“Want to meet up at the gym?”
I was walking home from the student health services building, having just had blood drawn for a skin test. They hadn’t taken too much, just enough to fill three small collection tubes, but a sense of fatigue was slowly overpowering me as I continued to walk. I wanted to convince myself that it was just the blood, but I recognized the sensation. Oh no, I thought. It’s happening again.
Summer had been wonderful. Making it a conscious goal every day not to get too stressed out, I hadn’t taken on any internships at envy-inducing or prominent companies; the two-and-a-half months before I started college was one entirely dedicated to friends, family, good food, and good TV in Tokyo, Singapore, and Shanghai. Without late-night breakdowns over tests that compelled multiple teachers to warn me not to work so hard, my hair started falling out less. I felt great. Even better, I felt good again. The feeling had been absent for months, and when I stepped on campus, I was convinced that I had finally beaten the alternating depression and anxiety cycle that had kept its grips on me for the last four years. I’m fine again. I’m normal again. Freshman year is going to be awesome.
But the feeling was back.
I felt it in the high rise university building at one in the morning during new student orientation. My new friends and I were listening to tropical remixes, telling stories of our pasts, and genuinely reveling in each other’s company. And all of a sudden, my energy levels just plummeted. I was used to being up this late – 2 a.m. studying had become the norm. But this was an exhaustion that even AP Statistics could not compete with. It felt like a switch had been flipped. It was simultaneously a desire to collapse and a desire to run. In seconds, I went from wanting to talk all night to desperate to escape. I knew that I loved these people, but in that moment, all I wanted to do was be alone.
I felt it in the library too. We were all glazing over at our respective texts, and in seconds, I went from feeling warm and fuzzy about having a group of friends to study with to wanting to scream and burst into tears. I felt it at dinner, at frat parties, and now, on my way home, I was feeling it too.
The worst part about this feeling is how inexplicable it is. At least in high school, I could pinpoint reasons for my feelings, as trivial as they were. I used to question whether or not I was actually suffering from a mental illness. Perhaps I was just a typical whiny Asian teenager who just couldn’t maturely handle the desire – or more accurately, the need – to be fucking awesome at everything. But looking back, I don’t think the recurrent suicidal thoughts were normal. I don’t think the hyperventilation and panic attacks were typical whiny Asian teenage behavior. And in college, I can’t understand this sudden sadness when I’m otherwise feeling so happy.
I picked up my phone again and looked at the last message I’d sent. “I guess” stared back at me unconvincingly.
“Actually, I think I need to head home instead… I’m too tired… I’m sorry,” I sent.
One thing I’ve learned so far is that mental illness isn’t static. It can manifest itself in unexpected ways, new ways, that you’ll have to adjust to. One diagnosis won’t necessarily be able to capture your whole experience, a fact for which I’m very thankful.
In my Math lecture, my professor announced that the curve would be roughly set in a way that would allow only 30% of people to receive As. High school me would have freaked out and immediately started looking around the lecture hall trying to identify the 70% that I would have to beat, but I’m happy to say that I accepted this news peacefully. The workload here is pretty substantial as well, but instead of crying hysterically in a ball on the floor, I’m managing to push through it. I’m glad the anxiety is fading, but the deadening feeling is also paralyzing. It’s just less outwardly noticeable.
However, just resting and relaxing has proven time and time again to be immensely helpful. I’d encourage anyone out there who feels that sometimes life is a little too much to try to say no, and to try to be okay with taking the time to feel okay again. And I’m working on being present in life as well. When he came over ten minutes later to comfort me, I took a deep breath and focused on being all there, focused on the warmth of his hands as he rubbed my arms, focused on the coolness of the air on my skin, focused on the beautiful silence in the room. I’m not yet sure how to deal with this change, but I’m slowly figuring it out.
The author is a freshman. Photography by Alex Atienza.