Being is strange. The relationship between yourself and your mind is equally as odd. Your mind can play tricks on you or nurture you — it can convince you that you really do pull off those flare jeans or it can gently bring you the conclusion that you actually look like a sad, denim-clad John Travolta á la “Saturday Night Fever.” Everyone has dealt with periods of mental distress at one time or another — anxiety, overwhelming stress, depression, etc. If you haven’t, you’re probably some kind of deity reincarnate who has managed to surpass the mental abilities of us mere mortals.
Mental illness is much more pervasive than many of us know. This is something I didn’t realize until I came to the University as a freshman last year. The openness with which the University addresses student mental health issues blew me away. You mean you can, like, say the word “depression” in public and people don’t immediately become uncomfortably silent? Astonishing.
This transition provided such a stark contrast to my high school experience. Growing up in mind-numbing suburbia gifted me little to no exposure to mental health knowledge or resources. Mental illness was something so quickly swept under the rug that even the smallest remnants of its shameful dust were nowhere to be found. If someone was thought to be struggling, whispers would float around suggesting that they had “problems” or that they (gasp) were in therapy. Depression was a dirty word.
It was during these years of zero-tolerance that my depression and anxiety disorder began to creep up on me — though, at the time, I didn’t know what was really happening. I knew the symptoms of these conditions, but, of course, I didn’t learn them from school — much too taboo — and I couldn’t fathom the thought that it was me who was suffering. I was in a constant state of unrest, had no interest in old passions and couldn’t sleep, but I was fine! I mean, when someone asks you how you are doing, is there really any other option but to answer with an upbeat “OK”?
This charade continued up until the second semester of my freshman year of college, when my squirming, scratching psyche reached the point of implosion. The combination of my alien environment, increased level of academic rigor and absence of close friends and family became too much for me. I started taking Prozac.
What then followed was one of the strangest evolutions of my life. Placed in my hand by my oh-so-willing doctor was a pill — a pill that would apparently shake me from my hopeless, zombie-like stupor. Admittedly, I was skeptical. I was scared. I had heard too many complaints that privileged American youth like myself are over-medicated, that anti-depressants are used as a cure-all for any mental trepidation. How could these innocent, unimposing capsules conquer the demons that I had been silently attempting to vanquish for years? And if they did work, who would I be without the illness that I had carried with me for so long?
But I trusted my parents and I trusted my doctor and, for the first time in quite some time, I trusted myself. So I started popping those little white pills every day. After a while, I noticed that some warmth seemed to have seeped back into my being. I was sleeping better, was no longer shaken to the core by unfamiliar social interactions and found that I was actually able to enjoy being a college student. I have since continued on my medication, and have come to think fondly of those small pills I once held with such uncertainty.
My biggest problem with being on anti-depressants was just that — being medicated. There is such a strong stigma against mental illness in the United States that I didn’t know how to handle my newfound identifier. I figured I had two options: hide it or don’t give a shit. I chose the latter.
Everyone has his or her Goliath — that aspect of themselves that needs a little push, a little outside influence to nudge them in the right direction. Something I have heard recently, probably in some completely unrelatable black and white PSA, is the phrase, “It’s OK to not be OK.” This is true, but it needs to be taken one step further. In facing my depression, I realized it’s OK for other people to know you’re not OK. Admitting you are having trouble with life shouldn’t be followed by a pregnant silence, but rather by an upwelling of connectivity with those persons around you. (Read: Everyone is human, blah, blah, blah, don’t be a jerk.)
But really, grappling with your personal sense of being is something we all must face at one point or another. It is that looming confrontation you need to have with your roommate about how she really needs to stop eating all of your Cheez-Its — it’s going to be uncomfortable but you’ll feel so much better once you do it. I think we can all agree that life is odd and that the mind is even stranger. Sometimes it can feel as though your brain is purposefully working against you, like when you accidentally call your GSI “mom,” or something.
It might take some time, as was the case with myself, to be on good terms with your mind, but it will happen. The most important thing I have learned through my weird, cringingly cliché-indie-teen-movie-esque transition is that everything is temporary. Like that old Greek guy said, “Change is the only constant.” When you are feeling stuck in a stagnant state, know that you are allowed to seek out a tether to grasp, and that needing an anchor is anything but abnormal.