Every college student with a mental illness has probably searched something along the lines of, How To Survive College With a [Insert Disorder Here].
The same generic listicles and vlogs popped up telling you to go on runs, eat fresh fruits, and surround yourself with supportive people. While this is good advice, it oftentimes isn't realistic when you are deep in battle with your intrusive thoughts.
Go on a run? I can't even get out of bed. Fresh fruits? Cereal in my breakfast, lunch and dinner. Don't even get me started on why the last thing I want to do is be surrounded by people.
There are no good articles on how to get by when everything is crashing in, well, no good articles until now. Below are 10 ways to survive college when battling a mental disorder.
First step in fixing a problem is admitting you have one.
Sometimes the biggest barrier isn't the disorder but how he chose to handle it. We are conditioned to hide our illness which in turn makes us pretend there is nothing wrong. Sure, you may have depression, but you are not going to act like you do. Anxiety is acting up? Just suppress it as always.
These unhealthy practices are what lead to burnouts and breakdowns. I'm not advising you to tell everyone you meet that you are crazy, but more so admit it to yourself. Mentally balanced people can just let someone borrow a pen and not have cringe attacks about it all day, but you can't.
The very definition of a disorder is something that impacts your daily life. If you could get by like everyone else it wouldn't be a disorder! Let yourself take breaks and regain strength. You don't have to study, go to parties, or work as much as your peers.
Allow yourself to recover from the stress and burdens of the day before trying to jump back into being productive. It's better to take your time and get 50 percent of your work done a day than to ignore your pain and end up having a breakdown and getting 0 percent done for weeks.
Do not be so hard on yourself
There is no point in continuously berating yourself for something you already know is wrong. You know you need to go to classes, do your homework, go to work and so on. Sometimes you need a break and that's OK. Actually make it a break though. If you are constantly thinking about all the work you have to catch up on or the classes you missed then the stress really never subsides. The pressure and the stress just keep piling on causing nothing to ever get fixed.
Sometimes less is more.
There is a lot of pressure on students to accomplish as much as they can as fast as they can. It can become overwhelming when it seems everyone is doing so much better and has done so much more than you. Lucky for you, you do not have to be everyone else!
This can be a hard thing to learn, especially when all of your life you probably were under the guidance and expectations of parents, teachers and other adult figures. Everyone's pace is different, so you do not have to take the maximum amount of classes or work three jobs. Slow and steady wins the race and degrees. Just take your time.
Distract yourself through the day.
This one especially works for those of us with some form of an anxiety disorder. The anticipation is often worse than the actual event. Classes, labs, work, it is never as bad as it seems if you can just get there.
From the moment you wake up to when you go back to bed, you can distract yourself from the intrusive thoughts.
Watch YouTube while you get ready; listen to music during your commute, totally engage yourself in your classes, so your brain does not have time to wander into negative thinking.
Know the end goal.
You have to know what you want so you can stay focused on the main goal. You do not need lavish and ambitious goals to be successful either.
Your goal could be to just earn a degree, no matter the major, or to be able to live comfortably in the future. Mistakes and bad days will be had, but that does not mean there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Everything will be okay.
Do not hold yourself to the standards of sane people.
This one incorporates numbers 1 and 3. While we all have stress mentally balanced people can handle it better because they do not have a mental illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a mental disorder is described as having, " distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities." To not have a mental illness is to know how to handle everyday life with no distress.
Even so, mentally ill people still tend to hold themselves to the same standards. As in, the workload you chose to carry and how you express your emotions. We have all had that moment where we had to hide in the bathroom and cry because a stranger glanced at us for too long.
No, we don't, so don't be ashamed when you do. It is okay to reach your social interaction limit and cancel plans. It is okay to need more time to recharge after everyday tasks. It is okay to not achieve everything everyone else does.
Reevaluate your situation.
Maybe part of the problem can be cognitive dissonance. If you know what you are doing or where your life is at is not what you want then you can feel frustrated and trapped. Take a step back and see where your goals are and what you need to do to realign with them. Whatever you deem worthy will bring you success.
Life is not a giant chess game.
Sometimes every decision feels like the wrong move to make. Remember, life is not a chess game. There are no winners or losers, every move doesn't have to be highly calculated, and you do not have opponents waiting on you to fail. School can seem like one big competition for internships, jobs, and other opportunities.
It may be hard to believe but it's not, or at least it doesn't have to be. Things only matter if you let them. Focus on you and your goals. If you can market yourself then you can get the job, internship, whatever you want. It will be easier to find peace in your decisions if you stop seeing the world as a giant chess game and more like a choose your own adventure.
Find your mango.
I love mangos, they are my favorite fruit, but as a kid my parents barely ever bought them. Now as an adult I can buy mangos whenever I want. They help get me through the day because I have something to look forward to.
There are all these articles that act like we all have vacations and shopping sprees we can go on after a rough week of classes. Having something to look forward to does not have to be lavish.
You need to find something that will help you get through each and every day, so it will most likely be something simple. Your favorite show, giving yourself time to read, sleeping, or a mango.
Write down what you are grateful for… kind of..
We all have heard about gratitude journals and remembering to be grateful every day. That's great and all, but ungratefulness is not the cause of your breakdowns.
Gratefulness towards yourself, now that is a problem. When you struggle with mental illness the negative thoughts can ruin all of our accomplishments and turn every day into a burden. It will seem like trying is not even worth it if you are just going to fail anyway.
Good thing you do not and will not fail. If you did at least five productive things then you have had a successful day. Got out of bed, one thing, ate food, that counts if it helped you it was productive. Congratulate yourself, life is hard, do not take your feats for granted.