When I was in grade school and high school, I considered myself a good student. I was never the best, but I consistently held a high GPA, and ranked in the top 5-10 of my class at any given semester. (The only class I ever got a C in was Spanish, and I prayed hard for that class!) Upon transferring to a community college, my experience remained steady. Studying hard for my tests paid off, college parties were ignored in favor of books and class curriculum, and if I realized I was struggling, there was always helpful tutors I saw.
After my two years at community college, I transferred to a State University. It was the first time I had lived outside of my parents house, the first time I lived with strangers (or “roommates” as the housing department refers to them), and the first time I would genuinely experience loneliness of not being surrounded by family and friends. Still, the experience is necessary for most of us; we have to move out of our safe space and venture out into the world. My venturing was relatively safe: I lived less than a mile from school, and my parents were paying for my housing and accommodations, not to mention tuition; and I had friends who would come visit me in my new city. My roommates and I got along for the most part, and I even had my own room for when they did drive me up a wall.
School was fine at the beginning. I enrolled in academic classes, as well as some drama courses. During my community college, I had discovered this deep love for being a part of the theater, and it only grew that spark that I had always carried as a child while watching plays and musicals. (I think the Phantom was my first real crush.) Things went well, for a while. Classes were interesting, I moved into another apartment with closer friends my second year at University, and continued my work in the costume department of the theater. I was in a new relationship, and things seemed to be going well.
When the “fog” set in, it confused me. Fog is the word I use because nothing else describes it. Things would slip my mind, coursework that should have come easily wouldn’t stick. Focusing on reading or studying simply wasn’t an option for me. There were other symptoms too, like the extreme tiredness at all hours of the day, regardless of sleep. Oh, and speaking of sleep, I would sleep in excess of 10 hours if my schedule allowed it, more if possible. I started to skip classes, and isolate myself. I moved into an apartment by myself so I wouldn’t have to deal with other people when I came home from school or work. Along with the isolation came the binge eating. Cooking was just too tiring, but I felt listless without the comfort of food so I would visit the drivethru’s of fast food chains and collect bags full of the worst food, go home, and sit and devour it until I made my stomach burst. Then I would crawl into bed, tired, defeated, and feeling terrible. It was no wonder I started to gain weight and lose even more of my already diminished drive to attend classes or finish my costume shop internship.
Understandably, my lack of attendance started to draw the notice of my teachers. I was given the option to drop classes/internships before the date was too advanced, but being the perfectionist I was I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I would get better, I told myself. I would break through this fog, find my energy again, and return to normal. I just needed to work harder, be less lazy, push myself more; I could catch up. But that didn’t happen. As much as I wanted it to, as much as I tried, I had no idea how to fix my situation. In fact, I didn’t even know what was wrong with me. I told myself that I wasn’t sick, I was just lazy, it was all in my head and if I wanted to get better, I should just do it. Because, that’s what you do when you are a good student, a good person. You get better.
But I didn’t get better; I got worse. Teachers started dropping me from classes whether I wanted it or not, and my internship wasn’t renewed. The shame and guilt I felt from all of this was emotional hell, and I blamed it all on myself. I vividly remember a conversation with the head of the technical theater department. He was asking why I was withdrawing from classes and shows, and I very quietly told him that I was going through something, something that I couldn’t identify… That maybe, I was sick? His response to me was simple, “Well, whatever it is, other students have gone through it too. You’re no different from then. You need to figure out a way to deal with it.” His reaction hit me like a ton of bricks. It was the first time I had admitted to even myself that I was going through something abnormal. Guilt washed over me, and I felt like a lazy loser who wasn’t good enough, a complete failure: of course other students went through this, and of course they rose above it. They had found ways to deal with it, so the fact that I hadn’t meant that I wasn’t good enough to be here.
I don’t think that was his intention. I’m sure he meant for it to be encouraging or to make me pull myself up by the bootstraps. But at that moment, I didn’t know how. By the end of that semester, I stopped going to classes altogether. The university sent me a letter explaining that because I hadn’t dropped or provided a legitimate reason why I didn’t finish, that I wouldn’t be allowed to enroll for the next semester. I officially flunked out of college.
Years later, I look back at this experience, and realize that is where depression first touched my life. After that incident, it came and went in increasing dosages. When it reached a critical stage for me, years later, I got help. I look back and wonder how my life would have been different if I had been able to see what it was, to name what it was that attacked me. Would I have finished university, would I still be able to walk into a theater without feeling sick to my stomach, nervous, anxious. I still battle the monster that introduced itself to me in college to this very day. Depression has and probably always will be a part of my life, but now I know how to combat it. I know to recognize my triggers, and where and when to find support and help. Naming it helps; knowing it’s real helps; and helping others get through it helps.
Please know that if you are going through something similar that, yes, others have been there too. But that doesn’t make what you are going through any less real, devastating, or difficult. And it doesn’t mean you should know how to fix it on your own. There is healing, and there is help. Contact your doctor today to start working toward the right treatment. Don’t give up or stop asking for help. Depression is real, but so is healing.