To say that the winter holidays of 2014/2015 were hard would be an understatement. The two pieces of sanity within my house were gone, leaving only The Captain and me to deal with our less-than-stellar roommate. So it seemed natural that I would be having anxiety and depression issues with how unhappy I was at home, but I had hope that once the spring semester started I’d be able to get out of the funk and go back to living life.
I was wrong.
Within the first week of school I had about a handful of panic attacks—over my living situation, school, and friendships—and immediately began a dive bomb into academic horror.
But first, backstory. I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Major Depression when I was almost seventeen. After some therapy, soul-searching, and weight loss I was able to deal with these chronic issues and go out and do things. My freshman year at college was great, because while I did have a few episodes and attacks here and there, I was able to overcome and get good grades and more. But slowly, I started getting pulled deeper into my mental health issues. It got harder to get up the energy to go to class some days or to go out and socialize. Still, I had The Captain, my friends, and family so I didn’t feel too bad and life was still good.
This semester was different.
It seemed like no matter what I did I couldn’t change, couldn’t shake off my blues, and couldn’t not be nervous about every other thing. I struggled with losing the weight I’d gained, not losing a pound even though I was eating healthy and less than before. I spent a lot of days in bed, barely having the energy to shower or fix food, and definitely not enough to go to class or do homework. Some days I spent in isolation, so terrified of having a panic attack because of the less-than-stellar roommate that I couldn’t leave my room. I tried Googling for advice, talking to The Captain and my mother, but it seemed like nothing helped.
There are resources I have access to, of course. The university provides free counseling, and it comes very recommended by anyone I’ve shared these troubles with, but there are many things I’ve had trouble with in regards to actually going. A) You have to call to get an appointment. When I’m in a social anxiety mood I can’t call people. I hate talking on the phone with people I don’t know well and I still have trouble just ordering pizza and B) There never seemed to be enough time. Appointments are often weeks after you need them, and I just got buried in schoolwork and reading and working on the blog or cleaning away my problems.
There’s also this ‘bootstraps’ mentality I have, where I want to fix myself without anyone’s help, because I want to be a strong, independent woman. I know that counseling and therapy are helpful, and even medication can work for some people (not me, I’ve tried before). That doesn’t mean that I can actually go through with getting help when I need it.
The Captain, of course, is a God send. And, it’s been a trial for him as well as me. I know that several times my anxiety and depression has almost been a breaking point for our relationship. It’s hard on him having to talk me down from panic, or talk me up from depression and, perhaps, I depend on him too much for help when it comes to these things.
So how exactly did my anxiety and depression ruin my semester? I missed a lot of the classes I had on campus because I didn’t have the energy to go or was so anxious that I didn’t want to go and have people notice. I didn’t do assignments because I didn’t have the energy or because I was dealing with other issues. At first, I just thought I was having trouble shaking off the blues of my winter break, and it took until spring break for me to realize that I had dug myself a hole and it would be impossible to climb out of if I didn’t start working harder.
I was failing two classes. So I e-mailed the professors, explaining the mental health situation, and asking if there was anything that I could do. One professor never replied. The other was not very helpful. That would be the professor for my Health class (ironic) who, while being very understanding about how hard it can be to be a student with mental health issues, couldn’t offer me any extra credit, make-ups, and whose only suggestion was that I medically withdraw. This, if you don’t know what it is, meant that to get out of failing her class I would have to drop ALL of my classes—even the ones that I was passing. So, bootstraps pulled, I dug into schoolwork and did my best to revive my dying grades.
I’ve never failed a class before. The closest I’ve come was higher-level chemistry in high school, and second-year French in college, but those were classes that I tried in even when I didn’t understand the material. Health, on the other hand, is a subject I understand perfectly, but had trouble with because of my depression and anxiety. It didn’t help that all of the assignments toward the end of class were worth so few points that it was almost hopeless trying. But—with that determination and hard work—I pulled my grade from a low, low F to a D. I have passed the class, kept the credits, not totally wasted the money spent, and learned a lesson.
With my other course, it was easier to raise my grade. If I did well on the final (it’s not graded yet) and the final paper, then I could possibly end up with a C in the course.
So, what have I learned?
I never, ever want to get this close to failing a class because of depression and anxiety. When you have trouble understanding material or keeping up there’s always tutoring, but when it comes to mental illness it is all up to you to get it done. Often, accommodations can be made, but when you’re too scared to get help or admit that you’re drowning then how is anyone supposed to know you need help?
So, if this happens again I will get the help I need. I will go to the counseling center, I will not allow myself to slide, and I will never have another semester like this again.
Depression and anxiety ruined my semester, but I’m not going to let them take over my summer or take over anything from now on. I’ve already taken a few steps to insure this, and I am happy to say that this summer will be about my health. In this way, I’ll be better prepared for next semester and able to take on anything it has to throw.
If you’re having trouble academically due to a mental illness, be sure to have an open dialogue with your professors. While my experience did not go too well, that isn’t true for all professors. Several of mine are very understanding, and allowed for extra work to make up for those absences. If your school has a counseling center, don’t be afraid to use it like I was. Talk to people who understand your issues, but understand that sometimes you can overshare a burden.
Mostly, take care of yourself. If you’re having severe issues and have to withdraw from school do it. No one will think less of you for making sure your health is a priority. Mental illness is just as much of an issue as a broken leg or chronic disease, and should be treated as such.
And there is no such thing as failing; there’s only winning and learning from your mistakes.