Senior reflections usually offer some piece of advice that someone younger might find useful. My intent here is similar, if perhaps a bit less innocuous. I’d like to tell the story of my year, of navigating depression and finding support — a story that’s been told before, but one that deserves to be told again.
It started last fall as I arrived early for FYG training. During training and shortly thereafter, I began to realize something wasn’t quite right. It was subtle at first — the occasional headache and more frequent feelings of apathy — but before I knew it, I was dissociating regularly, struggling to think clearly or make decisions, and unable to stay interested in anything. By October, falling further behind in classes and unable to make sense of my math homework (granted, it’s math) or even answer emails without feeling nauseous, I began to put myself in increasingly dangerous situations. On the day of the drop deadline, seeking safety, I made a last-minute decision to take a leave of absence and fly home, alerting people only through a cryptic Facebook message. I spent the remainder of the fall semester and winter break at home, in the same pajamas, treading and re-treading trails in the nearby forest, and marking the passage of time entirely in appointments. From MRIs to acupuncture to checking for parasites, save for seeing a psychiatrist, I tried it all.
This continued even into the spring. Having postponed my return flight three times out of anxiety, I finally did come back to campus. I visited SHS and Monsour, I went off gluten for six weeks, and I got more obscure tests taken. The symptoms were so physical and consistent enough with migraines that I never suspected depression. It wasn’t until I finally saw a master list of depression symptoms that I realized the migraines might be at the root of my problems and not a mostly benign symptom. In recent weeks, with greater recognition and management, follow-up counseling, and new medication, I’ve been steadily improving, with more moments of clarity and the occasional day that almost feels normal.
In retrospect, my cluelessness was almost comical, yet it was also to be expected. I had never experienced anything remotely similar to my situation in the past, so despite the suggestions of others and even a positive diagnosis from my doctor, I remained in the dark. With depression as with much else, there’s only so much that can be understood without experiencing it. I discovered this the hard way, but I also discovered a couple of general principles that made the process more bearable and might be worth remembering.
First and foremost, take your mental health seriously. Invest in preventative care. Don’t discount depression as a possibility even if you’re exhibiting clinically atypical symptoms. The reality of depression is that nothing about it is typical or easily characterized or even necessarily makes sense. Depression doesn’t always have a clear source and it doesn’t necessarily have a clear solution. But it can be fought, even if the road back is long and difficult. Your road will be unique, but you certainly can’t do it alone.
This brings me to my next suggestion: find someone to talk to. Stigma might make this difficult, but it’s so important. I was fortunate enough to have a brother empathetic enough to take my calls at all times of the day. We’d both agree not to hang up until we felt at least marginally better. These calls made all the difference some days and prevented me from doing some reckless things. Family might not be an option for you. If not, look for a close friend. Short of that, I’ve had good experiences with Monsour (which has the added benefit that you don’t have to feel like you’re burdening anyone). If none of those are options, please email me ([email protected]), and I’ll give you my own phone number.
Finally, do what you can and accept what you can’t. Chances are, the latter will include many things in the former. Some days you might not be able to focus in class. Some days you might not be able to do much at all. It’s not ideal, but it won’t always be that way. Depression is hard enough to manage without constantly fighting yourself and your own expectations.
My senior year didn’t turn out as I had hoped or expected, but it did give me a greater appreciation for the support structures at CMC, both institutional and communal. Attending this college has been a tremendous privilege and one of the best decisions I’ve made. That being here was bearable when nothing else was is the strongest endorsement I can give. I’ll be graduating soon, but I certainly won’t ever forget my time here. To the community that’s given me life and hope this year, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.