It was a Sunday night during my freshman year of high school. I couldn't bring myself to fall asleep, even though I had to wake up at 7 a.m. I tossed and turned for a while until I decided to just grab my phone and browse through Twitter. I was a fangirl at the time and followed other fangirls from around the world. My timeline was full of tweets about One Direction, Justin Bieber, Austin Mahone and other artists and Youtubers I liked during that time period. But after a few minutes of scrolling, the pattern of fangirl tweets was broken by something much darker: suicide.
One of the girls I was a mutual follower with was contemplating killing herself. Although her account was dedicated to One Direction, she also used Twitter as an outlet to talk about her mental health. I immediately tweeted her a supportive message and asked others to help me out. I resumed scrolling through my timeline and discovered that two other girls were feeling the same way. In that moment, I knew I had to give up my sleep in order to make sure these girls would be OK.
The situation calmed down after an hour or two of getting people to tweet the three girls support. I definitely couldn’t fall asleep now, so I began thinking of a solution to prevent suicide. I didn’t want anyone to ever think that suicide was the only answer and eventually thought of creating a buddy system that would pair people who had similar interests.
At the end of 7th grade, I found myself with barely any friends. I lost my best friends after some petty middle school fights. Luckily, I was able to make a friend after discovering we liked the same music through our mutual friend. This girl (let’s call her Jasmine) became my best friend. We did everything together and hung out every single weekend.
When we were in 8th grade, Jasmine and I became obsessed with One Direction. I decided to turn my Twitter account into a fangirl account so I could talk about One Direction without annoying my family and classmates. I convinced Jasmine to make a Twitter and both of us were on it constantly. Almost every day we got to the point where we would get blocked from tweeting for a certain amount of time.
Going on Twitter to find people who shared the same interest as me actually helped a lot. Due to losing all of my friends in 7th grade, I began to develop severe social anxiety. I would always think people were talking about me behind my back and literally froze up when my teachers uttered the words, “Get into groups.” I always feared that I would say everything wrong and didn’t know how to make new friends that would understand me. I always thought I was being annoying and that no one wanted to be my friend.
Being able to talk to people over the internet was good for me. I didn’t fear judgment as much and knew that there were people out there who would understand me. I could actually take the time to think about what I wanted to say instead of getting red and stumbling on my words. I made hundreds of friends on Twitter and still talk to a handful of them today (one of them is actually my sorority sister now).
When I thought of the buddy system idea, I also thought of my current experience with social anxiety. I absolutely hated feeling completely alone at school. But on the other hand, I absolutely loved that I could come home and receive support from my friends who were states away. I wanted to give others a chance to make a connection with someone the same way that I did. Another experience came into play when thinking of the buddy system, but it wasn’t my experience. It was Jasmine’s.
A few months after we became best friends, Jasmine revealed to me that she was struggling with her mental health (I won’t go into the specific mental illnesses and such). This changed my life, but for the better. I decided I would educate myself on mental health so I could properly support my best friend. Whenever Jasmine would feel down because of her mental illness, I would be there to support her. She always told me how much my support meant to her and that she didn’t know what she’d do without it.
When I thought of the buddy system idea, I also thought of what Jasmine told me. I wanted to give others a chance to receive support from someone like Jasmine did from me. Putting both my experience and my best friend’s helped me create this solution: Buddy Project. Once I had coherent information about my idea, I immediately tweeted it out to see what everyone thought. I received an overwhelming amount of support and knew that I had to start Buddy Project the second I came home from school the next day.
As soon as I got off of the bus, I knew what my game plan was for launching Buddy Project. I would create a Twitter account and a sign-up form so I could spread the word and get people involved. There weren’t a lot of people interested at first, so I thought that Buddy Project would just be a little “side activity” I would do in my free time. But boy was I wrong.
A few hours after starting the initiative there was a huge influx of people signing up and following Buddy Project. I was more than overwhelmed. I had no idea how I could pair over 2000 people when I was only expecting 100 or less. It was a struggle at first, but I was able to get help.
I didn’t tell my mom what I was doing until that Saturday and she told me that I “better get my homework done.” I told her that I would and then showed her exactly what the program was. She began to understand the full capacity of what I was doing and took back the whole homework comment. She was also able to help me create an efficient method to pair buddies, which allowed me to pair all of the people who signed up.
I still run Buddy Project’s social media and manually pair the buddies by myself, almost four years later. Buddy Project has gone through many changes in this timespan, but each change has made the project better as a whole. The biggest change happened in late 2015 when Buddy Project transformed from social media initiative to 501c3 non-profit organization.
Being a student and a CEO is a tough job, but I love every second of it. Knowing that the time and effort I put into mental health awareness and suicide prevention is helping people makes my body fill up with such strong, positive feelings. Buddy Project has changed my life in so many ways. It's helped me become aware of my own struggles and I'm starting to seek help for them. I want to change how the world views mental health and I know that I can make that necessary change. I never thought that 170,000 people would sign up for something that 15-year-old me thought of in the middle of the night. I never thought that my tweets would encourage people to seek help, stop them from self-harming or help them get through suicidal thoughts.
If you are passionate about a cause and dream of making a change in the world, please chase that dream. It doesn’t matter if your cause is related to health, education, food, water, the environment, shelter or human rights. If your dream is to raise awareness and educate others, raise awareness and educate others in the best way you possibly can. If your dream is to start a non-profit organization, start that organization and make it the best organization you possibly can.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t make a difference; they’re wrong. Every change in this world has started with one person. You have the capability to do extraordinary things, and I know that you can achieve them. I believe in you.
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