Author: Valery B.
Starting college is a nerve-racking and exciting process, an event unlike any other experienced by eighteen and nineteen year olds thus far. For many of us, college is the first time we branch away from our families. Some of us travel far, while others close, but regardless of the distance, we all embark on the same experience of independence, freedom and the beginning of life.
College is a time to challenge ourselves, test our limits, discover our passions, discover ourselves. It truly is an exceptional opportunity, but one that, for many, brings an added amount of nerves and anxiety never experienced before.
So, what happens when someone who already has anxiety or depression or an eating disorder or any sort of mental ailment experiences the nerves and anxiety of college?
I assume the process of maneuvering through time, especially during those first few weeks, becomes far more challenging than it is for the mentally healthy student.
But, the important thing to remember is that if you have a mental illness or even symptoms of a mental illness, you are certainly not alone.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness, and out of those who have been diagnosed, 25% of them have been treated by a professional during their college years.” There are resources on many, if not all, college campuses designated for mental health services, and there are professionals on the campuses as well, willing to assist in whatever struggles students face. The important thing to know is that no shame, embarrassment or stigma is associated with reaching out for help. If you need support – even if you need someone to just talk with -, it is available for you.
This is something I remind myself everyday as I get ready to leave for college. I will be traveling 15 hours away from my home – from New Jersey to Georgia -, so preparing for self-care is something I do not take lightly.
I have my fair share of mental health problems that I have been working to overcome all through high school, both with the help of a treatment team and with my own motivation and self-help.
When I was a freshman in high school, I was affected by anorexia and bulimia and was hospitalized, treated and then released. My senior year brought upon many relapses of the eating disorders, with the addition of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations.
I took two medical leaves while in high school – one during my sophomore year and the other during my senior year. But, while the medical leaves did help me temporarily, they did not cure me. There are no official “cures” for mental illnesses, although I truly believe that they can be diminished to such infinitesimal sizes that they no longer present themselves in a person’s life.
As of today – and, yes, as I write this -, I struggle with binge eating disorder and relapses of bulimia. I also still experience depression, though not to the extent that I did during my senior year, as well as anxiety, particularly around the eating disorders.
When I think about coming to college with these illnesses, I am a bit scared: the binge eating disorder and the bulimia have brought me unbearable shame and embarrassment, causing me to reject my friends’ invitations to hang out, making me feel incompetent of making sound food choices; however, as I recover on my own, I remind myself that recovery is a process: a long, winding road of many ups and downs and challenges. Although I am not where I want and need to be in regards to my mental and physical health, I am so much better than I was even a year ago.
As my recovery continues in college, I will remind myself of the support that is available for me, and I will be gentle with myself if I experience relapses or setbacks. Most importantly, I will remind myself that I am not alone!
College is nerve-racking, anxiety-stirring, yet exciting, and as we embrace the journey ahead of ourselves, we must also embrace the power of our community – a community of love, support and care.
If you are someone who struggles with a mental illness, I implore you to start believing that you are not alone. Behind every physical body, behind every smile and happy face, there is a story that you and I would probably never guess. Everyone suffers with something, and although our sufferings are different, they give us all a shared feeling that connect us all inside.