I want to begin by expressing my condolences to the family and friends of Sean Bonner. My thoughts are with you all.
In highschool, I thought I was the only one. No one talked about it. I first began to experience feelings of depression the winter of my sophomore year.
I thought I was the only one who came home every day, day after day, and went immediately to my bed and either slept or watched TV. Am I just lazy? Where did all my energy go? How do I motivate myself? I used to think. I tried my best to avoid anything that would even remotely stimulate my brain. I didn’t want think or feel because all that seemed to get me was more feelings of emptiness and isolation. I refused to look at my homework, as that only served as a reminder of how little I knew or had accomplished. I was able to convince myself that trying was a waste of time.
I attended an ultra-competitive high school. Throughout my time there, I was made aware right away of the expectations that existed for me as a student. What existed was a narrow definition of success: straight A’s in all your honors and AP classes (if you qualified to be in them in the first place), take part in a wide variety of extracurriculars, assume leadership positions within those clubs and sports and eventually get accepted into a nationally-ranked college. I wasn’t able to see how impossible those standards were until having been removed from the context of high school. I couldn’t have been the only one struggling, and I wasn’t.
Flash forward to college and now these conversations are inescapable. I realized I was hardly alone when it came to struggling with depression and anxiety. Almost every person I consider to be a close friend on this campus has, at one point or another, had their fair share of these battles. Probably more than half of these individuals are on some sort of prescription medication to treat anxiety and/or depression. I, too, took an antidepressant for a while until I realized that medication was not for me. People say that the topic of mental health on college campuses is overlooked, yet in my experience, I feel that almost the opposite has been true. We talk about it, but not in the way we should. Why is it that so many, myself included, feel that advocating for one’s mental health on a daily basis is difficult? The WAY in which we discuss that is overlooked- not simply the topic itself. We tend to talk past each other and compare our struggles, rather than using shared trauma to bring us closer.
This conversation can’t start as adults either. College is too late for us to start taking care of ourselves. The transition from highschool to college is oftentimes a difficult one. For the first time in most of our lives, we’re displaced from the location in which we grew up. We spend the first 18 years of our lives growing roots only for them to be pulled out.
Now, we must learn to take care of ourselves on our own. We start making more and more of those little, everyday decisions that add up to become who we are. We get better at is as we go along, and the same will happen after we graduate. There are many ways in which Denison helps ease that transition into college, and a small, tight-knit community helps with that. Even so, this doesn’t erase the fact that taking care of yourself and your responsibilities is a full-time job.
Highschool lays the groundwork in terms of the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed and these unrealistic expectations never seem to leave. We take what we learned about success in high school and apply it to college. A lot of the time this can lead to disappointing results. In college, we are without the safety net of home and it’s just plain harder. Therefore advocacy needs to start earlier, in high school- if not sooner. Adolescents need to be given resources and tools before they leave for college so that they have some strategies to take with them. Let’s stop teaching the idea that there’s a “one-size-fits-all” approach to success and fulfillment and let’s start getting to know and taking care of ourselves.
When we accept our limits and strengths, we are more likely to accept others for theirs. Therefore, it’s more than okay to put yourself first, especially in college. This is how we become better people for others, more empathetic and better at listening. It is hard to open your mind to the thoughts and feelings of another person when it’s already crowded with your own troubles. Allowing for the lifelong process of getting to know ourselves and how we do best (emotionally, physically, academically and socially) and trying our best to act upon it is all we can ask of ourselves.