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.
Kelly, thank you for allowing yourself to be vulnerable in telling your personal story. You are a strong young woman who is doing the best that you can with challenging circumstances. And that’s all any of us can hope to do, really. The COVID situation won’t be like this forever but it sounds like you will come out the other side with some new lessons learned under your belt. Keep growing and learning! Best wishes.