Finding my peace in the noisy streets of Philadelphia

A student shares how she manages her mental health disorders while living on campus and going to school.


Every morning I wake up to the beautiful melody of car horns, fire truck sirens and the deep, breathy chants of football players from the field across the street. When I open my eyes, I take in the picturesque view of two sticky-note masterpieces which spell out “deez nuts” on my neighbors’ windows. 

While I listen to the sights and sounds of Philadelphia, I sip my iced coffee and type out my to-do list. I like to fill my days with classes, homework, unpleasant trips to perpetually overcrowded Fresh Grocer, essays that no one requested I write, phone calls home and questionably-effective gym workouts.

I love this routine. I live for the chaos that is Temple University, but it is not always easy for me to live here because of my mental health. 

When I was a senior in high school, my therapist diagnosed me with Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have also struggled with an eating disorder, on and off, for about three years. 

Basically, I am a perfectionist that spends every day stressing about how to be perfect, oftentimes paying extra attention to my body and grades. 

Where one may have a general concern for their health or GPA, I have an all-consuming fixation. I can never just get an A, I need an A  plus. If I am eating healthy, it needs to be whole- foods, vegan, refined sugar free, straight-from-the-earth organic.

I’ll cut calories, sacrifice sleep, neglect friends and family and study my perfectly-typed color-coded notes for hours on end to achieve my goals. This is OCPD at it’s finest, with a dash of ED, all perpetuated by my GAD. 

OCPD presents itself within an individual as a deep fixation on perfectionism in all aspects of their life, while GAD is characterized as excessive anxiety or worry that is present most days of the week and can cause significant problems in everyday life, according to the National Institute of Health.

Knowing that I already have all of this built-in chaos going on inside my head, I wonder why I chose to go to a college right in the middle of a bustling city. Attending a smaller school with fewer people and less shooting alerts might have been easier and less stressful but the easy choice isn’t always the right choice. 

I truly believe that Temple was the right choice for my academic goals, I just had to adapt. 

When I lived at home, I loved going for walks in the morning along the quiet, empty streets of my neighborhood. 

However, in Philadelphia, quiet mornings aren’t an option. Going outside at 9 a.m. here is like being thrown into a mosh pit at a death metal concert. Cars barrel down the streets while police officers blow their whistles to direct traffic. Coffee lines are eternal and sidewalks are packed with students. 

I have learned it is best for me to stay inside first thing in the morning. I like to wake up an hour and a half before my first class, around 8:30 a.m. This is my time to relax and reset. I don’t worry about how much Italian homework I have to finish by midnight or fixate on the large quantity of broken glass scattered along Montgomery Avenue outside of Chipotle.

I just sit in my bed, drink my iced coffee with almond milk and listen to the sirens and football chanting from the comfort of my own apartment. 

I still love taking long walks while I listen to podcasts, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my never-ending list of schoolwork or constant deliberations about which foods will or won’t trigger my ED.

These routines are not perfect. Sometimes I still step on raw eggs in the Fresh Grocer. My podcasts are frequently interrupted by jarring noises, but I think I like it better that way. 

Living in Philadelphia, as stressful as it can be, has forced me to let go of some of my perfectionist fixations. I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t control everything around me.

I can’t turn off the glaring street lights, bustling cars or police sirens. I can’t make the Saxbys’ line less than a 30-minute wait or clear the streets when I want to go on a peaceful walk. 

What I can control, though, is how I choose to live my life.

Instead of trying to make myself fit into this perfect box, I take what life throws at me and then I adapt.

I’ve chosen to put myself and my mental health first. In doing so, I have been able to find peace in Philadelphia.

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