During my first semester of college, everything seemed fine — on the outside. I was passing my classes, involved in community theater, and was even selected for Reading the Globe! However, even with all the good things I had going on in my life, I always felt this inexplicable sense of inadequacy, coupled with the fear that it could all be taken away from me someday. I thought if I rose this fast, then I could fall just as easily too.
Soon, everyday became a struggle for emotional stability. In the shower, I scrubbed my scalp so hard that I found blood under my fingernails. I spent nights staring at my ceiling, crying and digging my nails into my skin, while my mind raced with no intentions of stopping. I stopped writing, unless it was for an assignment. I fluctuated between eating too much and eating too little, and looked forward to sleeping more than anything else.
While I did actually consider seeking professional help, I could never bring myself to make the call. In high school, I’d been told “Some people have real problems” by adults and peers alike, and took those words to heart. I felt my problems didn’t merit a visit to a counselor; I was just being over-dramatic. Sure, I was running on empty with no brakes, but nobody needed to know that. Everything was okay, as long as I was able to keep pretending so.
My plan seemed to work up until one November morning, I sat in the library struggling to complete some homework for my (remedial) math class. I received an e-mail that the results from our most recent exam had been posted. I had an uneasy feeling about my score, and went to check it. My eyes filled with tears the moment I saw I had earned a big, fat F. To add insult to injury, I earned a D on my history test that same week.
I grabbed my things and bolted out of the library. I eventually found myself curled up on the floor of a smelly bathroom stall in Cowart Hall. I cried, screamed, and kicked, not caring for once if someone else heard me. In the middle of my little meltdown, I started frantically looking through my backpack. I’m glad I didn’t find what I was looking for, because it would have made this story harder to tell. Fortunately, that moment caused me to come back to my senses. After I had calmed down a bit, I knew where I had to go. I walked over to the nurse’s office, where I sobbed as I tried to explain myself. They referred me to Student Counseling. Once the paperwork was done, I was scheduled for an appointment two weeks later.
I wish I could say that I immediately started feeling better instantly, but that’s not quite what happened. Even though I hoped to finish counseling by the end of the following semester, I spent nearly two years in counseling. I originally went in to learn to deal with academic stress, only to discover that my issues ran deeper than that. Looking back on my formative years, I realized my insecurities were linked to the bullying I endured as a child; likewise, my fears of failure stemmed from my previous academic struggles and the subsequent need to prove myself to others. There was so much more I discovered during those sessions, in which I allowed myself to cry and vent. Slowly but surely, my smile became less forced. I started laughing more, even in sessions. I started going to slam poetry nights and joined The Bridge. Finally, I opened up to my friends about my feelings, after keeping them a secret for so long. For the first time in a while, my mind and body were waking up at the same time each morning.
However, this doesn’t mean the struggle is over. Recovery is different for everyone, and it is a lifelong process. I still struggle with toxic thoughts and managing my moods on an almost daily basis. With finals and other important events coming up, I know there are some bad days in store for me. But when I feel overwhelmed and my mind wanders to that dark place, I think of the semicolon. Sounds weird, right? But the meaning behind this little symbol lies in the fact that the semicolon separates two sentences that are too closely linked to be separated. The writer could’ve stopped the sentence, but chose to continue.
That being said, I will openly admit that I wasn’t kind to myself as a teenager; it’s always going to be a part of my past. But I fight for my happiness everyday by choosing to continue when I want to stop.
I share my story not to seek attention or pity, but in hopes that someone will not fall into the same trap I did. There is help out there, from the professional to personal level. Please do not think there is anything worth sacrificing your health over. Most of all, never think that you are alone in this journey; odds are, it’s quite the opposite.