Does this sound familiar? You find yourself in college, immersed in a world of discovering who you truly are. You are surrounded by demanding requirements, possible flirtations, and of course, the sudden dip of motivation. You’re still driven though—focusing on the end of the tunnel—that diploma in sight. But then you falter. You fall. You find yourself in a cave filled to the brim with suffocating darkness, snuffing your drive out.
I know the feeling. I’ve been there too.
You tell yourself that it’s your mind that will protect you. It’s the drive to do well, no matter how weakened, that will be your security. You say to yourself, use your motivation. Sharpen it. Hone it into a weapon. But what do you do when all your motivation—your unending drive—has suddenly shriveled up into nonexistence? What can you possibly hope to salvage out of the ambition that once was?
I found myself there too.
I told myself that I was faltering. Spiraling. Losing control. And I couldn’t afford to. My degree demanded my effort. My job required my focus. My friends deserved my attention. My family needed my compassion. I scoffed at anything that would have assuaged the riot in my mind, viewed admitting that I needed help as a weakness. But how was I supposed to know that my own heart would take a dive into that timeless river of bleeding, broken hearts? How was I supposed to know that my mind would fall into a chaotic tumble of synapses firing too fast, thoughts said too quickly for comprehension, and a brain telling its body that movement was impossible? How was I supposed to know that my motivation would be lost at sea, washed up on the shores of a far-away universe?
And then I heard the sound of a world falling apart, echoes of anxiety ricocheting off the shards of my depression. It was cacophony. It was unbearable. It was the true embodiment of being lost in a place no one could even hope to find you.
This is depression.
This is anxiety.
This is the hard realization that without maintaining your mental health, you cannot hope to succeed.
But I still denied it, the pulsing, demanding thing that cried out for a balm. And it mutated. It overtook my senses, scoured away my focus, and frosted over my heart. It took until I couldn’t breathe, my lungs bellowing in pain, that I finally accepted that my mental health was in a dire state.
And what finally stopped the too-quick breaths, the inclination to not care about anything tangible or intangible, were syllables. The vowels, syllables, and sounds of conversation were the stairs I needed to emerge from the dark cave. It was the words that saved me.
I speak of therapy, and not in the traditional sense, with a psychiatrist in front of you, rimmed glasses resting on their nose as their eyes analyze every detail about you (although that helps too). I speak of avenues of therapy, such as friendship. I cannot stress enough how essential it was for my mental health to speak to others, to realize that I am not alone. The exchange of words, the echoes of conversation, the gazes of shared communication—they are not to be underestimated. They have a therapeutic quality to them, the words coated in security and capable of releasing a torrent of built-up emotions that agonize the mind. I cannot emphasize how thankful I am to those who listened to me and trusted me with their own truths. I don’t just have one therapist; I have many.
And what I truly cannot stress enough is that mental health, therapy, conversations, friendships—they are all so essential to survival. Please, if you are feeling anxiety, depression, or anything unbearable, reach out to someone. Reach out to University Health Services, a parent, a friend, a coworker, or even a professor. Connections will lead to fashioning your own stairs out of that suffocating cave.
But I need you to know that even once you have your stairs, it’s still hard. I can’t deny it. It’s hard sometimes to smile, to stretch those seventeen little muscles into that upward curve. It’s hard sometimes to muster the strength to care, to empathize, when my own little body is the scene of mayhem. It’s hard sometimes to lift my neck to look someone in the eye when the last thing I want is human connection. But connection, words, or that gaze that tells you someone cares, can be a lifeline. Above all, remember that there will always be something to frost over that chaotic symphony blaring in your heart.