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  • Dennis Cogan

I'm Proud to Be Me

I am a resilient, courageous, and strong man. Here is my story:

My name is Dennis Cogan, and I am an intern for The Reflect Organization for the summer of 2021. What drew me to Reflect was the message it promotes: a community of allyship, self-love, authenticity, and student empowerment. I found that these four core values align greatly with my current college experience, and it reminded me how much my experience has changed since the end of my sophomore year.

Upon transitioning to college at Fordham University, I found it tremendously difficult to express myself. Quite frankly, I struggled to answer the question of who I was. I found myself shifting my personality to “fit in” and to seek social approval, and I was a social chameleon of sorts. Since I could not pinpoint which of the characters that I presented was my true, authentic self, I found myself conflicted.

This inner conflict created an immense amount of anxiety. I found what are considered to be the simplest social interactions to be draining and mentally painful, I was overthinking every social interaction that I had. Did I say hello weirdly? Do I look presentable? Why did they respond that way? I was obsessed with how others received me to the point where I intentionally avoided all forms of social interaction. At the time, I did not see this as much of a problem. I assumed that I was just introverted and shy.

I could not even leave the house without the fear of being watched or observed. My mind immediately pointed to the worst outcome in every social interaction. The constant fear of looking like an idiot and the ambiguity of not knowing what others thought of me were consuming my life.

During the second semester of my sophomore year, I enrolled in a class titled “Abnormal Psychology”. In this class, we learned about various mental illnesses and complications that people experience and the ways in which they are diagnosed and treated. I took this class because as a psychology major, I am extremely interested in mental health and mental health treatment. However, I never expected this class to have the impact on my life that it did. It was a Monday afternoon, and our class began a module on anxiety disorders. We began talking about social anxiety disorder, and everything started to make sense. My professor went through all the symptoms of the disorder in detail, and I noticed that I checked almost all the boxes. I was so astonished that I had to leave the classroom, so I went into the bathroom where I looked in the mirror, and I thought to myself, “this is me”. It felt as though everything was coming together. I finally understood myself.

A few weeks later, the Coronavirus pandemic began to take its toll on the United States, and as a result, I was sent home to finish the semester virtually. The world was locking down, but my identity was being set free. As I had more time to focus on myself, I decided that it was time to seek treatment. I met with a therapist weekly, and she referred me over to a psychiatrist, who formally diagnosed me with social anxiety disorder. The formal diagnosis and subsequent conversations brought to light how detrimental my social anxiety was to my daily life and overall well-being.

Upon receiving the treatment that I needed, I began to attack these negative thoughts. I focused on my positive qualities: my resilience, courage, and strength. I had finally discovered my identity. I am a resilient, courageous, and strong man who is passionate about bringing the best out of and to all people. I strive to make as many people as happy as possible through my devotion to care and to be empathetic.

Reflect provided me with the opportunity to work towards eradicating the mental health stigma with so many like-minded people. I know there are many college students out there who feel uncomfortable expressing their emotions and sharing their hardships. My message to you is your voice matters, your feelings matter, and most importantly, you matter.


“Dennis Cogan is a rising senior at Fordham University studying psychology and sociology. He is from the Boston area, and he enjoys listening to music, watching sports, and being a goofball.”


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