How I Survived College with Major Depressive Disorder

For as long as I can remember, depression has been a part of my life. I’d like to think that I was a pretty happy kid, but I can vividly remember succumbing to waves of panic and melancholy as early as elementary school. I was prone to extreme overreactions and disproportionate emotional responses, but everyone just thought I was melodramatic. I knew something was very wrong. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I discovered just how wrong things were when a random panic attack forced me to acknowledge just how debilitating the depression had become. Thus began my long and tangled relationship with therapy, medication and my own mind.

Image via Thư Anh on Unsplash


About a year ago I was officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, severe, recurrent. This means that I have severe “depressive episodes” that last at least two weeks. The episodes are characterized by depressed mood nearly every day, loss of interest in my favorite activities, feeling exhausted constantly for no good reason, weird changes in appetite, and a bizarre sleep schedule. Sometimes it feels like drowning, or like all the color has drained out of the world. I can be overcome with intense feelings of hopelessness for no reason. The episodes can be brought on by an incident in my life, but they are just as likely to randomly occur. That can be the scariest part.


I’ve always been an overachiever; I’ve always had straight As, joined and led clubs, had a perfectly organized room… But when depression makes the bottom fall out of my life, it can be hard to drag myself out of bed, much less turn in an essay on time. My mind is at war with itself. While one part of me wants to be the next Miranda Priestly, another part of me wants to eat my weight in potato chips while crying over reruns of Drake and Josh.

Image via Megan te Boekhorst on Unsplash


I’m about to graduate, which means I’ve somehow survived college and my mental illness. How did I do it? I literally have no idea. But I’ll give you the best advice I can on how I survived college with my depression.


  • Do not wait for it to get worse. For the longest time, I told myself that my depression “wasn’t bad enough,” and that I would totally go see a therapist if it got too bad. If you keep waiting for it to get worse, you will struggle on into infinity. You deserve to be well. There will always be an “excuse” to refuse help. But let me repeat it. You deserve to be well.


  • For the love of all that is holy, please go to therapy. I don’t care if you think you can handle it on your own. None of us can actually handle it on our own. Having an actual clinician to help you through will make a huge difference. Plus, SMU’s counseling center is free. It’s literally right there. You can schedule an appointment online. The therapists there are top notch, and it a licensed clinician can help you sort through your feelings and get better.


  • Stop hiding your emotions from your friends and tell them how you are actually doing. I always hide my emotions from my friends because I’m scared that they’ll freak out if I tell them how bad it is. I’ll be completely honest here: I have lost friends because my depression was bumming them out or they got tired of waiting for me to get better. Now that these people are out of my life, I realize just how much those friends suck. Real friends will be supportive, even if they don’t quite understand your illness. They want to know how you’re really doing because they love you and they want to help. They might hold you accountable to your treatment plan or provide a listening ear when you feel overwhelmed for no reason. You might even find that you have friends experiencing the same thing. It is so much easier when you have a friend to lean on.


  • Consider going on medication. Hear me out. I know that this can be so scary for some people. If your depression has gotten so bad and nothing is helping, medication is sometimes the next natural step. Depression is a mental disorder; it literally happens because of chemical imbalances in your brain, and there is only so much that therapy and essential oils can do. Getting on antidepressants saved my life. It’s worth talking to a doctor to find out if they are the right choice for you. You can even visit a psychiatrist on the SMU campus, again, for free, and you can also charge your medications to your student account.


  • I don’t care if you don’t want to take a shower, you have to. It will make you feel better. That’s really all I have to say on that.  


  • Find something that gives you a purpose, no matter how small that purpose is. Depression saps your energy and makes you disinterested in everything but having a focus can help keep you going. It doesn’t matter how small, as long as it keeps you alive until tomorrow. I’ve stayed alive because I had a new outfit idea or because I really wanted to see the next season of Brooklyn Nine Nine. I started to backslide this semester when I completely stopped caring about everything. I barely went to class, I isolated myself, I didn’t care about anything. Not school, not my friends, not food, not work, nothing. Then I impulse bought a cat. Getting a kitty gave me a new focus. I have to get up in the morning because I have to feed her. She’s excited to see me when I get home and she sleeps next to me at night. I can’t kill myself, because who else would take care of my cat? It doesn’t matter what the reason is—whether it’s to try Torchy’s new taco, to finally make it to Coachella, or to spite everyone who ever doubted you—let it propel you until your next purpose takes hold.


Depression is hard. It will always be hard. Part of living with a mental illness is that you will become better at dealing with it. You will still struggle, and you might relapse, but that’s a part of life. I’m never really sure if I’ve made it out of the tunnel, but I’ve made it this far. I think it’s a good idea to keep going.