I battle every day with my mental illnesses but I learned how to fight against them.
I started to realize I needed help when I entered my first year of college. I was at a university on my own, in a different environment than I was used to. I had a couple of friends at school and was romantically involved with someone I met there. I began classes and started to involve myself in many things on campus. I was volunteering for political campaigns, writing for magazines on campus, and a part of other various clubs. I was stretching myself thin and figured I was okay, I could do this. I pushed aside all my anxieties and panicked thoughts. I ignored all the signs that I was too overwhelmed and needed help. I told myself I was being too soft on myself, making excuses to be “lazy,” not pushing hard enough. I told myself I wasn’t working hard enough. I was not paying attention to my stress management or my time management.
Then I started to realize that my grades were suffering. I could not figure out why all my efforts were going to waste. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I needed to slow down. I started to see a counselor at my school’s counseling center. We talked about my options and what I needed to do to be able to continue my academics. I was told I most likely suffered from depression and an anxiety disorder. The counselor referred me to a psychiatrist as well as the therapists on campus. I was tested for attention disorders and other mental disorders. After speaking to both the psychiatrist and therapist, I was diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. I was put on medications for my anxiety and antidepressants.
Dealing with my diagnosis was much harder than I thought it would be. I felt as though I was labeled now and I was weak. I convinced myself that with this new diagnosis, I would not be able to live the life I wanted. I pushed societal views upon myself, telling myself that being on medication made me “crazy” and that I wasn’t “normal” anymore. My boyfriend tried his best to cope with me and help me in every way he could. He would go with me to all my appointments and often stayed the night at my dorm to make sure I was okay when I had my panic attacks in the middle of the night. He stood by my side while I figured out the best type of treatment.
In my sophomore year of college, second semester, I decided it was time to take a medical mental health leave of absence. By this time, my grades had plummeted. My GPA was below a 2.0 and I was on academic probation. My university and my journalism school warned me that if I had another semester with these types of grades that I would be suspended. I was feeling a mix of emotions. I was angry at myself for letting this happen, angry at whatever it was that was making me this way. I was sad because I felt like I was disappointing people: my family, friends, my boyfriend. But overall, I felt hopeless. I figured I would drop out and never be able to finish school at my dream university. I thought that I had hit rock bottom.
I left in February of 2014 to my home in New York City. I spent a lot of time just sitting at home and trying my best to fight this depression on my own. My sleep schedule was thrown off track and I found myself not getting enough sleep or sleeping way too much. My medications seemed to be doing nothing and I was not going to therapy. I live with my mother and two younger brothers at home. My boyfriend lives in New York City as well so he would see me whenever he came home from break. My mom constantly checked up on me and tried to get me to open up. My brothers knew why I was home and what happened but they did not understand why their older sister was “sick.” In May of that year, I attempted go to therapy a few blocks away from my home. I figured since I could walk there that it would be easier for me to push myself to show up for my appointments. I went to two appointments before I fell into another downward spiral. My panicked thoughts, my anxieties, my depression, and my overall apathy, took over and I could not leave my home. I was bed ridden once again, thinking to myself that I had failed.
In August of the same year, I went into inpatient treatment. After talking to my mom about how I was struggling and how I could not make it out of the house, she suggested I admit myself to a hospital for psychological help. My mom had experienced this before with her older brother. She made sure I knew I had her love and support and that she would be with me every step of the way. I briefly remember sending a mass text to my closest friends the night before telling them what the plan was and assuring them that this was what had to be done. They visited me often while I was admitted and were my support system.
I stayed in inpatient for 15 days. I was properly diagnosed with major depressive disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia. While I was there, I changed my medications to two new ones and saw a psychiatrist. I attended a few meditation sessions and really enjoyed them. I met some good people and I was part of a small clique. It was a mostly boring but very positive experience for me. After I was discharged, I was in therapy for every week and then later, group therapy as well.
I decided to return to school this past fall, 2015 semester. I worked with my therapist at home on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and we tweaked my medications as needed. Group therapy helped incredibly because I was able to do “exposures” which helped me prepare for struggles I would have at school. My therapist and I worked on a wellness plan that included things that would help me maintain my mental health while I was away again. I returned to school and set up my life at college again.
Since returning, I learned more about myself and my mental illnesses. I started to become very active on my campus. I am now a part of my college’s Active Minds chapter. I also volunteer for Crisis Text Line as a crisis counselor. It has not been easy to readjust to being a college student but I was in a much better place to handle it all. I still had the support from my friends, my family, and my boyfriend. I was aware of what I needed to do if things got out of hand again and made sure that I was being cautious and mindful of myself. I took baby steps and continued to use the skills I learned through CBT.
I want other college students to know that they are allowed to take care of their mental health even if it means leaving school. I want college students to be aware of all their resources on their campuses and fight for the resources as well. I want college students to have all the support they need to battle their mental illnesses. Overall, I want young adults to be able to find the help they need without having a stigma attached to them. I want them to know that it’s okay to feel the way they do and that there is help.
By: Delaney Arias, AiT Contributor