Unless you know me personally you probably would never be able to tell that I am a college student with depression. Yes, I’m on an antidepressant. Yes, I go to therapy. The tough part is that for most people, depression doesn’t have a cure. I’m still going to have days, weeks, and seasons where depression takes over.
Just like for a lot of others dealing with mental illness, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a massive toll on my mental health. We’re experiencing an earth-shaking event like many of us have never seen before and still, life goes on, as does school, work, and responsibilities. However, the thing is, it’s going on without many of the things that were lifelines for most people to cope with the everyday stresses and the up and downs of life. I’m talking about being in nature and breathing in the fresh air, hugging a friend, sitting in a crowded place and just enjoying other people, smiling at a stranger who’s walking down the opposite side of the street…All of these things seem so small until they’re all taken away and we realize how much we took them for granted. We also realize how much human contact is essential for mental health.
That being said, quarantine took its toll on me and the experience of being a college student during a pandemic is still currently impacting my life as a student, both emotionally and academically. I wanted to take a second to share my experience in hopes that it will show someone else out there that if Covid-19 is drastically impacting your mental health in a negative way, you are not the only one. This is the ugly truth of living mental illness in college during a global pandemic.
To best express what it’s like to live with depression I like to compare it to climbing up a hill every day, and each morning waking up at the bottom again. For me, my mornings are essential to my mental health.
If I don’t get out of bed within the first ten minutes of waking up, I’m not sure I’ll get out at all. This means, no scrolling. I only have an hour to get a really good start before the fatigue will hit me and my motivation starts to crash. I keep my morning routine as simple as possible to avoid it feeling like another chore: make my bed, then make a smoothie or coffee for breakfast. I said this would be ugly so I’ll admit that most days I don’t wash my face or even brush my teeth. If I have work, I’ll put on my uniform and go down to the desk for my shift. If not, it’s back into bed for class because I won’t be able to pay attention if I’m sitting up.
By the time I’m done with my classes I am exhausted, mentally and physically. So I’ll usually take a nap or watch Netflix for a few hours and make myself lunch. I’ve recently started forcing myself to eat three times a day because nutrition is so important but believe me, it’s hard most days. I will procrastinate on buying groceries until I’m literally eating cereal twice a day. After that, I’ll take another nap that usually lasts 2 to 4 hours. When I wake up, I go for my daily walk to get outside at least for an hour.
When I get home, I eat dinner, shower, and then work on homework for an hour or two before bed. You’ll notice that this is the only time I really work on anything because I can’t find the motivation to work on anything until a couple hours before they are due. Trust me when I say my professors have gotten their fair share of essays about my mental health sent to their emails. But being transparent with them doesn’t make it any less frustrating or embarrassing to constantly have missing assignments and failed tests.
This has been my routine for weeks now however for most of the semester I wasn’t eating enough or forcing myself to leave my dorm the way I am now. If I’m being honest I didn’t even have the motivation to shower more than twice a week.
From the outside, however, I seem to be functioning just fine.
When this year started I had three jobs. I was constantly being praised for being such a hard worker…people were asking me how I did it. I was able to fake it well enough until I crashed and my body was no longer letting me function even for work or school. I was late to the desk, even sleeping through entire shifts. I consistently missed meetings and events for my other job. I was late at turning in assignments and forms, if I turned them in at all. I was showing up to my responsibilities unshowered and in sweats. The facade was finally falling and people started getting concerned.
It took my best friend asking if I was depressed for me to realize that my poor mental health was becoming obvious to everyone else. She noticed that I was sleeping through the days and when we’d hang out I’d only want to turn to substances to have a good time and distract myself. I was missing Bible study and had little interest in doing really anything at all.
The final straw was when I missed two major assignments because of oversleeping through my Spanish class. I had to drop the course or else I was going to fail. My boss at work also had to call me and basically tell me to get my life together because I was really slacking at my job. (Though they were much nicer about it.) It felt like everything was falling apart around me but I couldn’t find it in me to even care. The only thing I kept thinking about was the fact that I was letting down my parents. They sent me to college to succeed and I was completely letting them down.
I had to quit that job and drop the class and although it was difficult, it was much more of a relief than anything else. I only wish that it hadn’t gotten so bad.
I’m still dealing with my depression every day. Even when it gets easier, it’s still there, waiting for me to slip up so it can creep up on me again. But the point is that I’m living with it. I’m making hard decisions for the sake of my mental health. I’m choosing to be completely transparent about my darker days because I know that this season is just that, a season in my life that will pass.
I’m learning to find joy again in the little things. I can still go on walks and FaceTime my family and laugh with my friends. Those are things that COVID-19 hasn’t taken away. I can also find hope in believing that we will go back to the way things were someday, just like I’ll find the person that I was before, even if it’s a new version of her.
Like everyone who deals with depression, I’ve been through this before and I will get through it again.
It may be hard and ugly and gross and embarrassing, but it’s so much easier to be open about it than to keep it hidden. Once it’s all out there you’ll wish that you were open about it earlier.
Remember that life is not normal right now, but it is very normal to be struggling. There is no right or wrong way to be feeling. There are only valid feelings and finding healthy ways to cope with those feelings. You are loved. I love you. And I wish you the very best on your journey to better mental health.