I have touched upon the subject of mental health before, but I will like to expand on the matter and warn you, especially all upcoming freshmen how your time in college can be, yes some of your best years, but they can also cause havoc in terms of your emotions and sanity.
Prior to college, I did have my ups and downs, but I remember having a fairly good stable and healthy emotional state. It was only once I had a difficult period where depression sucked me in for a few months—in the end, I was able to overcome it with therapy and time.
It was not until freshman year in college where I started to not take care of myself as much as I had wished. I would give up sleep for homework as throughout the day I was busy with work and clubs (because somehow I had to join five clubs). I overworked myself, did a lot and I felt very accomplished for it. I neglected my mental health altogether. I would barely take any time for myself. It was work, work, work. I could never watch a show while I was in school, or go to the gym, or go to therapy, or do anything that involved too much fun and de-stress. I did try to see Boston and go out with friends and explore it, but I restricted myself very much from it because there were things I wanted to accomplish.
In fact, because my first year was, to my definition and standards of success, successful, I wanted to replicate the same amount of success and ambition in the following years. But with that exact same amount of ambition, I realized that a lot of my friendships were superficial and I found myself feeling lonely. I did not know at the time that success was linked to my emotional state and I did not feel my best, thus, I could not be as accomplished as I wanted to be.
To make things worse, I had opted to live on my own, isolated from every person of my year. I found myself having to go very much out of my way to find my people, which was exhausting to do constantly. All this maneuvering led me to develop social anxiety, which drove me to the near point of almost wanting to transfer out. Although, I remember sophomore year as another productive year, yet it was also an extremely lonely one.
Part of the problem is that I did not pick up on any self-care habits from the very beginning of college. I wanted to conquer I do not know what and my mental health was held hostage for those two first years. I suppressed all my emotions. It is a bad idea to never take time for yourself because you forget what it is to relax. It happened to me, I just do not know how to relax. Sounds ironic, I know. When I was abroad and traveled to Ibiza, Spain, I remember I had this incredible view in front of me, the crystal ocean and the beautiful day it was, but all I could worry about was my next internship and accomplish, accomplish, accomplish. It took a small intervention from one of my best friends to realize and to be able to be present. This may sound lightly, but it is not. Trust me, I forgot what it is to relax and I took very little time to sit, reflect, and enjoy what it is in front of my eyes at the precise moment. My mind was focused on the future. It is healthy to be able to tune into a fun mode once in a while, otherwise you may forget.
Junior year ensued and I fell into one of my worst depressions, I will not say much about the reasons for it other than they were heart matters. Luckily for me, I had just moved in with four other girls and they became my salvation. I needed a support group that could listen to anything that was distressing me. This group of people, who are now my best friends, did more than that. They made me rethink my workaholic habits and prioritize my mental health. I always underestimated it, but it makes so much sense how crucial it is for my functioning back then, now in the present and in the future. Of course, I did struggled with my depression for several months, but I developed tactics to cope with it. I started to take more time for myself. I would go to the gym, I went back to therapy, I decided to stick more frequently to my journal. All this helped profoundly to be tuned in with my feelings.
When I was abroad, the depression followed me. But I started to eat healthier (I turn vegan), I began to think more about me and how to improve myself. How we are all a working in progress. I realized that if I wanted to give to others, my happiness comes first, though. Thus, I started to work on myself and changing several external conditions and habits, which allowed me to change something on the inside as well.
Now that I am a senior, I do practice frequent self-care and I try to spend as much time with my friends as I can possibly do. The semester after returning from abroad (last fall) was a difficult one to readjust. I think one has to be honest with oneself and make one’s life easier, especially if one is going through depression. Even though I was functional, I allowed myself to make my life easier. I decided to take three (3) classes, narrow down my jobs to just one, I was going to apply to a number of things, thinking ahead about post-graduation, but I realized that many of those things I did not want them. So I ended up applying just to two grad schools and I did Rhodes, which I worked on all summer long (It did not go very far, but it is one of the biggest failures, I am proudest of because I poured so many hours and hard work into the application and I was content with the final product). I also kept on seeing my therapist, even if one thinks that one is fine, it is always helpful, especially if something unexpected occurs.
Speaking of unexpected, life happens and by the end of last semester, I developed health anxiety, which has been one of the biggest hurdles I have faced. I was paranoid, I would get panic attacks where my heart would beat faster than the usual, my hands would tremble, my skin became paler. Not to mention that I would get these acute somatic symptoms caused by anxiety, stress, and depression. I had a ringing in my ears, something known as tinnitus, my legs would ache with a buzzing sensation, every limb of my body would itch, which lasted for three weeks, joint pain, warm legs, a lump in my throat, abdominal pain, and unrestrained eczema, which I tend to have in a controlled way, but anxiety took away the control. I had to see a psychiatrist to prescribe me medication. Honestly, if it was not because of the therapist I see, psychiatric help, and, of course, the support and understanding of my friends, I could have sunk.
Dealing with this type of anxiety (health anxiety), prevented me from doing daily tasks because from the beginning of the day to the end, I was depressed or scared. Perhaps the most terrifying feeling is the sense of doom one feels, as if my walls were about to close and my death is proximate.
One of my friends, she is a psychology major, told me that a person’s mental health suffers immensely during college years. The amount of change an individual goes through together with more responsibilities and things to juggle, I have no idea how we do not go mad. I have no idea how I have been able to face it all and still be here writing this. One thing I am clear about is that I would not have been able to cope with the rollercoaster that my mental health has been on board in the past few years on my own. I have needed assistance and I have sought such guidance.
It is the reason that today, before you enter college or even if you are enrolled at the moment, start paying more attention to your feelings and thoughts. As I seldom mention, surround yourself with quality friends who care. Speak about your issues with someone, whether it is a professional or a personal relation, knowing when to seek help is important.
You are never alone; you are never a burden.