Mondays are the worst. I mean, normally Mondays aren’t so bad: I only have Arabic and Theory and Method in Near Eastern Studies, so I’m done by noon and have the rest of the day to myself. But today I had two rather important meetings, a dinner to cook and homework to do, and I have a throbbing headache and I am tired. And because I tend to make sweeping generalizations when I am grumpy and head-achy and sleepy, I hereby declare Mondays as the worst.
Naaah, things really aren’t that bad! I had a lovely weekend at home, and have decided that if my plans to become a radical activist/novelist for empowered teenage girls fall through, I will join Celtic Woman and tour the world.
I could go on and on about the concert and the delicious sensory overload therein, but I would like to take on a slightly more serious tone today. I’m sure that some Cornellians are sick of hearing about this topic, but that doesn’t make it any less important or relevant. That’s right. I would like to talk about mental health.
I know that in a previous post I mentioned some of the ways that I destress, but it can be confusing and frankly, kind of scary, when those techniques stop working for you. In fact, everything stops working for you. School seems overwhelmingly hard, friends don’t seem to have enough time for you and no matter what, you feel like you’re carrying a millstone around your neck, and it’s slowly suffocating all the joy out of your life.
I hope this doesn’t sound familiar to anyone. But unfortunately, the statistics are against me. According to the Cornell Minds Matter website, 40% of Cornell students were unable to cope mentally at least once during the last year. And of course, those are just the people who admit to overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Even with my conservative estimate, I’m pretty sure that more than half of Cornellians have experienced periods of depression, anxiety, or both.
Why am I bringing this up, you might be wondering? Cornell is known to be a pressure cooker; don’t these statistics just make the school look worse? Besides, who wants to talk about anxiety and depression? It’s uncomfortable enough to go through those periods of dread and despair (and I promise you, that right there is a significant understatement): Why on earth would we want to talk about it?
I’m going to be honest with you: I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to think about the times I’ve spent crying on my bed or sleeping in the middle of the day because it was better than staying awake and having to deal with the constant weight of worry that seemed to crush my chest. I don’t want to think about the sleepless nights where I woke up at 4 am and felt like the last place in the world I wanted to be was here. I don’t like thinking about the fog created by the unease and the fatigue that made it difficult for me to function, let alone enjoy myself. I don’t like thinking about the fact that I still sometimes struggle with my anxiety.
But here I am, thinking and writing and talking about it. Because I’ve come to the realization that the worst thing about depression and anxiety, besides the awful, horrible thoughts and feelings that come along with it, is the silence it imposes. And I refuse to comply to that silence any longer.
I know I mentioned my rather horrendous semester fall of my sophomore year in an earlier post, but I omitted the fact that the events of that semester–the extreme academic pressure, the forced social isolation–contributed greatly to my problems with anxiety in the spring semester and in the semesters to follow. Notice I say “contributed greatly.” I would never say that Cornell caused my anxiety problems or that the environment here makes everyone into a melting mess of emotions. Perhaps this seems contradictory. If so, let me explain.
For those of you who know me, it will come as no surprise that I am very very VERY good at worrying. If worrying was a hobby, I would put it at the top of my list of things I do in my free time. If worrying was a paid job, I’d be a multimillionaire by now. I like achieving, I like doing well, and I do not like to compromise. Ever.
What I’m trying to say is that because of my personality, I was already predisposed to very high levels of stress. I look back at my high school self and wonder how I ever could have functioned in the way that I did. I was always preoccupied: with college plans, with extracurriculars, with schoolwork. Even my music became a chore rather than a chance to enjoy creating something beautiful. Add to that limited social contact and overwhelming amounts of work and you have a recipe for disaster.
My family health history doesn’t do me any favors either. As has been demonstrated in many studies, some people are more genetically predisposed to mental health issues than others. Without going into any details, let’s just say that I got the short end of the stick in that particular department. (Actually, Netflix has an excellent documentary on the science behind anxiety and depression called “This Emotional Life”. I can’t link it to you, but here are some clips for free, yaaaaay!)
Anyways, all of the academic pressure, the self-inflicted pressure and my weird-ass chemical make-up made for a pretty miserable first few weeks of spring semester sophomore year. I finally opened up to my counselor, my family and my friends about the amount of anxiety I was feeling on a daily basis, and with increased therapy sessions and medication, I have been steadily coming closer to finding peace within myself. (Sorry for sounding all New-Agey, but for me, mindfulness and meditation have been saving graces!)
To wrap it up, I would like my take-away message to be this: I don’t think it’s worth the pain and the suffering to keep silent about mental health issues. When I at long-last told my friends and family about what I was feeling, I was surprised and really touched at the concern and support they offered me. Long talk sessions, hugs, comfort food, social distractions–all of these wonderful things were essential in my quest to find contentment again. But the longer you wait to speak out, the longer the road to betterment and fulfillment.
So if you feel like your world is collapsing under the pressure of academics and friends and family, especially at this time of the semester: Know you are not alone. Tell a friend or family member, talk to a counselor–you never have to suffer alone. And if your friend is exhibiting signs of anxiety or depression, pluck up the courage to start the conversation. It won’t be easy. But the rewards to be reaped are incredible.