Monday, November 10, 2014

Depression and Loneliness in College

Elsa isn’t the only queen in the kingdom of isolation.

College is often proclaimed (usually by those on the outside) as the best time of your life. Think of it! Learning with the greatest intellectual scholars in the region! Reading the classics! Attending lectures and dinner discussions about pressing world issues! Interacting with your fellow comrades on the intramural lacrosse team! Such bliss! Such privilege! Before you know it, those four years will be over in the blink of an all-nighter and you’ll have to enter into the real working world with only the blissful memories of your university days to sustain you. 

 My friend recently shared a facebook post with me titled “The Seventeen Brutal Realities of Being a College Student.” Their points were valid. College is not the best time of your life. You have no money. You’re constantly stressed out and buried under studying, papers, and tests. Every day you’re accruing debt that you’re not sure you’ll ever be able to pay back. You’re earning a degree that is necessary to have any employer even glance at your résumé but will probably be irrelevant in ten years. There are people starving in third-world countries and bombs falling in the Middle East, but you have trouble seeing the bigger picture and still end up complaining about having to get up early for your 8am class. And you spent all of high school hearing about how awesome college is and looking at pictures of amazingly decorated dorm rooms only to find out the hard way that you live in a mouse-infested dungeon amid piles of dirty laundry and a roommate who blares dubsteps at 2am. 

Take all of that and then throw relationships into the mix, and you may as well have gone back to bed after everyone left your high school graduation party.

Don’t get me wrong; college is a very good thing, but there are a lot of very bad things that go with it. Depression, isolation, and loneliness are perhaps the most debilitating factors of all. Recently, several of my friends have confided to me their struggles with depression and anxiety and their plans to transfer schools or even take the rest of the year off. I don’t know what to tell them or how to help them, or even if I can help them at all.

Depression is something you cannot understand unless you’ve endured it yourself. Until my sophomore year of high school, I had always looked down on depressed people, thinking they were “Prozac addicts” and wondering why they didn’t just snap out of it. Then I went to Catholic school for one semester, had a terrible time of it, and dropped out feeling like an absolute social failure. I stayed in this funk until my first spiritual retreat in 10th grade, when I realized that God actually considered me His daughter and loved me with a deep and personal love. The rest of my high school experience went fairly smoothly until college. 

Bam. I hit a brick wall again. I felt like a social outcast and a sheltered Catholic schoolgirl plagued with Catholic guilt. I didn’t get along with my freshman roommates. I struggled with my classes and dropped a lot of them. I had no one to help me decide what to major in. And more than anything, I missed my quiet, peaceful home in the country where the only person who looked at me critically was the UPS guy when I answered the door in my pajamas.

With the exception of a very few individuals, the friends I made freshman year are not my friends now. Now I live in a honor house with 9 other Catholic girls, all a grade above me, which has its advantages and disadvantages. We have lots of laughs and runs to Culvers and late night Anne of Green Gables marathons, but there are times when I feel very left out and isolated even in the midst of a loving Christian community (especially when the whole house traipses down to the local pub—I won’t turn 21 until this coming summer). I clash with some people, others I can tolerate, and others I get along with just fine. But through all of my three and a half years here, I can never say once that I’ve felt like I’ve truly belonged to this community. And that hurts, perhaps more than even I myself will ever comprehend.

I often have to remind myself that my situation here is not permanent. I have a year and half to go and a trip abroad to look forward to, and then this phase of my life is done forever. Perhaps I will look back and find that everything has a rosy hue. But, as Aragorn would say, it is not this day. 

Depression and loneliness can be devastating if not properly addressed. It can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and fighting it is an exhausting battle. Medication is unreliable and addictive over time, not to mention expensive. Finding a good therapist is difficult. And mustering up the courage to explain your situation to your family and friends can be the hardest part of all. Then there is the inevitable whisper in the ear that life will never be worth living again, that you will never be free from said problem or addiction, and that the only escape is suicide.

The old cliché phrase that comes up whenever one talks of depression is “You’re not alone.” But this is a mute point, because until you tell someone about what’s going on and honestly seek help, you really are alone. 

No man is an island...

 If you are a college student, getting help is easier than if you are living on your own in the “real world.” Usually there are free counseling services offered through the campus Wellness Center, or perhaps there is a pastor or a priest in the Newmann center or the campus parish office who could offer spiritual guidance. Overcome your fear and go talk to them. I’ve never heard of a therapist saying “Wow, you really are messed up,” or “Why did you come to me for help?”

 Don’t just hope this will go away over time—it won’t. You need to fix it and get help now before it’s too late. Go seek real, professional help—not just surfing Go Ask Alice. Sit down and make a concrete list of practical things you can do to climb out of your hole. If you’re stuck, ask a professional to help you.

Finally, don’t ever stop praying. In fact, pray more. You may not know what’s wrong with you, but Jesus does, and you need Him more than ever now.

Aloha mai e.

No comments:

Post a Comment