What it’s like to go to college with depression

Nice to meet you, my name is Andrea – I’m fun, hip, and I have chronic depression

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I don’t normally open up about my depression. It’s awkward, if not surprising, for people to learn about that part of my life. Around friends I’m usually outgoing, if not a spectacle. My friends even identify me by my loud, boisterous laughter.

Naturally it’s uncomfortable to reveal how well I identify with feeling empty on almost a daily basis. It’s not something I want as part of my schtick. But according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 13 percent of college students are diagnosed with depression or an anxiety related disorder, and  9 percent have seriously considered suicide.

To me, that makes my story relevant. I write this article for the other members of the 13 precent. Maybe you can relate to my experience and know that you are not alone.

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There are two important factors that have helped me stabilize my depression in the college transition process: antidepressants and supportive people.

I take an antidepressant every day to avoid low days. “Low days” are days when I wonder if going to class is even worth it. I feel lonely, detached and inadequate. My body aches. It’s hard to go to class, socialize, or do just about anything. Hanging out with new people is sometimes challenging for me, especially on low days when the symptoms of my depression become apparent in my behavior. 

I hear comments like “you’re so quiet,” and “are you okay?” Even more idiosyncratic, “You yawn A LOT,” since constant yawning is a side effect of my antidepressant.

My roommate and dear friend from high school was one of my biggest motivators since we shared classes within our majors and were in the same student organizations. Last semester, however, she withdrew for family reasons. Since Katie has been gone, it’s been hard to stay motivated. Although if there’s one generalization I can make about the people I’ve encountered at UT, it’s that they are very welcoming, and that makes an integral difference for someone who inherently feels unimportant in an environment where they are “just a number.”

The new friends I’ve made within my classes and organizations are the people who get me through low days. In some classes, admittedly, I’ve even forced friendships with strangers I sit next to, even if our relationship exists only in that class (shout out to Amber, Kyle, and Cole).

Without the supportive environment I’ve encountered at UT, my depression would be a much greater challenge.

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In John F. Kennedy’s “Go to the moon” speech, he quoted William Bradford at the founding of the Plymouth Colony, saying, “All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage.”

Likewise, Kennedy agreed, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

I like to think that everyone has their “go to the moon” experience. Everyone will make a sacrifice at some point in their lives where they must decide to do something important in spite of and for the sake of adversity at least once. Currently, my “go to the moon” moment is being an active student at UT Austin with chronic depression. It’s not easy. In fact, it is sometimes painstakingly difficult. But that’s why I’m doing it.

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To any other members of the 13 percent, the same goes for you. I know most of my article is about finding a support group and putting yourself out there, even though that is particularly hard for someone with depression. If you’re still searching for that, my name is Andrea Tinning – add me on Facebook and let’s get lunch.

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