"If I had a scary thought, I couldn’t get it out of my mind as hard as I tried," said 19 year old Alex Nauta who suffered from severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder when she was a child. "The first symptoms of OCD I had were compulsive hand washing. So, I’d wash my hands probably at least 7 times an hour."
The New Jersey native struggled to keep-up at school and make friends.
"Trying to act like I had it together just made me so tired when I got home," she said. "Also, I didn’t really have hope. I wanted to end my life around 8th grade."
Intense therapy and medication began to help Nauta, as did a skill which came into her life at a surprising time.
"This is the first piece I ever made out of seaglass I found in the outer banks," she said, as she holds a necklace. "I made it during Hurricane Sandy when I was housebound and I discovered my passion then."
Making jewelry became therapeutic, helping Nauta channel her perfectionism in a productive way. She formed a business - Hidden Starfish Jewelry - a name that represents her issues with mental illness.
"To me, starfish represent resilience because every time they lose an arm they grown one back," she said.
With support from her mom, dad and brothers, she realized she could use her jewelry for good.
"I thought, 'I’m pretty good at making jewelry. So, why don’t I sell some jewelry and use it as a way to give back to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation,'" she said.
Now a sophomore at Quinnipiac University, Nauta is doing well and feels compelled to speak-out about mental illness in an effort to reduce stigma and raise awareness.
"Wearing a piece of jewelry signifies support and the more people wearing that jewelry shows you’re not alone and you don’t have to hide what you’re going through," she said.
She hopes sharing her jewelry - and her story - makes a difference for families going through a tough time. She wants them to know there's hope.
"There absolutely is," she said. "I’d say just hold on, just keep going, things get better."
Hidden Starfish rings cost about $33.00. Click here for more information.