So, it feels like 2020 has taken your mental health, stomped on it, tied it to a railroad track, and strapped it to an atom bomb.
Suffice it to say, I’ve struggled more with my mental health in the past eight months than ever before, and I know that I’m not alone. The unpredictability of life today paired with the growing pains of adjusting to a whole new way of doing school (not to mention a whole new way of life) is bound to make even the most happy-go-lucky student feel emotionally under the weather. For me, the months of April through August seemed to be a never-ending rock bottom.
Things started to change when I finally opened up to the people around me about what I was experiencing, sought professional treatment, received a diagnosis of OCD and depression, and got to work on feeling better. I’m happy to say that my mental health seems to be on the upswing these days, but believe me when I say that it didn’t just happen overnight. It’s taken a lot of consistent work to get where I am today, and I still have bad days—lots of them.
I’ve made it a habit to look for silver linings in even the worst situations. For me, the silver lining here is that I’ve learned so much through my struggles with mental health that I can now share some of what I’ve learned with you. Hopefully, this can help you take the first steps towards feeling better. Here’s just a little bit of friendly advice.
Talk it out
Talking about what you’re feeling is one of the most important things you can do to start feeling better. I understand how scary it can be, but take it from me: it’s always better to let it out. When my mental health is at its worst, I hide my feelings for tons of different reasons. It can be anything from a fear of being judged, to not wanting to cry in front of someone, to not really understanding my feelings myself. Most commonly, though, it’s because I feel like my mental health is a burden to those around me.
Let me be the first to say that that is absolutely not true. There’s always someone who will be willing to lend an ear if you just want to vent. Ask a friend or family member if they’re comfortable listening, and be sure to stress that you’re not asking for them to solve your problems—you just want them to hear you out.
If you don’t have someone close to you to talk to, reach out to book a counselling appointment through Dal Student Health and Wellness, or, if you’re able to, look into talking to a therapist or counsellor off campus. Many insurance plans (including the DSU Health Plan and International Health Plan) cover these services. There are also a number of online resources you can access through Dal.
The idea of telling a complete stranger your deepest-darkest feelings can be incredibly intimidating, but in my experience, it was totally liberating. It’s great to have someone to talk to whose entire job is just to listen and guide me through my recovery, and who doesn’t know me at all outside of our our-hour bi-weekly sessions.
You’re not alone (and you’re not crazy)
A fact that has offered me a huge amount of comfort is that there’s basically nothing you can think or feel that someone else hasn’t already thought or felt. This summer, when my OCD symptoms were both new and at their absolute worst, for the first time in my life I felt like I was actually going crazy. I didn’t understand how I could be so unable to control my thoughts, or why the coping mechanisms that usually put my anxiety at bay (like exercising or talking to my friends) had either no effect or actively made my obsessions worse.
It wasn’t until one afternoon in August that things changed. I desperately googled my symptoms and found out that not only was I not alone in feeling the way I did, but there was actually a name for what I was experiencing. I found podcasts and YouTube videos about people who have had similar experiences, and these gave me hope that I wasn’t actually ‘crazy’ (whatever that means). They made me feel like I could recover, too.
This is without a doubt one of the hardest years that many of us have experienced. Even if others may have it worse than you, that doesn’t take away from what you’re feeling. Know that there are other people who have felt exactly the same way you do, and they were able to pull themselves out of it.
Remember that you will get through this, rinse, and repeat
A worry that I still struggle with when I’m feeling depressed or anxious is the fear that I’ll be stuck feeling this way forever. This is a bit of a catch-22, because the more you worry about not being able to stop worrying, the more you keep yourself stuck. I know just as well as anyone that telling someone to just stop worrying is at best useless and at worst actively harmful. But for me, just telling myself that these negative feelings won’t last forever is the first step to feeling better.
If you can eliminate one layer of anxiety or hopelessness by reminding yourself that this won’t last forever, you’re one step closer to getting back in control of your feelings. The same can be said for actual hard times. Sometimes, life can actually suck. Friends can be mean, people can ghost you, employers can fire you, family members can get sick. Feeling negative emotions about negative experiences is not only OK, it’s healthy. It’s when we start to feel like the bad times (and the uncomfortable emotions they bring up) will last forever is when we sometimes need a reminder that they won’t. Better days are coming.
If you’re struggling with your mental health right now and feel lost, stuck, or scared, just know that you’re not alone. So many members of the Dal community, myself included, have found themselves in exactly your position, and we’re all rallying behind you to see you succeed. No matter who you are, there’s always an option to start seeking help. It can be a step as small as writing in a journal or calling a friend. Any small step towards recovery is always something you should be proud of.
If 2020 has put you through the wringer the way it has for me, just know that we’re in it together. I’m cheering for you, and we will get through this.