Managing my Mental Health in College

November 30, 2016

 

“College was the best time of my life.” 

 

It’s something that I heard from many different adults—my father, my mother, an aunt, a teacher. Almost everyone who I talked to seemed to have this opinion that college was the most fun, rewarding, and meaningful time of their lives. Going straight from high school and into college at NAU, I had high hopes that I would have the same experience, as well. I looked forward to the freedom: personal, academic, and mental.  

 

However, as semesters passed and seasons changed, I quickly found that college was not this wonderful experience that I’d hoped for. Taking care of myself was hard, and the classes were overwhelming. I felt isolated and alone without my friends from high school, and I thought I was insignificant and tiny compared to the college. I had always struggled with depression in high school, but with the demands of college and the feeling of isolation, I sank to a level that I’d never experienced before. 

 

The depression I suffered wreaked havoc on my entire lifestyle. I couldn’t sleep properly, but getting out of bed was a struggle. Sometimes, I’d sleep for three hours, while other days would be taken up with over sixteen hours of sleeping. I’d skip entire days of classes because the prospect of putting clothes on was too daunting. When I somehow did manage to go to class, I couldn’t focus on anything but the gaping void that was tearing me apart. Teachers would call on me and I wouldn’t even notice. My eating habits went from okay to awful. Some days, I’d eat nothing but a few salted walnuts. Other days, I’d eat ten servings of hash browns just for one meal and still be ravenous for more. I’d miss entire assignments that were 10% of my grade. I’d forget to shower for days, leave laundry for weeks, eat stale food, and wear the same clothes without changing for days in a row. This was not how I expected my college experience would go. 

 

Needless to say, I was a huge wreck. I had no friends, support, or anyone that I could trust. I couldn’t take care of myself, and my academics were crashing. Everything felt like a disaster. But I didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless and isolated and utterly alone.  

 

But then I had a revelation. I was sitting in one of my classes on a Wednesday afternoon during this time. It was the fall semester of my sophomore year, and the creeping depression had plagued me for almost two whole semesters, each day getting worse and worse. But in this class, I suddenly realized something. I remembered the words that my father, mother, aunt, and teacher had said. “College was the best time of my life.” Here I was, sitting in an English lecture that I couldn’t even focus on, I had no friends, I was a total wreck, and I was beginning to contemplate suicide. This was not what I wanted from my college experience! I wanted to be able to look back and say the same thing that the others had told me! 

 

I decided, there and then, that I had to seek out help. There was no way that I could do it on my own. My depression had chewed away so much of who and what I was that I knew that there was no way that I would be able to overcome it by myself. I had no idea what to do, but all I knew was that I had to do it. I stood up and left the lecture when there was still twenty minutes of class left.  

 

I knew that I had to set something in motion before the throes of my depression came back full force. I knew that if I had waited until the end of class, I might lose my nerve or motivation. It had to be now. I wanted that college experience that so many had told me about. All I focused on was that simple fact. I marched myself out of the Liberal Arts building, across the field, and into the Health and Learning Center. I hoped that there would be some sort of resource there, information that could maybe point me in the right direction. I needed help with my mental health, and I hoped that the Health and Learning Center would be able to help me. 

 

I saw a poster for walk-in counseling services, and it felt like the first ray of hope that I’d experienced in a long time. It gave me the courage to walk right up to that check-in counter and ask for a walk-in appointment. I worried that the woman would ask me questions, that she would prod at me and that I would lose my nerve. But she just told me “we have one available at 2:30, would that work?” It was 2:00 pm, and I was stunned that I could get one so soon. I felt like this was my chance, that finally something had worked out, and that I had to seize this opportunity. I agreed to the appointment and was instructed to fill out a few medical documents.  

 

The documents that I had to fill out took me less than ten minutes to complete, and when 2:30 came, a kind woman with soft eyes come out to greet me. I was a shaking mess at this point. My heart was pounding, my hands felt clammy, and all I could do was stare at the ground as I shook her hand and mumbled my name. I was scared that she might judge me. Scared that my family might be contacted. I was frightened and exhilarated at finally doing something about my depression. 

 

Being honest with my therapist was tough, but she was a professional and knew how to help me feel comfortable and safe. We talked about what I needed, and what I wanted. She suggested some plans for the future, and we discussed how to make my college experience better.  

 

Over our next meetings, she taught me how to manage my unchecked depression. It was always hard, but the hope that I could finally start having a good time again was what kept me going. It was easy for me to pay for it myself, since each meeting only cost me $15. I began to manage my depression and started enjoying things again. It was hard, but I began to feel better.  

 

It took effort, but I can say that now, two years later and in my senior year, I am feeling better. College has become a highlight, and I can see why so many people call it such a great time. I love going to class and learning, and I love making food for me and my friends, and I love hosting my friends over for a fun night of board games. It's taken a lot of work and a lot of effort to get to this point, but I'm glad that I worked for it.  

 

I am so glad that NAU was able to give me the help that I needed. Now I can truthfully agree that college is the best time of my life so far. And because of the help that they have given me, I’m sure that I still have a lot more good days to look forward to! I’m much better than I was before, and it’s thanks to NAU making counseling so easy to receive. 

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