discussions of struggles or language that may be distressing to you. As you read each student's story, we encourage you to prioritize your own emotional well-being. Take a break from reading or seek support if needed. Remember, it's OK to not be OK. 

If I could go back and tell my younger self something... I would remind myself that you can’t see the forest from the trees and that it’s healthy to reflect on the past, but living in the past is not ... ”

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Max's Story

“My mental health journey started in undergrad, but thinking back, I started getting kind of anxious at the end of high school — though it wasn’t to the point where it would interfere with my day-to-day operations. But once I got to college, I had, for lack of a better term, a mental breakdown, and it led to severe depression and anxiety. Somehow I pulled off my first year of college, but my sophomore year, I submitted something late for the first time in my entire life, and I ended up withdrawing from the university for that semester. 

I think part of it was that I grew up in a relatively safe, calm, southeast Wisconsin suburb where there wasn’t a lot going on, and then suddenly the stress of life was being thrown at me and the wheels started popping off. So I went to a residential program, which was sort of a reset, and returned to school, graduated and got accepted to Stanford. However, my first year here, I became a father, and when I returned after my daughter was born, things got really, really hard.

In 2018, I was diagnosed, and for me, receiving a diagnosis was a relief. I’m an engineer; I like categorizing things with labels and making things right. So for me, getting a diagnosis, without seeming too exaggerated, saved my life. But at the time, I was taking a lot of medication and every day felt like a slog. I wasn’t getting much work done, and the interactions I had with my daughter’s mom were absolutely devastating. 

I started lashing out at my family and crushing my relationships with them. I didn’t want to talk with anybody and I just withdrew. It didn’t feel good, and the scariest thing, honestly, was that when COVID ended, I still didn’t feel good. So I found an outpatient program here in the Bay Area, and it was helpful. At the time, I thought it was a fix, but now I realize it was more of a stabilization. 

We have this term in therapy about a ‘life worth living.’ And at the time, I just felt like it was my antithesis of a life worth living. I hit rock bottom. I’d send angry texts about my life to various people, and I became really withdrawn again.

But a year ago, I joined the dialectical behavioral therapy program run by Stanford Medicine. What I didn’t know at the time was that DBT is kind of the de facto treatment for my particular diagnosis, so I’m a prime candidate for it. And it worked. I’m six months in, and as far as I can tell, I am already feeling so much better than I was. That’s not to say everything is perfect; it just means that day to day, I feel like I can live my life. And even when things happen or I feel a certain way, I’m able to practice the things I’m learning in DBT. One of the biggest is radical acceptance – you don’t have to like it, but it’s the way it is. 

I have access to my therapist 24/7 through the DBT program, and if something big is really getting to me, I can reach out to her, which is useful. Exercise has also been a big thing for me — I really like running. I talk to my mom, and one of the biggest things I do is actively practice healthy coping mechanisms. Now, if something’s upsetting me or going wrong, I can typically get distance from it. 

If I could go back and tell my younger self something, well, I don’t think I would have listened. But I wish I could have learned to just ‘take five.’ I would remind myself that you can’t see the forest from the trees and that it’s healthy to reflect on the past, but living in the past is not. You have to keep trying, and it sometimes sucks because you don’t want to keep trying. I didn’t get into this DBT program until six months ago, and I’ve been dealing with this for 10 years. But now, I’m fundamentally changing how I think and respond to things, and it’s been freeing.” 

Additional Details About Max

  • Class of ’25
  • PhD, Electrical Engineering
Littlefield garden, 2022. Credit: Andrew Brodhead

Mental Health Resources at Stanford

This website is your go-to hub for navigating the many mental health and well-being resources at Stanford. Whether you are seeking advice to establish your self-care routine, looking for ways to manage stress or mental health symptoms, tips to help a friend, someone supportive to talk to, or anything in between, you are not alone.

Professional staff and your peers are ready to support you, regardless of what point you are in your mental health and well-being journey.