Getting called a bitch, a slut or an asshole hurts but can be easily combatted with a Facebook friend deletion and cathartic shit-talking. But the worst thing you can be called is “crazy.” Then, it’s not about your choice of clothing or your lazy living habits. It’s about how you perceive things, and our thoughts and feelings are the most fundamental parts of who we are. To have someone invalidate how you feel is the most damning thing they could do.
Depression, which is disturbingly common among college campuses these days, is crippling. No one wants to talk about it, lest be labeled as “crazy.” College brochures rattle on about the fantastic study abroad opportunities at UCSD. Your uncle gets starry-eyed as he reminisces about the night he managed to find himself at the top of the literature building wearing nothing but a horse mask. But what seemingly no one warns you about is what defines these “golden years” for many of us.
You’re away from home for the first time, starting from scratch with your social scene and under pressure to figure out what you want to do with your life. You’re surrounded by some of the brightest and most competitive students in the nation and you can’t help but feel like you don’t measure up. Some of us, between the parties and the club meetings, get caught up in existential malaise. Who are we? What are we doing? What’s the point of it all?
The thing about depression, or any kind of mental illness, is that until you’ve experienced it, you don’t know what it’s like. My own freshman year was defined by my experience with depression and my inability to talk about it. Looking back, I can probably say that my unhappiness was attributed to a mix of a drastic change of environment, a discrepancy between what I thought college would be and what it ended up being and a genetic predisposition to depression. If you’re going through anything similar to what I went through, you probably know why the “what is there to be sad about” line of questions is so unhelpful — not even scientists can exactly pinpoint the causes of depression.
We live in a culture that both glorifies depression and stigmatizes it. We talk about how brilliant Kurt Cobain was, and his suicide adds a mystique and implies a certain “truth” to the depressive outlook. Academia falsely insists that we’re depressed because we’re smart. Yet at the same time, we dismiss people’s existential qualms as “first world problems.”
What you feel is not you being crazy or selfish. If you’ve been feeling disconnected for a while, get help. You’ll feel sheepish making that first CAPS appointment, but sometimes it takes only one session with a professional to figure out what you need to do to get out of that funk. Sadness is a feeling, not a logical reasoning that comes from being smart. Keep up lines of communication; calling your friend and asking them to lunch can be enough to lift your spirits considerably. Research shows that exercising can be a very effective way of treating depression, as can adopting a healthy diet. Don’t add another dimension to your emotional struggle by worrying about your depression. Getting told time and time again that these are the best years of your life puts pressure on students to be happy all the time, when that simply isn’t the case. Life goes on for a while after college, and the best years are just ahead.
I’m thankful to say that by adopting healthy habits, taking up meditation and reaching out to friends and family, I overcame what was the hardest and loneliest year of my life. I rewarded myself by getting the letters “ttsp” tatted on my wrist. It’s reminder of the most important advice I’ve ever heard: “this too shall pass.”