This isn’t something I’ve talked about to many people, but I feel that it’s a story to be told. If there’s one other person out there that can maybe relate to this just a little, then it’s worth it. It is because of the #SACommits community that I feel comfortable enough to become vulnerable in a way I haven’t before. I am inspired and moved by all of those who have shared stories, thoughts, resources, and encouragement to the community that is student affairs and higher education. And I am more than ready to stomp out the stigma.
I became quite involved in college the first time I started feeling down. I discovered my freshman year that if I was busy and putting my effort towards others, it left little time for me to focus on myself and all the feels. As I went through college, I became more and more busy with being an RA, orientation leader, student government representative, and my two majors. I knew counseling was an important part of working through some anxious and depressed feelings I was having, thanks to a supervisor walking me to the counseling center after the death of a resident of mine. But I continued to fill my time, serve others, and maybe compensate a little bit for the things I was going through by helping others.
Fast forward about seven years later, where I once again was feeling absolutely run down, thus causing the anxiety and depression to creep in once again. I knew myself and knew that it was my body’s way of telling me it was time. I had used my job in housing as a position that helped me push the feels aside and be there for others, once again. I found a job outside of housing, and during a tremulous summer, I applied to other jobs. I found out in late June that I had an interview, and a week later, a job as an academic advisor for the same institution at which I was currently working. When I told my current supervisors I would be leaving and turned in my resignation letter, I instantly started feeling sick. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t sleep, and started feeling really sick. The first week of July I was out sick, going to the doctor twice that week with an eventual diagnosis of a respiratory infection, and I was given meds to make it all better.
But as the month of July went on, and my last day at work got closer, I was realizing that I didn’t have bronchitis, an upper respiratory infection, or anything like that. I was anxious. I was terrified. I was about to leave the comfort of constant busyness and a group of people always being around, and begin work in an area of student affairs with which I wasn’t familiar, as well as moving into an apartment with my boyfriend of a year. I knew I was burnt out with housing and had used it as a crutch for far too long when it came to ignoring my own well being. But somehow, doing what I knew deep down inside was best for me still sent me into a month-long anxiety attack. The more I saw my co-workers and friends start preparing for the upcoming school year, as I was preparing to leave and transition to another office across from campus, I started having a serious case of FOMO – fear of missing out. I didn’t understand why I was feeling the way I was, as I knew the decision I made was the best one for me, so I didn’t tell anyone about it.
At the end of July I moved off campus into an apartment with my boyfriend and started my new job. As I was sitting in a new office, reading the course catalog front to back, I realized how much I was focusing on what I was missing – staff training, opening, mandatory welcome week events. During one of the biggest professional and personal transitions in my life, all I could focus on was what I didn’t have. I realized how much the things that burned me out the most were the things I also missed the most. As silly as it may sound, my identity was that of someone who was on call 24/7, supervising 25 staff members, overseeing a building of 800 residents, and all of the various other responsibilities in between. I had allowed my identity to reflect my job completely and had used that to compensate for my anxiety.
After realizing this and processing it all, I knew I needed to truly open up to those I cared about in order to get help. Make no mistake, my boyfriend was and continues to be the biggest support I have, along with my family. But admitting my anxiety, and eventual depression, was the toughest thing of this entire process I had to do. To work through anxiety, though, I couldn’t just sit around and wait until it was gone. Rather, I had to confront it, address it, and utilize my support system to face it head on. I had to address what I was feeling, what I felt I was missing in my transition professionally and realize how it was affecting me personally.
Eventually, as I adjusted to how to work with my anxiety instead of against it, I had to accept that not being busy all of the time was okay. I have found how much busyness can be glorified in our field and how sometimes it’s okay to relax or have some free time. While it can be scary, and it can make you confront some things or issues that you may use busyness to compensate for, it’s worth taking the time to find yourself, accept yourself, and share your wonderful self with others, both the good and the “bad.”
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.