This summer, I have had the privilege of living in beautiful Charleston, South Carolina. Near the end of this post-freshman-year vacation, I am able to reflect on the last few months and the last year as a whole with the kind of clarity that only time can allow for.
This time last year, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder. These disorders are common with around 40 million adults in the U.S. suffering from anxiety disorders and around 15 million suffering from depression. Many articles and studies have been published addressing the misconceptions around mental illnesses so I won't address those. However, I believe it is important to share my experience with them.
My depression manifested in weird ways. My room would always be littered with half-full water bottles-- I am not sure why, but I never finished them. I would drink half, but it aside and then never revisit those bottles, opting for new ones. While this may seem minuscule, in the worst weeks of my illness, my room would be littered with discarded bottles, signs of a discarded sense of self. Also, my days would seem to all be the same; I overworked myself, picking up a ton of hours at work to the point where school work and sleep would fill up every hour. My days felt like minutes and my weeks, hours.
However, I did not admit my feelings to my doctor until around graduation when I had a severe panic attack that left a tightness in my chest for a week. I went to the doctor for the tightness and, before my actual check-up, the nurse gave me a half-page questionnaire with a little clip art man on it that addressed depression with scales of 1 to 5 on several issues; I quickly responded to it with lies, claiming all 1's which represent pristine mental health. The 4's and 5's in the questionnaire were spot on, though, with simple blurbs that summed up exactly how I had been feeling for years when I thought about them honestly. A week later, I reached out to my doctor and told the truth.
The toughest part about my diagnoses was the timing of them as I started school soon after. I started counseling, a regimen of antidepressants and class within weeks of each other which made my fall semester tougher than it would have been otherwise. Oddly enough, I am so thankful for that experience. Going into freshman year of college is like learning to swim by getting thrown into the deep end of a pool in that you have to quickly learn how to take care of yourself. Counseling, exercise and diet were not just recommendations my parents made as they could no longer monitor them; they were prescribed to me.
Here I am, a year removed from a very dark period in my life and I am living out a dream summer in one of the greatest cities in the world. My first year of Wofford went really well and, while I have appreciated this summer, I am ready to be back in Spartanburg, South Carolina, eating Dottie's Toffee and studying in Milliken. See, my experience last summer has led me to look at life more simply. I can enjoy the little things a little more.
Darkness has its way of making you appreciate the radiance that is always present in life. That's why your eyes eventually adjust and find that little bit of light that you did not notice when you first flip the light switch. Darkness is not a curse, it is a lesson in the appreciation of light.
I am a goal-oriented person and I push myself a lot. As I reach goals that I set for myself, I have a hard time celebrating them so instead, I just set a new goal. This process was a way I avoided dealing with my mental state as I could focus on some other achievement I had in mind. Unfortunately, I never took the time to celebrate any accomplishment, large or small. Instead of celebrating a raise or promotion at work, I set my sights on earning the next one. Instead of celebrating the scholarship I received to go to Wofford, I set my eyes on my grades for the fall semester.
Recently, though, I set a goal that I will never reach-- one I can't just arbitrarily look over. That goal is simple: be better than yesterday by enjoying today. Enjoy the journey instead of waiting to enjoy the destination, especially since it seems I never have a destination. Is my struggle a product of our results-driven? Maybe. But that does not mean I have to accept it.
Part of that journey is admitting I am on one, and I am thankful to have a platform where I am able to. While I am better now than I was a year ago, I still have a long way to go, and that is OK to admit. If you feel you are struggling with something, something that no one can see, just know I see you and I know firsthand that if you can find someone to talk to, just one person, you will feel a lot better. My wonderful girlfriend was the first I admitted my problems to and, while it was taxing to put that much of a burden on someone also going through the stresses of preparing for school, we both are better for it and closer than ever.
Find that person you can speak to, find that courage to speak up and maybe one day soon, you can find that light.