We all know that simple little word too well. That simple word that holds weight behind it. According to a 2008 mental health study by the Associated Press and mtvU, eight in 10 college students say they have sometimes or frequently experienced stress in their daily lives. It’s a fact of life that students are stressed. But since it’s such a commonly used word to explain away all our problems, we don’t often acknowledge all the pain that comes with it.
Admitting you’re stressed is an everyday occurrence that can often be ignored. Most people that use the word aren’t suffering from mental health issues, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some that are suffering on the inside.
First, it starts with claiming that you have too much school work to hang out with friends. Distancing yourself from others is probably one of the first warning signs because they can’t see you falling apart. That self-inflicted social withdrawal can turn into never leaving your room. Sleeping too much. Not eating. Random bouts of crying. Sudden panic attacks. Extreme lows and highs. Excessively worrying about anything and everything.
Then comes the part of actually being a functional member of society. You can hole up in your own space for as long as you want, but, eventually, you have to go out into the real world. And when it comes to taking that step, your fake smile and your scripted response of “everything is fine” become your best friends.
At least that was the case for me.
No one really truly saw how much I was struggling. Sure, people saw that I was visibly stressed, but they chalked it all up to school. That I was taking too many hours. That I had back-to-back exams. That I had too many extracurricular responsibilities (which was my own fault because I shouldn’t have taken it all on if I couldn’t handle it). And I let them. But in all honesty, 2017 was the worst year of my life. Yes, school played a role in it, but it was so much more than that. So much more than anyone will realize.
The real kicker, though, was that I thought I could hide it well. I was fooling everyone around me, acting as if I wasn’t truly drowning in my own depression. But, it wasn’t until a friend of mine came to visit me that I hadn’t seen in a couple months took one look at me and asked if I was truly okay. That’s when I realized that she was the only person that had ever asked me that. She saw right through my facade and helped me come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t continue living like this.
Now, I am not claiming to be an expert on mental health nor am I even the best person to be even giving such advice. Everything I described was my own personal experience and everyone is different. No two people suffer from mental health issues in the same way. But for everyone that’s struggling, just know that I’m with you. I feel your pain, even it’s just a fraction of it. I will never truly understand what you’re going through, but find someone that does.
Find that one person that knows you, that knows that you’re not okay with one simple look. And if you don’t have somebody, talk to a professional. There’s no shame in asking for help. It took a long time for me to accept that and I’m still struggling with that today, but it’ll get better. I promise.
And for everyone else, don’t let us struggle on our own. Don’t chalk it all up to school and buy into our fake smiles. Be our person. Ask us how we’re doing; keep inviting us to socialize even if we keep saying no; But most importantly, don’t give up.
It’ll take time to get through to us, but please, don’t give up.
Written by: Omama Qureshi