In 2015, my anxiety levels were at an all-time high. My father was hospitalized in January of that year due to breathing problems that made it difficult for him to sleep comfortably. During his visit, he was also diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

My father emerged from the hospital just fine, except for the constant doctor visits and medication that he now has to take. But the ironic part of it was that I was the one who wasn’t fine. In a word, I became a hypochondriac and feared that something was wrong with my health, which severely impacted the way I lived and added yet another burden on top of my social anxiety.

It all came crashing down the night before 2015’s Super Bowl, when I suffered a severe anxiety attack. Let me tell you, having an anxiety attack is one of the most terrible feelings anyone could ever experience. I felt an impending sense of dread, as if I was going to have a heart attack. It became hard to breathe and I didn’t know what was going on. My body couldn’t stop shaking and it took a solid four to five minutes for my body to wind down. I vowed from that day that I would try to get through my depression and overcome my anxiety.

Fast-forward to the spring quarter of 2015 when I decided to join Latino Union (LU), a non-profit community service-based organization on campus, at the recommendation of a friend. After being a part of the club for two years now, I can safely say that never in my five years as a student at UCR have I met such an eclectic, fun and compassionate group of people. What makes LU so different from all of the other organizations I could’ve joined was the fact that we all shared the same cultural heritage. That sole fact made LU feel like a home away from home, which undoubtedly helped me get through my anxiety.

I’ve learned to grow out of my shell with the help of some of the people who I’m proud to call friends. I’ve become best friends with a bro-slash-life-advice coach too keen on living and fighting to “Alive” by Empire of the Sun. I’ve aspired to be like a certain pre-business major whose outgoing and cheerful personality makes everyone’s day just a bit brighter. And I’ve long sought to achieve the kindness and compassion that define one of the best Zumba-touting people I’ve had the opportunity to know.

I’ve slowly come to live by a phrase, one which I admittedly need to use more. For all the weaknesses and strengths we share, there’s one fundamental rule we can live by: It’s not the things you did that you will regret, it’s the things you didn’t do. I’ve come to accept, in terms of my anxiety, that fear is the only mindset holding me back. Once that fear is eradicated, everything becomes better.

I took that mindset to heart and finally decided to visit the doctor in the latter half of the year to check up on my health. Save for high blood pressure (which I have since maintained at a steady rate), the doctors told me I didn’t have diabetes and that my heart was healthy. All this time I was worried about nothing, and for once in my life, I slowly began to unravel the chains that held my mind prisoner.

You know that cliche phrase people say, “It gets better?” It actually does. In 2015, I was an anxiety-driven mess. In 2016, I was, for the first time in a long time, happy. How could I not be, when that’s the year I began friendships with people that have made me feel like I belong somewhere? How could I not be, when that’s the year I have fond memories of LU’s winter retreat, when all of us went outside to wage a giant snowball fight while snow was actually falling? How could I not be, when that’s the year I accepted the fact that life is short, so it’s best to make the most of it while it lasts and spend it with the best people you can possibly be friends with?

It’s now 2017, and that happiness has persisted. As I approach my last days at UCR, I hate the fact that I’ll have to leave LU soon. Nonetheless, I’m still meeting new people and continuing to form new friendships (shout-out to a certain sociology major who loves to rave). It’s unfortunate that I’m not going to see how LU will develop throughout the next school year, but I know that it will continue accepting new people and maintaining a family-oriented environment. LU will remain a place where even the most anxiety-driven, reserved people can feel at ease.