Welcome to our new section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus.) We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
I think one of the questions that I’ve been asked the most throughout my life is, “How are you so happy all the time?” I’ve taken pride in that. One of the most rewarding feelings for me is knowing that I am spreading light to other people. For most of my life this has come naturally. Shining on others is easy when you feel just as bright inside. Growing up, it never occurred to me that there could be a time when it would be hard to feel happy.
Part of that is the way I was raised, with the influence of my parents. Anyone who knows me knows how incredibly close I am to my mom, and how we are basically the exact same person. She is one of the most loving, caring, incredible people on this earth. She has taught me what it means to be a good person, and especially how to love others. Another place I learned how to spread light and love was at church. I grew up in a Christian home, the kind where the gospel is just fact. I never really had to learn that Jesus loves me; I’ve just always known. I went to Sunday school every week as a kid, except for when the Texans were playing at home — our season tickets took priority.
In middle school, my relationship with God only got stronger when I started going on mission trips every summer. I continued going on these trips in high school as well, ignoring my angry coaches and giving up a whole week of summer softball without a care, knowing that I was going to spend time completely refreshing my soul. Once I got to college, I was confident enough in my identity in Christ to know I could withstand what seemed to me like the anti-Christian landscape of NYU. I joined Cru, a campus ministry organization, and found a new group to help me grow in my faith. For about a year, everything was the same: happy, adventurous, and easygoing. I had been wary of the stories about kids having a difficult time away from home, especially with how close I am to my family. However, I adjusted well to college life, and told myself that I made it past the time frame for mental health issues to emerge.
The next fall I went abroad to Prague. Within two weeks Hurricane Harvey hit my hometown of Houston. I was devastated. So far away from home, no way to help, and all I could do was sit and watch the news get worse and worse and worse as I felt stranded in Eastern Europe. As my city slowly healed, I did not. Even with the incredible adventures that left me speechlessly happy, I still felt like something was missing and chalked it up to being so far from home. I thought I would feel better when I got back to the familiarity of New York. However, my sophomore softball season was probably the worst time mental health-wise for every single person on our team. I could not rediscover the joy of freshman year while those closest to me were also hurting. I thought to myself, “It’s just a weird season for us, I’ll feel better when I get home.”
And I did. Summer of 2018 I was a camp counselor and had one of the happiest summers of my life. A hundred pages wouldn’t be sufficient to describe how joyous and buoyant my friends at camp made me feel. There we go! I was fixed! Then I returned to school. I knew something was wrong. Being my happy-go-lucky, sunshine-y self was getting harder and harder every day. I felt estranged from my friends, even though nothing had changed. There was this immense pressure to put up a mask that I was perfectly okay. I prayed so hard. Why did I feel this way? Was I getting further from God? I had changed almost nothing about my religious habits, except that I go to church a little less because of how busy school and softball make me.
This past winter break, I was officially diagnosed with clinical depression and general anxiety. I am in this weird rut right now that no amount of prayer seems to be able to fix. I had a long talk with my mom — who has dealt with a similar diagnosis — about the biological factors that influence our emotions. My psychiatrist taught me to evaluate my mental health on the same level as the physical injuries I have suffered. I had no issue taking pain relievers for my broken thumb when physical therapy was too painful, so why should I be ashamed to take anti-depressants to assist my mental therapy?
I am still doing a ton of reflection on why I feel the way I do. One of the most prominent issues I struggle with internally is that of comparison. As most athletes, I’m sure, I am a very competitive person. I strive for that starting spot on the field, wondering if I’m as good as my teammates, if I’m working as hard as my teammates, but then feel guilty because I want them to succeed. Then there’s school. I know I can make all A’s, so making a B really weighs on me. Could I have tried harder? What if I had stayed up one more hour editing that paper? Anxiety is especially prevalent when I think about my friendships: do they really want to hang out with me? What if they’re talking bad about me behind my back? All my friends are so much cooler and more fun than me, I don’t understand why they’d want to spend time with me.
I guess my point in this is that even when I feel lonely I trust that I am not alone, and I have faith that it gets better. I think that God is using this time as an opportunity for me to learn to stop focusing so much on the worldly things around me and find my worth in something greater, which is a self-confidence that cannot be torn down by anything on this earth. I want to be encouraging and spread light, but it’s not always easy. And nobody is perfect. But even in this difficult time, I trust that God has a plan for me and that this too shall pass. I keep constantly repeating my favorite bible passage, Matthew 6:25-34, which is about leaving anxiety behind to trust that God will provide for you. The last verse says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Right now I’m not just anxious about tomorrow, I’m anxious about the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that. But I know that I am working to find the time to slow down, breathe, and trust that I am okay. And soon enough that trust will turn into truth.
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