Being a graduate student in higher education while also working part time in higher education is often a blessing and a curse. I enjoy my program, and I appreciate the things that I have learned. One of the major criticisms I have about my program is the lack of discussion around mental health and how it affects professionals. But l am thankful for being offered the opportunity to work in a space that is close to where I ultimately want to be.
I have been in my position for less than a year, and being in a professional space has taught me a lot about myself – and it’s scary. During this year, I have come to terms with and accepted that I live with anxiety everyday. For a long time, I disregarded my mental health and tried to avoid making sense of it.
Everyday I wanted to believe that I was “normal.”
I also come from a familial background that is greatly affected by mental health, so I really didn’t want to think that I also contributed to that. Not a day goes by where I can truly say that I felt relaxed, and I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. It’s difficult for me to manage; however, I know that at this point it’s not going away.
I am part of an office that is primarily populated with people of color. I really appreciate this, especially considering that the institution is predominantly white – in students and in employees. I can sometimes struggle with socialization within the office. I describe myself as shy and quiet among the group of my co-workers, however I am more communicative in small and pair interactions with them. We each have our own individual offices, and most of the time they usually have their doors open, symbolizing that their space is open. I do not find myself keeping my door open often. I do not feel comfortable having my space exposed to others with whom I am not formally meeting, and I get very worried about being judged by my co-workers or anyone else that visits our office area.
My anxiety not only affects my office space and my interactions with my co-workers but also the way I approach my work. For example, one of my job responsibilities is to plan and present workshops for my students. Whenever possible, I try to look for opportunities for guests to attend and present, not only for students to gain content from experts, but also so I can reduce the time that I will have to spend presenting. I tend to stumble and stutter during my speeches and topics, which only makes me feel more worried about doing things right, the audience not understanding what I presented, and the audience passing judgment.
Working while managing my anxiety is difficult, and while I enjoy my job, I wish that I was not afraid to speak up about my struggles. Mental health is not discussed publicly in my office, and I cannot help but feel that the assumption that people of color, Black people in particular, do not like to talk about mental health illnesses and the stigma still lives. In sharing this story, I hope that I can raise awareness, and I hope to inspire professionals and graduate students of color to be honest with themselves and to be brave in living with obstacles that affect our mental health.
P.S.: I now realize that I am very much “normal.”
This is part of our yearly #SACommits series on mental health in Student Affairs. This May, we are exploring what mental illness looks like using different forms of expression – photos, drawings, videos, writing, etc. We hope to create better understanding of what it is like to live with mental illness, in an effort to stomp out stigma. Each week will have a theme -Throughout the lifespan, With Loved Ones, At Work, With Myself. For more information, see the intro post by Kristen Abell. Check out the other posts in this series too! You can also join the conversation by using our unique #SACommits Selfies print outs.