When reporter Tracy Briggs posted a Facebook callout asking Gen Z'ers to share their stories about anxiety, she was connected with 19-year-old Baylee Engquist, a student at M-State. Over a cup of coffee, Engquist shared her story of battling anxiety and depression that resulted in her harming herself. She found help and now shares her story with other young people. This is Baylee's story in her own words.

I began my struggles with anxiety and depression in seventh grade...severely. I never reached out to anybody because I was a three-sport athlete at the time, so I didn't think I fit into that stereotype. I didn’t think I was the kind of person who would have anxiety.

Baylee Enquist says she started experiencing anxiety while in middle school. Submitted photo
Baylee Enquist says she started experiencing anxiety while in middle school. Submitted photo

I played basketball and track, and I had all these friends. I just had a normal life that some people would give anything for. I came from a good home and got good grades, but I was still struggling, and because I didn't reach out, that resulted into self harm (cutting herself), which is another common theme with kids. It’s so hard to grasp. It’s a psychological release. I can’t even explain it. It felt better to feel that than nothing.

A friend actually had noticed it but never said anything to me. She just noticed I was kind of off, and I wasn't self-harming in places that were obvious. (Baylee cut herself in her hip area).

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So she ended up calling my mom. Thankfully she was courageous enough to do that.

Baylee Enquist battled severe anxiety and depression as a child, and now tries to help other young people through her work with LSS's Imagine Thriving program. Submitted photo
Baylee Enquist battled severe anxiety and depression as a child, and now tries to help other young people through her work with LSS's Imagine Thriving program. Submitted photo

So my mom just came to me one day and was like, 'You know, you're different lately. What’s going on?' She just opened up that conversation. So we then went to therapy and kind of started figuring things out, and I found healthy outlets like just writing things down, putting myself in social situations and keeping busy.

So that was pretty much my first big fall down, and then you know, I got back up and was good again. And then in high school I saw SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) make a presentation, and I loved it. It spoke to me, and I wanted to speak to children and make a difference in their life, and so I got involved with them.

'Struggling Again'

My junior year of high school I started kind of struggling again, but because I was now on this speaking team, this leadership board, I thought I can’t reach out to anybody because I’m a success story. It's so ironic. I’m going into all of these classrooms telling the kids about the warning signs and to reach out. But I was starting to struggle again.

Baylee Engquist (pictured with fellow Moorhead High student Luke Seidel in 2018) was an active and involved student. Nonetheless she struggled with anxiety. Forum file photo
Baylee Engquist (pictured with fellow Moorhead High student Luke Seidel in 2018) was an active and involved student. Nonetheless she struggled with anxiety. Forum file photo

There was a student assistance counselor at the high school (Scott Mathison) I worked very closely with but didn't want to tell him because I didn't want him to think “she can’t do this”. So that’s when I started to go out and party with friends and putting myself in social situations again but in a negative light. My junior year I got caught in a party and got a minor (in possession), which was a wake up call. Now I'm thankful for it, but it was definitely my wake up call. I started working closely again with that student assistance counselor and really started focusing on my school work and working with SADD. I started working out again and exercising.

Tracy: What were your specific symptoms?

I was sad for no reason. No explanation. Something small would happen, and I would break down and cry. I was barely holding on by a string. I was good with people, but when I was home alone I let all the emotions go. My freshman year of college actually ended up being really, really tough. I was experiencing different symptoms then.

'Life changes'

I had a few kind of big life changes before college within that summer before college, which I think was a big part of it. My dog passed away in May, and then I went through a really unexpected and kind of traumatic break up in July, and then I started a new job in August. I experienced a lot of changes and not getting the time to probably come to terms with them and accept them.

I was in a different school. I'm taking on a full class load and just completely overwhelming myself. I did fine the first few months, and then I got to the point where I was so exhausted, and I could not stay awake to save my life. It was crazy. I've never experienced anything like that.

Baylee Engquist talks about her journey with anxiety, while her mother, Tracy Gruenhagen listens. David Samson / The Forum
Baylee Engquist talks about her journey with anxiety, while her mother, Tracy Gruenhagen listens. David Samson / The Forum

I got to the point where I would go to class for two hours. It would be a noon class, then I’d get done at 2:50 or 3:00. I’d drive home, and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I’d get home, and I’d be so exhausted. It wasn't like I stayed up super late or anything like that. No, it it was full night's rest and then sleeping all day.

So this went on for a few months. It affected my grades. I needed to drop a couple classes my first semester. Then came more anxiety because either I would be so exhausted I couldn’t make it to class or I couldn’t complete my work, and then I would get so anxious because my work wasn't done. 'I have this to do and I have that to do.'

I went into the adviser's office to talk about next year's classes, and I just broke down because I just felt like I didn't know what to do. From there, I went straight to the doctor. The doctor said it was a major depressive disorder and then anxiety, and they gave me Zoloft.

Getting better and helping others

With her diagnosis and medication, Baylee started to improve and began telling her story to area students through the Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota mental health initiative, Imagine Thriving, where she works as a Youth Engagement Specialist.

With Imagine Thriving and peer to peer presentations, my goal is to really just talk to these kids. My biggest goal is not to talk at them, but with them. We can have conversations. I'll talk about statistics and give them definitions of things so that we’re on the same page. I’m pretty raw and up front with them, and I tell them about my experiences.

Tracy Gruenhagen, right, says she "would have never suspected" her daughter Baylee, left, suffered from anxiety while in middle school. "She hid it so well," Gruenhagen says. Now, both women speak out to help other families cope. "I'm so proud of her," Gruenhagen says. David Samson / The Forum
Tracy Gruenhagen, right, says she "would have never suspected" her daughter Baylee, left, suffered from anxiety while in middle school. "She hid it so well," Gruenhagen says. Now, both women speak out to help other families cope. "I'm so proud of her," Gruenhagen says. David Samson / The Forum

Tracy: How would you compare how you feel now to when you were at the very worst of it?

Oh my gosh. It's like a world of difference. I mean, a complete world of difference. My outlook on life in general is far better. I’m able to dive more into what I’m passionate about. Working with Imagine Thriving, making changes in peoples' lives and focusing on my schooling and just connecting with people positively.

Tracy: What advice would you have for anyone going through anxiety?

Honestly, I know everyone says it, and it’s said so often, but just to reach out and get help. There are so many who people feel this way, but you don’t have to feel this way. There is something better. Not everything is going to work for everyone. You know the same medications won't work for different people, and maybe medications aren't even what you need. Sometimes it’s not a chemical imbalance. Sometimes it’s a situation working through therapy or coping mechanisms. Sometimes it’s about finding your niche, what makes you happy and what you are passionate about and work into just embracing it. You don’t have to feel like this.

Tracy: How are you feeling about the future?

I don’t think there’s necessarily any cure for my depression and anxiety. I think life is going to bring some amazing and exciting things, but it's also going to bring a lot of hardships and sadness and pain, and that's just part of being human and living in this life.

So I think that it will forever be something that I deal with, and I have been coming to terms with it, being okay with it and accepting it. It’s so so important to just understand that this medication is working for me right now, but it doesn't mean it will 10 years from now. I'm just taking my life as it comes.

Tomorrow on Generation Anxiety: Practical anxiety-busting advice for parents.

Do you have questions about anxiety? You can ask mental health counselor/therapist Tracy Hansen during a live on-line chat session Wednesday Jan. 15 over the noon hour. Details to follow.