Two years ago, I went away from home to attend college with no idea really of what I was doing. I both had high expectations of myself and felt like I had already failed them by going to what I thought of at the time as the “slacker” public four-year in western Washington, WWU. I already had low self-esteem, probably as a combined result of bullying in fifth and sixth grade and my mother’s abusive behavior. I had never developed good homework or study skills. I was set up for disaster.
I started out excited about my class schedule, but a few weeks in, it turned out that freshman seminar was kind of a joke, and I had a lot of difficulty getting up early enough for intro to mass media. I began to miss both of those classes, a pattern that eventually snowballed into flunking them. Flunking intro to knowledge & reality came as a surprise to me; it was the first time I’d done poorly in a class based on tests. I was doing okay in ancient western lit, a class I loved, until I froze on the final essay and didn’t do it. I passed with a D.
Not passing a full credit load meant that they yanked my financial aid. I could still attend because of my savings, but it was a shock. I was also placed on “freshman warning.”
Winter quarter, something similar happened. A lot of excitement at the beginning of the quarter, and then my energy flagged. But this time, things were worse. This was the beginning of my depressive episode. My roommates were annoyed at me for spending so much time in the room, and for smelling (I didn’t take many showers or do laundry often enough.)
I had a total lack of confidence. If I was five minutes late to class, I couldn’t go in because I was ashamed. I tried, I really did. On my first day of winter quarter, I was 10 minutes late to a two hour class. I stood outside the doors for almost half an hour, trying to make myself go in. I would walk a little ways down the hall and swiftly move toward the door in an attempt to get momentum. Eventually I gave up and went home, feeling humiliated and worthless.
Toward the end of the quarter, my energy was so low…I remember one day, I got up and got dressed and went out to the bus stop for my classes. I waited for five minutes, then turned around and went back in my room, back to bed, because that was just it. That was all there was for me that day.
I passed one class that quarter, with a C this time. Over spring break, all of my housemates moved out (a story for another time) and I lived spring quarter with a room all to myself. I also broke up with the boyfriend I’d had online, and was forcibly expelled from the online community I considered my online “home.” There was virtually nothing left to regulate me except the flimsy method of my classes. Again, I started out the quarter with renewed enthusiasm and then tapered off. This time it happened more quickly and more thoroughly. Although I picked things up enough to pass one class by the end of the quarter (the grade was based entirely on two tests), there was a solid month where I did not go to any classes. In fact, I did not leave my dorm at all except once a week to buy groceries. I stayed in bed, eating, sleeping, and being online–almost my only contact with the outside world, because I had stopped answering my phone. Who knows what would have happened if I hadn’t had access to my friends online? (Ironically, my parents blamed the time I spent on the internet for my bad grades.)
Earlyish spring quarter, I contacted the student counselling service and made an appointment, which I even went to, to talk with someone, but I never came back.
Throughout spring quarter and in the year afterward, I would frequently worry about whether I had depression. Was this what depression was supposed to feel like? I felt so much like I could maybe make other choices, I just never did. Did it count as depression if I enjoyed grocery shopping? Did it count as depression if I found pleasure in evergreens and moonlight? Did it count if I was still writing? Did it count if I had shown laziness and poor study skills before this year? How much of this was laziness now? Did it count if I still ate well? If I had no desire to injure or kill myself? Although I was showing many symptoms of depression, I never felt sure that was what was going on. What if I was just a bad person?
It took me a long time–until after my depressive episode was over–to realize that I had made the question of whether or not I could claim depression (and, to a lesser extent, disability), the determinant of whether or not I deserved care. If I had depression, then I could explain it to my friends and family, seek counseling, perhaps take medication, and do research. If I didn’t have depression, then I was just a bad person and I would just have to improve on my own. (In fact, after eventually deciding for sure that I did have depression, I used the word to explain myself so much that I forgot to use other words like “pain” and “sadness,” and the first time I remembered that those words applied to me too, I cried.)
But in truth, I was desperately lonely and I constantly felt worthless and ashamed. Whether or not I had depression was really beside the point: I needed care either way. I needed counseling. If you’re tired, you need rest no matter the cause of your symptoms. If you feel worthless, you need to heal or manage that feeling no matter whether you have depression. If you have pain and sadness, you need love.
I’ve even worried when my counselor told me she saw healing and growth in me. I felt that if I wasn’t ill enough, I wouldn’t deserve to see her. Only recently, only now, can I connect the fact that I still feel a lot of fear and anguish with the fact that I can still see my counselor and get a lot out of it. I still need help and love.