Absence

17 Oct

Hello all. I apologize for my absence. This past week was midsems at my school, so I had two papers, three exams, and a project to get done. There definitely was not much time or energy for writing anything non-academic. Now I’m on a 10-day break, and I plan on writing about a few of ideas/events I haven’t been able to address yet.

Since I am on such a long break from school, I think mental health is a good topic for today.

My college is an incredibly high-stress environment, with significant amounts of class work, as well as pressure to join groups and clubs. The college is also home to students of various socioeconomic classes, thus many students have jobs. Oftentimes, the magnitude of this extra-curricular work matches that of class work. The small size of our campus community, and the related tendency for students to interact with other people virtually all day, every day, makes it difficult to find personal time to focus on our individual emotional and psychological development and health.

An average day for me goes like this: class, homework, lunch with friends, class, work, gym, homework, dinner with friends, meeting, homework, maybe watch tv or chat with friends, sleep. What with work, homework, class, and meals with friends, there isn’t much time for me to be alone. This is one of the reasons I choose to go to the gym on a daily basis….there, I feel I can focus completely on myself. I pay attention to the way my body feels – my heart beat, the sweat on the back of my neck, the way my muscles strain under weight, the relief of stretching out aches and pains. I can see my accomplishments by watching the way my body changes. I remember how much my body is capable of and how lucky I am to be able to move in all the ways I do.

I carve out moments of solitude in other ways, too. Often, I take five or ten minutes before class to stretch out in the sunshine and listen to music. Or I’ll lay in my bed and read or write in my journal for ten minutes before I go to sleep. Sometimes, if I don’t think I’ll get any other alone time that day, I’ll just eat a meal by myself. No matter what, I make sure I get that time. I think it’s essential for everyone to take time out of daily interactions to center themselves, do some deep breathing, and feel strength in solitude.

At some point in life, each of us will have to be able to stand on our own. I like to take time each day to remind myself that, when I need to, I will be able to stand on my own.

That confidence has not been easy to achieve. Rather, my belief in myself is the result of all the times I didn’t believe, but still pulled through. It is the result of having the most fantastic support system – mainly, my mom and brother, but beyond that, the friends who’ve become family. It is the result of being inspired by the strength I see in others.

I’ve also been lucky enough to have family members who strive to understand and embrace the difficulties in their lives (and in my life) and don’t push me to pretend like everything is okay when it’s not. Talking to a counselor has always been accepted and even encouraged. Admitting pain or loneliness has always been more important than pretending it doesn’t exist.

There is no stigma associated with mental health issues in my family. Because of that, I have been able to process my struggle with depression. Now, although this might seem contradictory to what I’ve just said, my mom has spent a lot of time urging me to consider the implications of admitting to/writing about my depression. Although she doesn’t stigmatize mental health problems, she often worries that my chances at scholarships, internships, jobs, etc. might be jeopardized if potential employers know about my history with depression. This, I believe, is a valid concern. Our society tends to stigmatize mental health issue to a ridiculous extent. However, it is for this exact reason that I am choosing to disclose my struggle.

I do not believe there should be a stigma associated with mental health issues. No person is perfect. Some of us are lucky enough not to ever feel like we’re fighting against our own minds. But most of us, at one  point or another, have engaged in that most personal of struggles. That battle is hard enough without us being made to feel guilty for something outside of our control.

My depression does not rule me. It is a single part of a very complex person. But it is part of my life, all the same, and I accept and understand its role. I refuse to apologize or be punished for acknowledging a part of who I am.

Returning to life on my campus, I think it’s crucial that everyone be encouraged to feel the full range of their emotions. Everyone should be encouraged to talk through those emotions in an effort to understand them and integrate them into daily life. Even the “negative” emotions have their place in our lives. I hope students, the greater campus community, and eventually this society will come to understand that strength lies in emotional understanding, not denial.

I hope this break gives the students on my campus a chance to re-center themselves, and I hope this post gives anyone who reads it the courage to look at their emotions in a new way.
Here is a piece of writing that helped carry me through my struggle with depression:

“How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. So you mustn’t be frightened if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.

– Ranier Maria Rilke – Letters to a Young Poet

Peace.

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