Burden. Failure. Outsider.

These are just some of the names I’ve answered to most of my life.

I believe that, for the most part, names are prophetic. However, the names that I’ve responded to…the names I’ve identified with, were not names that defined me.

When I was born, my parents deliberated for some time over the name they would give me. They wanted a name that symbolized their faith, as well as their hope for the future. They chose “Danica”a name that means “Morning Star.” I’m not sure how prophetic that was, but I know that growing up, I certainly didn’t feel like I had the power to bring light to anyone.

Instead, I carried around the names others placed on me like heavy chains that imprisoned me…instead of bringing life, the names brought death.

Growing up, I was the silent girl, the one who never talked. I was diagnosed at age three with Selective Mutism, a debilitating social anxiety disorder that made it virtually impossible for me to speak in certain social settings. I had extreme difficulty communicating with both teachers and classmates and spent most of each day in silence, never saying more than a few words, If that.

I suffered in silence for 18 years, and very few outside my immediate family were aware of the prison I put myself in or the magnitude of my disorder. But you know what? I am not alone.

There are people in your school…in your workplace…in your community…who are suffering in silence, who are imprisoned by social anxiety, depression or similar demons. Perhaps you are even the one suffering.

I wish I could tell you that I’m completely healed, but that would be a lie because I still struggle. But I’ve learned that every day, I have the choice to push away negative thoughts—thoughts that I’ve allowed to control me my entire life.

I’ll say it again—it’s a choice.

Each day, I have a choice to ignore the lies that feed on fear and half-truths. Each day, I have the choice to push myself to suffocate the lies before they have the opportunity to take root and fester.

I refuse continue to answer to “burden,” “failure,” or “outsider.”

How about you?

I know I have so much more life left to live…because I have a voice that has not yet been heard…a voice that speaks Truth…a voice that can make the world a better place.

I am more than what I have overcome. I am more than what I still struggle with.

You too, are more than the burdens you bear. Don’t accept the lies. Don’t accept defeat.

I invite you to join me on my journey and allow me to accompany you on yours. Although the road is long and arduous, the scenery is just too good to miss.

Life is beautiful, both in and out of the struggles.