Navigating Through College


College – it’s a time/place/subject filled with much excitement and confusion. But maybe it’s even more confusing for you. And maybe that is due to chronic depression. Hi, I’m your fellow college student who also happens to have chronic depression/anxiety.

Having a chronic mental disorder is no fun, but having a chronic mental disorder in college is a beast of its own.

Maybe you’ve been in college for a while, or perhaps you’ve got a countdown on your phone until you finally get to leave for college. Either way, if you are battling a mental disorder, I have some encouragement/advice/things-no-one-says for you. College does not have to make everything worse. In some ways, it has actually helped my mental state. So here are some pointers on things that have helped me and others navigate these waters:

1. Go to class. I know, I know. Depression and anxiety take away a lot of the desire to do anything besides lay in your bed all day. I get it, because I’ve had days where I’ve stayed in bed and slept to avoid my mind. However, there are serious benefits to going to class. For starters, it keeps your mind busy and productive. Sometimes, your brain needs a break from itself, and learning about random subjects is a great distraction. Secondly, going to class helps establish a routine. I cannot stress how helpful this is! Routine keeps you going, no matter how you’re feeling that day. It keeps you moving. It keeps you from being overwhelmed by your mind. Routine is great.

2. Plug in. This keeps you from being isolated, which is going to be one of your biggest enemies in college. Isolation will only increase the darkness going on in your mind, and will make you feel excruciating lonely in this foreign environment. So plug in on campus – a choir, an outdoors club, video game enthusiast club, media fanatic club, mental health awareness club, Greek life, Res life. I go to a relatively small private university, and I have honestly lost count of the various clubs on campus. Wherever you go, there is somewhere that will fit you. I personally have gotten involved with Res life and a mental health advocacy club on campus and it has been great. It has given me an outlet outside of mundane classes where I feel accepted and understood. Being surrounded by people who hold common interests has a healing power.

3. Find your spot.There’s this scene from Gilmore Girls when Rory goes to Yale for her first semester, and she ends up finding this perfect tree to sit under. She loves that tree for the solitude and strange sense of comfort it provides, and loves it more than she loved any of the various dudes she played (sorry, just a little bitter because #TeamJess). Anways. Just like Rory, you need to find your spot. Whether that’s the tree down by the Arts building, the bench next to the Science department, or the patio outside of the Student Union, find your spot. My spot is a table in the shade near the Subway on our campus. It’s where I can go to study, read, and write without being bothered. Because let’s be real – having a mental disorder on a busy campus is exhausting. Sometimes you need a place to be by yourself outside of your dorm room.

4. Go to counseling. “But I don’t want people thinking I’m a freak” – every college student ever who was told to go to counseling. If you’re worried about being seen as a freak, I’m going to be honest with you – you need to get over the stigma. I go to counseling every Friday at 3:15 (routine, remember?). It’s a place I can vent, receive constructive coping/life advice, cry, and talk. The counselors understand and seek to help, no matter what you are dealing with. Getting a counselor has been one of the most helpful things I have done since moving to college. Every time I sit in the waiting room for my appointment, I see other students who are there. They don’t look like freaks. They look like any other college student you see on the sidewalk. The stigma surrounding counseling is false. You aren’t a freak for seeking help/advice – you’re wise. Seeking counsel is always a great idea. (Also, everything is kept anonymous. Like no one finds out anything. And I think that’s awesome.)

My college, as well as a bazillion other colleges, offers counseling services for free to all students, so the chances are that you will be able to easily access your school’s counseling center.

5. Avoid the parties. There are so any reasons for this, but let me tell you something backed by years of research: alcohol and drugs are terrible for your mental health. They are a temporary means of coping, but eventually only add to your slump. You are in a new place. You have classes to study for and pass, you have a life to succeed in, and you have a lot you need to be able to process. Dulling your senses will only make that harder, and it will add to your mental frustrations. It’s nice to be distracted, but find healthier means: go to the gym, get a Netflix subscription, read, explore the area. But avoid the parties. Those things are not worth it in the end.

6. Talk to someone. Find someone that you can talk to about whatever you’re fighting. My person is my roommate. I don’t tell her everything, but she knows at least when I’m having a hard mental day. She checks on me, asks if I need anything, and keeps others from bothering me if the need be. Find someone who you can talk to and someone who will have your back. You live on a campus with a whole bunch of people – there are many people out there who you can trust. Don’t lose heart. If you haven’t fully plugged in yet and don’t know many people, talk to your RA. They usually know what to do/say, or will be willing to listen. And they’ll usually check in on you. Also, they’re under a strict code of anonymity, so that’s pretty great too.

7. Don’t be afraid.It can be scary living in a new environment, surrounded by strangers and different places. But don’t worry – you will adjust. Don’t be afraid to explore the area, try new things, and meet new people. Don’t be afraid of your mental illness. Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, you’re still in control. You can walk, you can breathe, you can talk, you can live. Take the strength you have and grow it. Don’t be afraid of yourself. You can still have an incredible experience.

Hi, I’m your fellow college student. I have a daily fight with chronic depression and a generalized anxiety disorder. I am also an honors student. I am going to be an RA next year. I am happy. I love my life. When I moved to college, I knew the odds were stacked against me. But here’s the beautiful thing – the odds are beatable. I still have my dark days. I still don’t feel like moving on some days. But I have refused to let my mental disorders hijack my college life; they’ve taken enough as it is.

All of this to say, college is doable. And not just doable – it’s realistically possible to have a great college career. Start now. Learn more about how you tick. Learn more about your mental illness. Get help. Talk to people. And live your life. You’ve got this, friend.

- Anna Mayfield  

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