Throughout my life, I just thought that I was insecure with my feelings, thoughts, and emotions. I had a fear of disappointing people and of people disliking me. I thought I had a problem because I was “too sensitive” and people would always make fun of those who were overly emotional. In November of my freshman year of college, I started feeling more emotional than usual. However, I always associated the reason why I was crying or feeling terrible about myself to a specific situation or to the fact that I was adjusting to college. I started seeing a therapist for this reason and continued seeing her all summer, thinking that I learned how to adjust to college life better and to not let situations or people affect me as much. I came back sophomore year thinking here we go, another year. I am going to be less sensitive and not as emotional.
At first, I felt good and thought I had solved the problem. But by November of my sophomore year, I started to experience a constant, heavy feeling, making me feel this suffocating weight in my chest. I remember one instance when I was at my friend’s place with a group of people; I was talking with them and laughing with them. Then all of a sudden, I felt this dark cloud come over me. I felt that heavy feeling in my chest. Like something was crushing my body, making my heart feel like it was beating out of my chest and making my hands uncontrollably shake. I slowly got up and went to the bathroom without saying anything to anyone. I looked in the mirror and tears began to well up in my eyes. Moments later, I collapsed to the ground, starting to hiccup and gasp for air as tears rolled down my face. I couldn’t get up. I just sat on the bathroom floor, trying to not make any noise so that no one would worry about me. My conscience just kept telling me the same thing: you’re nothing. I felt these thoughts spiraling through my head, but I could not make them stop to figure out what they were. My tears were uncontrollable, and this time I could not associate my feelings with a situation or person. After about half an hour, I pulled myself together and came out of the bathroom. I offered my friends the excuse, “Sorry I’m not feeling well.” And that was that. No one asked any questions, no one asked if I was okay, no one knew anything was wrong. This became the norm and it happened almost every day.
I felt alone and worthless. I thought something was wrong with me. But this time, it was different than my freshman year. I had everything I could have ever wanted. A loving family, amazing friends, a dance team I loved, a career goal that I was excited to pursue. However, that did not stop me from having this constant knot in my stomach. I had this monster uncontrollably come into my mind and tell me that I wasn’t good enough, that I was alone, that I was ugly, that I was dumb, and that everyone’s life would be better off without me in it. It would then consume me, making me cry hysterically, gasp for air and not be able to get off the ground for hours. I would look into the mirror and realize my greatest enemy was standing right in front of me, constantly reflecting and brooding on past events, but also always anxious about the future. I couldn’t recognize myself. The happy, bubbly girl was no longer there. Instead, I saw a girl with so much pain in her eyes, who was too scared to ask anyone for help.
Getting through each day was hard enough. I would wake up every morning wishing that I could just go back to sleep. It took so much energy for me to get out of bed and attend my classes and meetings. When I would come home, I would sit in my bathroom wanting the pain to just go away. The red lines on my arms and legs were just a constant reminder of that feeling and a bottle of pills sat next to me, mocking me, telling me to take them and make it all go away.
“Hey are you okay? Why are you so sad? Are you sick?” What was I supposed to tell everyone? I wish I could have said, “I can’t get out of bed and I do not know why. I have no motivation to do anything and I do not know why. I keep crying everyday and I do not know why.” But no, I didn’t want to be a burden. Instead I forced a smile on my face and responded with, “I’m fine, I’m just tired.”
I thought that people would question me if I had told them the truth because there was no physical evidence of my pain. I thought that no one would understand my mental health struggle because of the horrible stigma that still surrounds this topic. I thought that I would be judged for something I had no control over. It made me doubt and invalidate how I was feeling. What if I am actually crazy? What if I actually am just being ‘too dramatic’ and I need to just ‘get over it’? What if no one will want to be with me or be friends with me when they hear that I have a mental health problem? I was ashamed and embarrassed. I couldn’t tell anyone.
I knew I couldn’t live with this pain anymore and continue the terrible ways I was coping with it. I couldn’t be at war with myself anymore. After months of feeling purposeless, I had the courage to finally go to my parents and ask for help. I started going to therapy again as well as started medication. In therapy, I learned healthy coping skills and strategies to confront my depression and anxiety. I started cutting out the negative people in my life, I started writing down my thoughts in a journal, and I started focusing on me. I learned to fight that monster and the horrible things it would tell me. I learned to not be ashamed over something I couldn’t control and to accept that while this issue is part of me, it does not define me.
It has been a long time since I felt so terribly consumed by my depression and anxiety. However, improving my mental health did not change overnight. It took months of self-care, self-love, support and therapy to get to the place I am at now. I am not totally okay yet and probably won’t ever be completely okay. I am still in therapy, I still get anxiety attacks, and I have definitely had some setbacks. But, I am doing better and I am going to continue to get better than the day before, but it is going to take some more acceptance and help.
I did not tell this story because I want people to feel sorry for me. I’ve felt sorry for myself for too long, and I don’t need that from other people either. I want people to be aware and understand that over 1/3 of college students face a variety of mental health struggles every day; it is a real problem. We should not be stigmatized because of that. Instead we should be heard, we should be loved, and we should be encouraged to do everything that we can to get the help we need. I want people going through this to know that there are so many ways for you to get help. You should never think for a second that what you’re feeling is stupid or invalid. It is okay to not be okay. I know how terrible and painful it feels in the moment, but with the right people in your life and the right resources, it is definitely possible to get better. You are not alone, and there is a whole community that will stand behind you. You are amazing because you are unique and beautiful in your own way, and your mental health struggle does not change that.