I started seeing a new therapist recently, and one of the first things he asked me was, “When did this start?”
This is a typical question to be asked at your first appointment. But it’s difficult for me because I don’t know when it started.
What I do remember is that it got significantly worse when I was in 10th grade.
I had days that year where the principal had to send me home because I’d break down crying for no reason and couldn’t stop. I had days when I wouldn’t eat or would take the bathroom pass and hide in the stairwell for as long as I could get away with. I would wake up some mornings and know I wasn’t going to get through the day.
I don’t know how many days of school I ended up missing that year, but my grades were worse than they’d ever been.
In Fall 2016, I started college at American University, where my depression hit physically. I couldn’t wake up on time and I was self-medicating. I cared very little for the classes I managed to attend. I had very few friends and hated where I was and what I was studying.
After a year and a half, I reached my breaking point and took a leave of absence to work at Epcot Theme Park in Walt Disney World Resort for six months in January 2018.
About a year after I came back from Florida, I finally found myself at Temple in Fall 2019. I loved my classes, the city and the friends I made. My depression, while always present, felt manageable, and I wasn’t as afraid of other people as I used to be. I was comfortable and doing very well.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
In the first days of the pandemic, it felt like the end of the world. I was burnt out, stress eating and binge-watching movie after movie. My professors were quiet, probably as confused and concerned as I was, but their silence only added to my uncertainty and paranoia.
My mom wanted me to come home, so I went home for the rest of the semester. I’d make the same decision again, but I don’t think it was the best thing for me. I was trapped with my parents, and I am more self-sufficient when I have to rely on myself. In retrospect, there was no best thing.
When I got home, my mental health deteriorated. My coping processes were strange and unfamiliar. Before the pandemic, I slept all day, I was not overly hygienic and I ate too much. As the pandemic began, there were nights I did not sleep at all, I became excessively meticulous and I would see how long I could go without eating some days.
It felt like every second I spent not working — including seconds spent breathing, eating and sleeping — I was wasting time. I chastised myself for being unmotivated while I worked on two research papers at once, and I felt lazy going to sleep at 1 a.m.
I cried, screamed and tried to tear my hair out, but I got everything done. I survived the spring semester because of the mercy of my professors. My depression felt like something I brought upon myself because I was lazy. On the contrary, I persevered because of my hard work and time management.
I know better than this. I have a chemical imbalance in my brain, not a lack of discipline. But it’s still so hard to see my limitations as anything but self-imposed.
I need to be kinder to myself this semester, and chances are so do other students. I am going to give myself the time to cry when my emotions are bubbling over. But I’m also going to pat myself on the back because I’m doing the best I can, given the circumstances.