I learned of today’s #RealLifeWonderWoman from a colleague who told me, “you simply have to meet her!” She’s an author, speaker, mental health advocate, student and dog rescuer. She radiates both resilience and gratitude.
And by the way, she’s accomplished all of this (and so much more!) before her nineteenth birthday.
Her book is called Don’t Tell Me To Relax!: One Teen’s Journey To Survive Anxiety (And How You Can Too).
Meet real-life Wonder Woman…Sophie Riegel!
KR: Can you tell us a bit about your story and what led you to accomplish so much at such a young age?
SR: I’ve always been a fighter. And this fighter mentality served me well when I was diagnosed with OCD, Trichotillomania, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder. I really struggled to stay in school, keep friends, and be a “normal” kid. There were points in my journey where I thought that I would suffer forever and that I would have to be institutionalized. But, I was fortunate enough to have an amazing support system, including my family, teachers, my guidance counselor, and friends, who all helped me see that I had so much to live for. Because of this support, I felt like it was my duty to give that support to other people who may not be as fortunate as I was. I know that so many people feel so alone in their struggles and I know that feeling well. It is one of the worst feelings. My goal was to shed light on the reality of living with a mental illness in the hopes that people would start to understand that they are not alone and that there are people that they can open up to. I think I have reached that goal, but my fight isn’t over. The fight to end the stigma around mental health will never be over, and that’s why I will never stop fighting.
KR: What brings you joy and fulfillment?
SR: Speaking about my experiences and my advice to both teens and parents/educators brings me a lot of joy and fulfillment. It is one thing to have people read my book, but it is another thing to see their faces light up and see some light bulbs go on as I speak to them. In addition, the Q & A parts of all of my speeches are my favorite parts for sure. A lot of teens have opened up to me about their experiences for the first time and that feels really special. Also, when parents ask me for advice, it feels great because that’s a sign that they want to change. Every time I get a text or an email telling me that reading my book or listening to me speak has changed someone’s way of thinking and that it has led them to change their behaviors or reach out for help is unbelievably fulfilling. Those texts and emails and conversations make it worth it to have gone through so much and have spent four years writing my book.
KR: I believe we all have inner superpowers. Sophie, what are some of yours?
SR: I like to think of my OCD as a superpower, despite the fact that most of the time, it feels like a burden. I am able to notice patterns about the way people behave and therefore, I can insert myself into situations at points where I know how the person will react or behave. It’s not quite mindreading, but it’s pretty cool. Also, I am fiercely loyal to the people that I love and I do not quit. My grandpa used to tell me that the word “quit” is not in my vocabulary, and he is right. I follow through on my commitments.
But, I think my most impressive superpower is my ability to say “no.” I am far from the person who says “yes” to please other people. I know what I want and I am not afraid to say it.
KR: Can you tell us about an influential woman in your life and how she inspired you?
SR: My mom is by far the most influential woman in my life. However, I want to acknowledge someone who doesn’t get as much recognition for her work as she deserves. My high school guidance counselor has inspired me in ways I could not even begin to describe. Besides her being the kindest, warmest, and most loving person, she is also so strong and that is inspiring. She has taught me how to say “no.” She has taught me how to be loyal to other people and also to myself. She has taught me how to make decisions that benefit me and not feel guilty about it. But even more than all of that, she is a role model for the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. She has a job that she is passionate about. She knows exactly what she wants and she isn’t afraid to ask for help and support. When she doesn’t know what to do, she admits it. She has the perfect balance of confidence and humility. Her work often goes unrecognized and I want her to know that her words of encouragement and just the way she goes about life is unbelievable inspiring.
KR: If you could have one super-human power, what would it be?
SR: I wish that I knew exactly what someone needed to hear in the moment so I could say it to them. Sometimes hearing something like that changes everything and makes you feel more hopeful and that would be an awesome thing to be able to do.
KR: I know you work very hard as an author, speaker and student. But I also know a girl’s gotta have fun outside of her work, too! What do you do for fun? What are your hobbies?
SR: I rescued a pitbull a little over a year ago and she is the light of my life. For fun, we walk all around the neighborhood and play together. We also love to cuddle together. I also write for fun. I am the president of the board of directors of Here.Now., which is a teen driven mental health organization. Part of what I do is I write articles for them and I find those to be really enjoyable. I’m also a total nerd so I like to do puzzles and solve Rubik’s cubes when I have free time.
KR: Knowing what you know at this stage of your life, what words of wisdom would you give to your 14-year-old self?
SR: I’m only 18, so it’s not so far from 14. But I would tell my 14-year old self, who was struggling on a daily basis with anxiety and panic, that it would all be worth it. That all of my suffering has a purpose and that it isn’t meaningless. That I would get to help people who are dealing with the same thing. I would tell her that while I will be fighting this forever, it will get easier if I keep doing what I am doing.
KR: Sophie, you truly are a real-life Wonder Woman! I truly appreciate your positivity and the perspective you bring. Thank you for sharing your story.
Learn more about Sophie (and order a copy of her book!) at donttellmetorelaxbook.com