Depressed in college? Me too


author: annie trussler | op-ed editor  

Credit: Ryan Melaugh via Flickr

Be tough, soldiers. I’m on your team. And ask for those extensions!

It’s hard to have a mental illness. There. I may have written the truest sentence to ever grace the human language – living with mental illness is hard. Every day I wake up for my classes, I question if I’ll want to walk out the door, or simply crawl back into my dark depression den, never to be seen again. Some days, I pick the latter, and I never make it to school (not often, because my perfectionism would kill me, otherwise).

We are about five weeks into the new semester, and I’ve cried, on average, once a day – again, this is an average, not an exact tally – usually over nothing, sometimes over minor inconveniences, but most of the time, I’m crying because I’m sad. The intense demand for schoolwork combined with my, unfortunately, Type A personality makes every semester somewhat of a trial.

In our last issue, I wrote an article about Bell Let’s Talk, but recent events have driven me to expand on what college is like with severe depression. I cannot speak on behalf of others suffering from different mental illnesses (and I implore you to send personal accounts here if you’re comfortable doing so), but I can try to give those not suffering a more or less realistic look into what daily life looks like for me.

Now, I have what I would call mostly high-functioning depression. My intense anxiety and perfectionism force me to strive beyond my reasonable ability, and thus I frequently burn out.

At the beginning of every semester, I am Captain Organization. I have everything color coded, notes separated, every concept is highlighted, and I feel remotely capable. By the time the second or third week rolls around, my sink is full of dishes, and my life is in utter disarray once more.

Thanks to my extremely perfectionistic attitude toward projects in my life, this sense of confusion and indirection is more than overwhelming – it’s crushing.

I will stay up quite literally all night long if it means putting together the perfect paper. If I don’t, I risk being the lazy, untalented, miserable failure my brain paints me to be.

Any mark below a 90 per cent is a horrifying blow. My esteem sometimes takes weeks to recover. I am still shaken over a crappy mark from the beginning of last semester. Last semester. Like, pre-Christmas.

Now, I’m writing this article specifically to follow up the overwhelming support offered by allies during Bell Let’s Talk week. Our mental illnesses were suddenly valid and worth discussing. We all thought, “Hey, maybe my behavior will be understood now!” News flash: that never happens.

Our peers are suddenly annoyed by our lethargy and disinterest; our families revert to ignoring our requests and demeaning us (while this, fortunately, does not apply to my own); our workloads are daunting, our daily lives are frightening, and we don’t have the energy to do almost anything.

Being depressed in college is like endlessly walking uphill with toddlers hanging off your ankles – so, very hard. Every time I so much as make it to class, it is a silent victory.

While my perfectionism doesn’t allow for this, I know many other sufferers who hand in their assignments dramatically late because they simply didn’t have the energy to start them. Friends, I beg you to ask for those extensions. Most professors are more understanding than you might think.

While this sounds preachy, I fully recommend self-care therapy. If you need a few days away from people, schedule yourself in such a way – people might be annoyed that you cancel plans, but the state of your mental wellbeing infinitely trumps another person’s comfort.

Recently, I suffered a panic attack due to past trauma and had to miss a birthday party. That particular friend has refused to speak to me for over a week, and I learned quickly where my real supporters stand.

Your mental illness will hurt you. It will prevent you from eating, sleeping, socializing, working, and thriving. It will cause you to lose certain friends that don’t understand and gain some more that do.

I ask from the bottom of my heart that you learn to forgive yourself. What you feel and think is beyond your control, and ultimately, we are all pawns of the angry little goblin in our brains pulling strings.

Oh, and friends without mental illness? Stop giving us recommendations. I have tried yoga, we have all tried sleeping more (we sleep way too much or way too little), we have tried eating vegetables, and we are still depressed. You cannot know how to cure what you have never experienced – at least unless you’re a doctor.

Be tough, soldiers. I’m on your team. And ask for those extensions!

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