I think many people can agree that 2020 was a chaotic year — even “chaotic” doesn’t even begin to come close to being entirely accurate. After all, we faced a whole viral pandemic and undergone drastic lifestyle changes as a result. The first half of sophomore year doesn’t even feel real to me. I essentially spent the months since March virtually because all of my classes were moved to an online format. And just like that, just when I was starting to get the full college experiences, my freshman year was suddenly cut short, and I entered my sophomore year preparing myself for a good year despite the pandemic and faced more than I expected.
Let’s face it: Almost everyone had it rough during the first half of the year largely because of the pandemic. I, too, was suffering from the lack of social interaction, Zoom fatigue from my online classes and general anxiety over COVID. However, I cannot deny that during the pandemic I’ve had so many instances where I learned more about myself and grew for the better as an individual.
Then, I was hit with depression. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if it was caused by the pandemic or for other reasons — I think it could be caused by both — but regardless of the cause, I suddenly found myself feeling more unmotivated, more unfocused and more hopeless by the day. When I was younger, I never thought I would develop mental health issues, and I don’t think most people expect that either. Things were going okay in life, so I had no reason to be depressed, right? Wrong.
When I was diagnosed with moderately severe depression, I realized that I had more misconceptions about mental health than I thought. For example, I thought depression was limited to just feelings of sadness, but it was more than that; it was feelings of sadness, apathy and tiredness paired with difficulty focusing and staying motivated (among other things). I also thought it would be manageable, but there were definitely times where I couldn’t even get out of bed. I felt horribly guilty because I thought I was lacking self-discipline and was lazy. However, it took months for me to understand that depression can be incredibly difficult to overcome sometimes, and how I feel is not indicative of my true character.
The fall semester was especially rough because that was when my depression was hitting especially hard, so my grades began to slip, and I blamed myself for being lazy, undisciplined, etc. I thought it was my all my fault for letting my grades drop this much. It took some time and effort for me to stop blaming myself and begin to treat myself with more gentleness. Negativity wasn’t going to solve anything — it probably would make my problems worse, actually — but at least kindness to myself may help me feel better.
I promised myself to bounce back in the spring and do better than ever, and it surprisingly worked! I accomplished many of the goals I had set for myself. I became a microbiology TA, received an internship for a free medical clinic I’ve sought after since freshman year, was elected Vice President of Finance for my medical fraternity, got into a research lab and just recently became the new director of fundraising for another organization I’m in. They were truly incredible accomplishments, and I was ecstatic to see myself overcoming my struggles and pushing forward. On top of that, I became closer friends with people in my fraternity, which helped me form a new network of friends and open myself up to meet new people. (Safely, of course.) That doesn’t mean my depression went away, though. I still relapse into depressive states every now and then or get hit with waves of feeling unmotivated and unfocused. I’m still struggling with doing well in some classes and managing my time correctly, but compared to last semester, I was at least making more effort to incorporate self-care into my daily life, including therapy. While it was mildly expensive, it was definitely the right choice; talking to my therapist about my feelings and issues relieved an invisible burden I didn’t realize I had. I could talk freely to someone who would listen to me without any judgment and would provide helpful advice and encouragement. I found it to be so effective, and I hope that anyone who is reading this that may also be suffering from mental health problems to seek therapy as well. Your mental health matters just as much as your physical health, but not everyone realizes this.
Overall, sophomore year was a bittersweet year. It was definitely full of downsides, but it also had its ups that kept me motivated each day. I only hope that my junior year begins to look up as we try to transition back to normal life in the fall. All that matters to me right now is to look back on the year not with regrets but with hope for the future.