I was 17 years old when I moved to Santa Barbara. I knew a handful of people there and had no idea what I was going to do once I got there. But it was the first place in two years that I didn’t feel scared. At 15, I witnessed a drive-by shooting outside my high school that left three students physically injured, and myself and many others mentally scarred. I spent a lot of time working up the courage to walk through a parking lot after that day and even more time learning that it was OK to be scared, but not to let the fear take over my life. Santa Barbara was the first place I didn’t look over shoulder every five minutes to make sure I wasn’t in danger. It was the first place I was able to walk alone without crying. It was where I learned to let go.
After 2 months of living in Santa Barbara I had learned something about myself that would affect me for the rest of my life: I was clinically depressed. A few incidents combined (fights with best friends, ending a relationship with someone I had feelings for, learning that I was failing my first college class, and the threat of getting not just myself, but my roommates evicted) led to what I call “the rabbit hole.” I use this term for the times when I get so deep into my depression that it feels like I have fallen into a hole thousands of feet below me and there is no possible way of getting out. After missing three days of classes because I couldn’t get out of bed without crying and a weekend recuperating at my mom’s house in Los Angeles, I managed to pull myself together. However, after a year I found myself back in the same place. More occurrences in my life had led me back into the rabbit hole, but this time, with the encouragement of my friends and family, I sought out help.
The Santa Barbara City College offered free counseling sessions to students. After finding the right psychologist and many sessions with her, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. While I’d expected as much for years, it was terrifying and liberating to know it was true. While I continued to struggle with my depression and the issues that it caused – anxiety when meeting new people, insecurities around the beautiful girls I felt I needed to compete with for the attention of boys, and the sense of abandonment by my friends back at home – I knew that I was getting better. My three years in Santa Barbara were a true test to my own strength. There were many times I wanted to just give up and go home, but I knew that in the end, it wouldn’t make me feel better. I continued to have issues with roommates, friends, boys, and my own self-esteem, but I had managed to learn the skills to help me move forward.
Just after graduating from SBCC I went to get a tattoo to remind me that despite all the struggles I went through why living in SB, I had made it out on top. I graduated with honors and was accepted into an excellent private school across the country, I had new friends who are still in my life to this day, and I was a better person because I took care of myself, no matter how hard it was. To this day I still have problems dealing with my depression, but every time I look down at my arm, I remember how it was a constant struggle to make it through the day, but that Santa Barbara had become a safe space for me to work on becoming the person I wanted to be – a person without fears.
The shooting at UCSB this past weekend has hit so close to home because of this. I have avoided certain social networks and TV for the past 24 hours because of the nightmares the shooting brought back. I am heartbroken that the safe space I look back on fondly has been battered by the hatred of one individual. But I know the strength of the community in IV, and I know that one day, this wound will scab over and leave a scar. I know that they will never forget, but that it will not tear it apart.