Some of the worst times of my life have been experienced in my years at college. My mental health has depleted so far at times when getting out of bed is not an option and I need to send an email. I’ve never had to deal with a lot of chronic pain until college, and now it’s a matter of can I physically get out of bed today or can I walk by myself. There are nights where I can just sit at my computer, and racing through my head is this massive list of things I need to do, but I can’t will myself to do any of them. This spikes my anxiety even more and decreases my will to do anything. These tasks include being able to do simple things like making myself eat, or going to bed, or getting water. Like now, when I need to be doing some online homework but when I opened it, I started crying. So I closed it immediately and started writing.
But of course, the most important thing is that college will get you a certain job. Without college, I cannot get a teaching job, so, I need to go to college in order to do so. That’s the case with a lot of people and their majors. But, at what cost do we make by the time we finally get that degree? People say that at the end of your years of college, it’ll all be worth it. All the stress, all of the tears and late nights and fights with your friends or your significant other, all of it.
College is supposed to be a time of exploring and creating new friendships with people. They say it’s supposed to be the time of your life and everything will be better in college. In fact, so many people say that their mental health improved during college, saying that they found better coping mechanisms and now they don’t feel the way they used to. They say it gets better. I’m here to say, it only gets better for some. Not all.
Here’s an average day for me. Before I go to bed, which ranges from 10:30 p.m to 5:00 a.m, I set an alarm on my phone, over an hour before I need to get up, that has an endless supply of snoozes with 10-minute intervals. So now I wake up in the morning, and I hit the snooze button multiple times until it’s finally that time where I need to get out of bed. Sometimes, I just lay there, even after that final snooze button and I think, “What if I just go back to bed”. Then the fear of missing class and missing any assignments sink in and I start panicking. After calming down, I get out of bed and start to get ready. I make 5 cups of coffee and I drink half of it before I leave, and then I put the other half in a travel cup. I go to class and I sit there and do the average participation that I know I need in order to get my points for the day. I constantly look up at the clock and sometimes I have an urge to cry but I manage to calm myself and pay attention to what’s happening. Then I go to my next class where I put on a smile for friends that I see so I make sure that I don’t lose the friends I have. Sometimes people don’t always understand your mental health, and you need to make sure they’re taken care of before yourself. Or maybe that’s just my own philosophy. After this class, I usually have a lesson, which I have most likely practiced for, hopefully. Then I have rehearsals where, again, I put a smile on my face so I don’t look miserable and unapproachable. After rehearsals, it’s usually around 6:30 and I go back home. I make my first meal of the day and watch a few youtube videos. Then I do some homework and repeat.
A day like this is the best case scenario that could happen to me. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. For instance, sometimes I can’t calm myself in the morning and I end up rushing to my class with not a minute to spare. Some days I don’t because I’ve made myself sick and am throwing up in the bathroom because of a panic attack. Sometimes, I won’t make any coffee at all and I’ll experience some of the worst migraines ever during my day because of my caffeine addiction. Some days, I’ll make 10 cups of coffee and drink it all before my class because I never went to bed. Some days, I can’t participate at all because if I even try to speak, I might completely break down or say something I don’t mean. And that’s if I even remember what I say because sometimes, I black out. Other times, I never make it to my other class because the first one was so draining. On the days I barely manage to get to the other class, I can’t smile at all and no one tries to talk to me. Which makes my mood plummet even more because I start blaming myself for everything. Occasionally, my lesson results in me crying and have a 30-minute therapy session instead of playing. No matter my mood though, I always force myself to go to rehearsals, but sometimes, my playing suffers and I mess up a lot. Which puts me on the spot especially if it’s a very soloistic part on harp, or percussion, or flute, etc. This results in another panic attack after rehearsals which usually happens as I walk back to my townhouse. Most days, I forget to make a meal for myself and usually just eat sunflower seeds in order to shut my stomach up and give myself something to do. Some days, I eat my entire week of groceries in one sitting. Some days I don’t do any homework at all and I just watch videos or tv shows, or I go to bed early, or I never go to bed. It’s a toss-up really. And whenever these days happen, I usually don’t tell anyone because I’m so ashamed of myself.
This is only my perspective, of course, this is not the same story of someone else suffering from a mental illness who goes to college. We’re all individuals and our stories are all different. The way I cope is going to be vastly different from someone else. Whereas my tendency is to cry when I’m alone because I have so many feelings built up, some people won’t be able to cry at all and shut down instead. When I end up shutting down from this large breakdown, I’m not able to reach any of my emotions. Which then becomes really helpful in doing homework because I’m suddenly on auto-pilot. Some days, the simplest things of people liking something of mine on social media or someone smiling at me or inviting me somewhere makes the difference on which mood I’m going to be in. Which is unfortunate. There are days where I have extreme highs, and suddenly at the drop of a dime, I’m at an extreme low. These can last for many days, for a few hours, or for a week. This is another issue where I need to make an appointment with a psychiatrist and get screened for something else (updates on that later, maybe). I can’t control it no matter how much exercise I do, or how much fruits and vegetables I eat, or how much sleep I get. I’m really glad that these simple activities work for some people, but they absolutely don’t work for me. No matter how much science is thrown at me about endorphins and dopamine etc, etc.
My point of this is, does it ever really get better? Is it truly worth it to do this to myself just for a degree? From my standpoint, I don’t have a choice. Going to college was a big deal for me and my family, and it’s cost us a lot. Teaching music is my dream. This is what I’ve always known I’m supposed to do because I love it so much and I’m good at it. The unfortunate thing is, is that there’s one class that isn’t going great for me and it’s required to graduate. The other unfortunate thing is that I have Auditory Processing Disorder which messes with the way my brain hears and processes sound. Anyone who knows me though knows that I can conduct an ensemble, I can tune, I can tell when someone is off in an ensemble and when it doesn’t quite sound right. Because I’ve found my ways throughout my life, but this doesn’t help me when it comes to dictating melodies by ear. I’ll write another post on that later, but it needed to be said in this one for just a moment because it’s currently a large source of anxiety and shame for me.
I know that I couldn’t have gone through this year without a support system. So I just want to thank a few people right now who have been vital in my being able to stay at college and not take time off. My boyfriend, Andrew. Who is one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life and deserves so much more than the world can give him. My closest friends, Krisanna, Anna, Claire, Josh, Radek, who have always been there all year to give me a smile or a hug when I most need it. There are a lot of other friends who have also been there for me in large struggles this year, I just don’t know if I can name all of them. My parents. I’m fortunate enough to be able to skype when I really need someone to talk to, or when I just need to see my dogs. I’m here because I don’t want to be able to disappoint these people who have put their time and effort into me. Unfortunately, that’s a bigger motivator than disappointing myself, but if it works for me right now, then I’ll keep going for it.
There are currently 32 days until Commencement. This is the time where I just about give up, but it’s also the most important time when I need to keep pushing myself forward. It’s a busy month of tests, papers, projects, concerts, recitals, and moving. I know that I can do it, it’s just going to be a long road getting there. One of the toughest so far in my years of college.