The struggle was real: Handling depression in high school and college

‘You are not defined by your mental illness’

Hey, want to know a secret? Alright, are you ready? You have to promise to keep this to yourself. OK, here it goes…

I have depression.

Bet you didn’t expect that, did you? It’s OK, not a lot of people do – I’m sometimes told that it doesn’t seem like I have it. Or, maybe you did expect it. I don’t know. I would like to tell you a bit of my story. And no, its not for pity or attention. If anything, I don’t want that. I just want to spread awareness, and maybe if you struggle with this too, I can give you a little bit of hope.

I was diagnosed with depression my junior year of high school. Certain events that had occurred during contributed to its onset. My grades plummeted, I didn’t want to go to school anymore, I had lost interest in things that I used to love, and I didn’t enjoy being on a stage anymore. I had literally just stopped caring. I let the days pass me by, and had a hard time sleeping at night.

My friends noticed the change in me, and they would ask what was wrong, but I always told them I was fine. I secluded myself and tried to cut myself off from the rest of the world. They were dark days. Music was one of the few things that kept me grounded, and I never stopped loving that. Still, I came close to fully giving up a couple of times.

My mom got me help, and it was a honestly a relief. I finally had hope that things would get better, and they did. Sure, I had the occasional “bad day,” but I was doing so much better than before.

As time went on and senior year began, I was almost back to my old self. I still struggled, but it wasn’t as bad as before, I had hope this time – and I have my family to thank for that. I was determined. I got accepted to UT, and graduated tenth in my class. I was proud of myself.

Junior year, I had thought I wasn’t going to make it to graduation, and I did, and the fact that I had been accepted to the college of my dreams made everything that much better.

I did it!

When I came to college, things started off great: I loved my classes, I was engaged, I was interested. I liked school. Then, out of nowhere (or at least it felt that way, though I’m sure it was a gradual change) I just stopped. I still went to class, still took notes,  did my homework, but I was no longer interested in anything. Doing class presentations became difficult: I stuttered, or froze. I had lost my confidence, lost my drive. The world around me literally looked grayer, and even my mom noticed the change.

I refused to acknowledge it – there was no way that I was having a repeat of how I felt those couple of years ago. I wanted to be OK, yearned for it, but that wasn’t enough. It didn’t help that I hadn’t found my place within the university yet. I felt isolated, even when I was with my friends. After a while I couldn’t take it anymore.

I had to go talk to someone, and it helped some. I joined a spirit group. I thought that if I was around some high spirited people, it would help bring up my mood. It worked, and I managed to make friend  and find a place where I belonged here.

In retrospect, I should have taken steps sooner, should have talked sooner, but I was afraid. Of what exactly, I really have no clue. I think what really kept me from sinking this time was the fact that I was here, at UT, and I wanted to change the world, give others hope, maybe save lives. If I hadn’t gotten help, I wouldn’t be able to achieve those goals. Sure, they may be big dreams, but I’m sure something will come from them.

My splendid spirit group

If you take anything away from this, then take this: You are not defined by your mental illness. Sure, it is a part of you, but it is not what makes you, you. There is more to you than the chemical balances and imbalances going on in your brain.

To quote my favorite author, David Levithan, “Some people think mental illness is a matter of mood, a matter of personality. They think depression is simply a form of being sad, that OCD is a form of being uptight. They think the soul is sick, not the body. It is, they believe, something that you have some choice over. I know how wrong this is.”

I hope I was able to give you some hope. College is going to be tough, but don’t fret and don’t stress. You got this.

I believe in you.

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