“SAD, NOT LAZY”: DEALING WITH MENTAL HEALTH IN UNIVERSITY
I recently came across an illustration with the words, “sad, not lazy”. It caught my attention because it made me think about the difference between being sad and being lazy. Often times when we see people slacking off, taking naps, not prioritizing their academics, we are quick to judge that they are “unmotivated”, “lazy”, or “wasting their time”. And although sometimes that can be the case, we mustn’t forget that depression and other mental health issues affect people in numerous different forms. Of course I know that there is a difference between short-term feelings of sadness, and more serious mental health conditions that can affect people for much longer. Nonetheless, negative thoughts play a huge role on our day to day lives.
I’ve struggled with depression for much of my life, and yet coming to university made me realize even more just how difficult it is to maintain a “composed” appearance when in reality your brain is consumed by a hurricane of emotions. Having a mental illness is exhausting. Sometimes the simple act of waking up and getting out of bed seems to take up all of your energy. Then proceeding to change, go to class, and attempt to actually concentrate on what your professor is saying when you’re consumed by dark thoughts shadowing your every move seems impossible. Perhaps the most exhausting of all is having to continuously explain to every person you encounter why you’re not “looking well”, or “looking tired”. Responding to the constant “is everything okay?” questions can be exhausting. Even if these questions are coming from a good place, it can feel overwhelming.
When you live on a university campus, there’s always a lot going on in terms of academics, social events, parties and so much more. We feel obliged to participate in all of the events on campus, but social anxiety is real, and when you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental health illness, it takes up all of your energy to be associated with large groups of people.
Sometimes you don’t want to talk to people, sometimes you don’t have the energy to put a smile on your face, and in return it’s easy for people to assume that you’re being rude or antisocial. We’re so quick to jump to assumptions about people, and I felt like during my first few months of university I tried hard to maintain a composed and cheerful nature. I used to feel guilty whenever I was feeling particularly depressed. “Why can’t I be more happy?”, I would ask myself. “Why can’t I be more enthusiastic about everything like everyone else?”. And whenever I addressed these concerns to people I would get the usual “we’re all going through something so don’t be fooled by everyone’s appearance” response. Although this is true to a certain extent, we’re all different in the way we handle our emotions, and some of us deal with things better than others. Whether other people are going through difficult times or not, you can not compare yourself to another person’s situation.
As my first year at university comes to an end, I was recently reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past year. I’ve realized the importance of surrounding myself with people who will comfort me and support me when I am feeling low, but also people who are there to give me an occasional reality check. We all need someone who pushes us on our worst days to get out of bed and go to class, or someone who reminds us to eat a meal or finish an assignment even when we absolutely do not want to.
At the end of the day, people will only see what they want to see and believe in what they want to believe. So instead of worrying about what others may think of you because of your mental health, I’ve learned to focus all of that energy in trying to navigate through these emotions. It’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind when you’re in a constantly demanding environment such as university. There are days when we question if we’ll be able to make it through the full four years, but if we’ve made it this far despite all of the setbacks, there’s no reason why we can’t push through a little longer, and most importantly, we must remind ourselves that our mental health does not define us, and that slowly but surely we will learn to better cope with and overcome these struggles.