Life as an overachieving girl with depression

I have been struggling with depression since my senior year of high school

This is not something that everyone in my life knows about me.

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All my life, I’ve had a reputation for being a consistently optimistic and upbeat person as well as a very dedicated, hardworking student. This is a reputation I’ve been proud to uphold, and, for most of high school, it didn’t take much effort to maintain such an image. But, as I was applying for college and auditioning for music programs in the winter of my senior year, I unknowingly began to fall into a deep depression. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason for why it struck during that time, though I could potentially attribute it to a number of factors—stress from auditions, fear of change with the impending end of high school and shift into college, a side effect of medication I was on at the time, genetics, etc.—but I didn’t realize what was happening to me for quite some time. I continued to behave in a way that was “normal” for me in the eyes of my friends and family, but it was suddenly much harder to keep up this behavior. A lot of the time, it felt like I was pretending. Fortunately, I had a few people who were close to me take notice of the subtle shifts in my disposition that had taken place, and they took steps to help me.

Upon entering college, my journey with depression became a rollercoaster. For my first three semesters, I was a voice performance major at my university’s music school. Although I loved the music I was studying, the intensity of the program was taking a very serious toll on my mental health. Halfway through my sophomore year, I reached a point where I had become so depressed that I could not bear to remain in the program any longer, and I decided to switch to a major in English (my second love). At first, this choice actually worsened my depressed state—the fear of the unknown crippled me with anxiety and pulled me into a serious funk. But, as time passed and I began to adjust to my new academic life, I started to notice small positive changes in my mental health. I found that I was growing more energized and motivated, and that I felt passionate about the work I was doing for the first time in months.

For a while, I saw steady improvement in my mental health—from the time I left the voice program until the beginning of my spring semester of junior year, I felt better and better. But, as is often the way with depression, I was suddenly hit with another debilitating wave of depressive symptoms in January of this year. Though I still can’t pinpoint the exact reason for why it came back with a vengeance this time, this spell was the worst my depression has ever been. It got so bad that I—finally—decided to take steps to fight back against it. I sought out a counselor through my university’s mental health services, and I attended several counseling sessions in an effort to begin to work through the things clouding my thoughts. I also met with a psychiatrist and was put on antidepressants, which have since made an incredible difference in my life. Slowly, the clouds cleared, and I began to recover again.

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The trouble I’ve found with being a girl with depression in today’s fast-paced world is having to deal with depressive symptoms while simultaneously facing the immense amount of pressure that society places on girls. Young, well educated, high functioning/overachieving women in particular (though depression certainly isn’t any less hard on those who don’t fit into this category) are expected to perform and produce work at a consistently high level of excellence, and they inherently have more to overcome and more to prove in the professional world than most men (though, again, I don’t mean to diminish the struggle that many men have with depression as well). In order to be taken seriously as professionals, these young women must constantly maintain an aura of intense motivation and ambition. Though these expected qualities are by no means bad things to expect, it’s sometimes damn near impossible for such women to uphold this image all the time when they are also struggling with depression.

As a college student who has, until this semester, always been a straight-A student, I’d say—and hopefully not come across as arrogant in doing so—that I fall into this category of young women. I have ambitious career aspirations, and I’ve always held myself to a (sometimes unrealistically) high academic standard. Every time I’ve experienced a bout of depression, I’ve tried desperately to maintain the same façade of being the bright, hard working girl that I’d always naturally put forth in both my academic and personal life. Before my most recent struggle, I’d been successful in hiding my depression from almost everyone except my immediate family and a select few to whom I’d revealed my dark secret. This time around, though, people in my life began noticing that I was acting differently, and I couldn’t muster enough energy to keep up the act for them anymore. But one of the most important things I’ve learned this year is that I shouldn’t have to act like be fine when I’m not, and that it’s healthier if I let go of the feeling of being obligated to pretend to be happy all the time just for the sake of those around me.

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Sometimes it all gets to be a bit too much, and the need for a break from the pressures society puts on us shouldn’t be condemned. No one is perfect, and it’s okay for someone to admit that they’re not okay. Struggling with depression is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s something that should be taken seriously. Mental health and self care should come first; if a person doesn’t take the necessary steps to take care of themselves, achieving total professional and personal fulfillment becomes infinitely more challenging.

But at the same time, young women facing depression should not be blacklisted by the professional world as individuals incapable of achieving excellence. Their talent and intelligence doesn’t suddenly go out the window just because they’re dealing with a dark mental struggle. One merely has to be patient and supportive toward women like us, and we will soon rise to the occasion again.

I am not my depression—I should not be defined by it, nor should any other woman.

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