As a sufferer of chronic depression and borderline personality disorder, two mental illnesses that significantly affect my daily life, going to college is not easy. My friends, my family, and my team provide some great support, but my professors are the ones that can truly make a difference in how I get through college. Here are five things I want them to know.
1- I can't always make it to class.
My illness is not only mental; there is a physical aspect of it, too. Chronic fatigue plays a huge role in depression, not to mention the side effects from the medication that I am on. I have good days, in which I can come to class, do work and run errands, and bad days, in which I am stuck in bed, stuck in an endless cycle of not being able to get out of my room and beating myself up for it. I am working on being kinder to myself; please, don't make that harder than it already is. When my mental and physical pain make it impossible for me to get to class, it actually hurts. It's important for me to participate, and it feels limiting not be able to do so when I want to. Please understand my attendance does not depend on me.
2- It's hard for me to ask for help.
Saying "I'm struggling, I need your help" is one of the hardest things for me to do. Sometimes it will take me a long time to be vocal about what I'm going through, and even after I did, it will still be hard for me to ask for an extension because my illness made it impossible for me to get anything done for the past two days. When I eventually do ask for help, please, don't dismiss me. Spend some time on me; I will give you all I can in return. All it takes is one person telling me I'm not trying hard enough, or someone not listening when I ask for help, for me to shut down and think I have to do it all myself. But I don't.
3- I am not lazy.
If there is something I am not, that is lazy. I am a hard-working young woman, who does not settle for anything less than 100%. If I were not chronically ill, all of my assignments would be in exactly when they are due: unfortunately, that is not the case. My assignments will be late sometimes, and I am so, very ashamed of that. I am so ashamed that my illness makes me unable to perform like the talented, smart, hard-working student that I am. However, there is one thing I have learned to accept: that is not my fault. I am not lazy; I am ill. Having a chronic illness is as time-consuming as a full-time job; please, be understanding when I cannot turn in assignments in time.
4- Anything helps.
I know it can feel overwhelming to have a student in class who is struggling with mental health issues. I know you all went through a lot when you came to know I had attempted suicide and wondered if it was somehow your fault; if you could have done more. I just need you to know that none of this has been caused by you, but you have the power to make it better. How? It's simple: anything helps. A smile, a "how have you been feeling?", an "I'm here for you". Just show me that you care, and that will help me so much more than you can ever imagine.
5- It hurts me more than it hurts you.
I understand it's frustrating to have a student who often misses class and turns in assignments late. I understand it's even tougher when that student is a good student, and when you know the reason behind that is not a lack of willpower, but something bigger than they are. The one thing I want you to understand is, you might get frustrated at my email where I apologize for not being in class. You might think, "It's the second time this week already." You might frown at my late assignments, but your life goes on behind me and my obstacles. How about my life? When my assignments are late, I beat myself up for it for days. When I miss class, I feel terrible. I am terrified of failure. I am terrified of what you are going to think of me for missing class again, for being late again. For not being functional again, for being so... inconclusive. I feel so overwhelmingly inconclusive.
My life beyond the classroom is about more than school work, my social life, and my job. It's about taking care of myself, making sure I don't get overly tired or miss my medication, weekly meetings with my team, staying on track with my safety plan, not letting my illness take over my actions and thoughts.
My life beyond the classroom is not simple, but you can make it simpler. All I am asking of you is to listen and to be considerate. I am not asking for pity, or for extra credit for being sick. I hate those things. All I need from you is you telling me I am not failing, I am not ruining everything. And that what I'm doing is good enough.