I have major depression.
The smallest thing can set it off–and there are a thousand smallest things when you’re in college. Professors who won’t make accommodations for your work schedule, bad feedback on a paper you worked really hard on, finding the sidewalk in front of your class blocked by homecoming stages, your crazy neighbor’s cats picking fights with your cats…
Depression isn’t rational.
Most of the time, the things that set it off don’t make sense or they’re not a “good enough” reason to be depressed.
Depression isn’t just being sad for no reason.
Irritability, apathy, hopelessness, exhaustion… it comes in so many forms. It’s anxiety and perfectionism over minute details that keep you from finishing anything. It’s wanting to do nothing but lay in bed all day. It’s composing dozens of angry emails to your asshole professor that you’ll never send.
It’s being sad and then getting frustrated because you don’t know why you’re sad.
It’s keeping everything bottled up inside because you’ve created a reliable, stable, happy persona. It’s people saying, “But you seem so happy!” and “Considering your childhood, I’m amazed that you’re so functional!” when you feel like setting up permanent residence in bed.
Most days I do everything I can to hide it.
I don’t have insurance, the student health services are garbage, and mental health and disability services provided by the university are even worse. Applying for state aid or disability or shelling out $200+ a month for insurance is too overwhelming and ultimately pointless to consider wasting time and energy on. It’s safer and more comfortable and manageable to just keep going on my own.
I have to hold everything together on my own. My friends are supportive, but they’re not professional therapists. So I try to practice self-care and deal with my shit by myself. I have an image to uphold, and I can’t inconvenience everyone with feelings.
I was diagnosed with depression when I was unemployed between contracts at Soul Crushing Higher Ed Conglomerate, and the longer I worked there, the worse it got. After a while, I was diagnosed with PTSD and cyclothymia (a low grade form of bipolar disorder) which my job only exacerbated. I tried lots of different kinds of therapies from EMDR to CBT to workbooks and TED talks to plain old talk therapy. I went through at least half a dozen meds with debilitating side effects.
Eventually I lost my insurance and had to quit going to therapy and taking meds, and I learned how to pick and choose my coping mechanisms and just push through depressive episodes. It wasn’t a perfect solution–it isn’t even really a solution so much as a diversion–but that’s where I am now.
When I first went back to school, I went to a tiny Catholic school with one counselor. Second only to my childhood social workers, it was the worst therapy experience of my life. Now I’m at a public university with a research hospital and while I’m sure it’s at least better than the last school, I’m hesitant to find out how much better.
This is usually the part in a post where I’m the reassuring older sister, dispensing sage wisdom and advice and telling all the other depressed kids out there that It Gets Better and showing you how to deal with it. But sometimes there’s no advice or affirmation that will make it better. Sometimes you have to push through it or manage it or just wallow.
Sometimes the things that made it better yesterday just make it worse today.
Treatment isn’t one-size-fits-all.
As much as I want to encourage everyone to get engaged with their schools and seek mental health accommodations, the reality is that most schools are terrible with mental health.
Whether it’s just the one counselor on campus or you’re restricted to six sessions a year, colleges do not have the best resources for mental health. There’s so much stigma–especially for students and “millennials” who boomers would like us all to believe have no real problems–that most schools are horribly ill-equipped to deal with mental illness unless it is a life-threatening crisis. And even then, their training is questionable.
Let’s be real, orphans: managing and living with depression while going to college is fucking awful.
Statistics show that foster youth are significantly more likely to struggle with mental health later in life. No one tracks runaways and throwaways, or kids who were rehomed or given relative guardians, but I’m sure depression and anxiety are rampant with us too. People just don’t bother tracking and studying us.
I’m “lucky” enough that my depression doesn’t come with suicidal ideation. Instead, I bounce between being terrified that I’ll eventually die without accomplishing anything, and being too apathetic and hopeless to get out of bed for days at a time. And yeah, sometimes I just cry for hours on end over a turn of phrase in a book or a line in a song.
But depression doesn’t get you an excused absence from class. It doesn’t get you paper extensions or makeup exams. You’re expected to just deal with it and prioritize your education first.
So what do you do?
I wish I could tell you. I’m barely managing.
Some days I really don’t bother going to class because everything feels pointless. Some days the pressure of a deadline is enough to push me to go in.
I included self care and mental wellness apps in my health and wellness apps post.
I reblog resources and stuff on my mental health Tumblr tag.
I have some books and help lines in the Resources page and the final installment of my How to Run Away from Home series.
Other than that… maybe talk to someone who can help? Don’t be afraid to try meds even though it sometimes takes dozens of tries to find the right one (sorry, but it’s true). Figure out what works for you. Learn what your limits are and enforce them.
There are plenty of blogs out there dedicated to placating you with motivational quotes and reassurances. Tumblr has plenty of masterlists with crisis chat lines and links to find local counselors.
Maybe some of them will help. Maybe they won’t. Maybe it’s easier to just keep doing what you’re doing. The only person who can decide what you need is you.
Things that help me sometimes:
- taking multivitamins
- rage walks
- sadness walks
- angry email drafts
- petting cats
- crossing things off my summer bucket list
- taking naps and then eating carbs then going back to sleep again
- binge-eating dairy so I can compound all my terrible feelings into one day
- eating fruit to clear out all the dairy
- making Spotify playlists for radio shows I’ll never host
- reading sad fanfic
- watching Parks and Rec
- finding planner peace
- cleaning my hoarder apartment
- celebrating small accomplishments
Most of the time, I just wait it out.
There’s no magic fix-it for depression. It comes and goes on its own more often than not, which is frustrating and inconvenient, but… that’s just how it is.