I attend a small liberal arts college literally out in the middle of nowhere. My campus sits in the hills amongst a bunch of cornfields in northeastern Ohio. There’s no ‘downtown fun’ or even a grocery store to walk to if you wanted something to do on a Friday night. It’s secluded, yet out in the open and somehow, eleven hundred of us have managed to call this place our home away from home. You see the same people every day and everyone knows your business- whether you like it or not. I won’t lie; sometimes it can be a little suffocating.
I am almost halfway through my second year now, which means I can no longer pass up studying to stay out late, or lose focus on the ‘something’ that could’ve actually waited until tomorrow. Granted, I’ve never been too conscientious of the time I spend on my academics. In some aspects, my lack of organizational skills, or overall indifference for the quality of work I produce, has set me back in school. In three semesters of college, I have managed to withdraw from three classes. Consequentially, I have three monstrous W’s on my transcripts and each time I have to register for another round of classes, I am reminded of my prior disappointments.
Because of the withdrawals during my first year, it was required of me to see the dean of students to discuss the options I had regarding my education. I wish I could’ve prepared a more well rounded explanation to the dean on why I dropped yet another course during my first year. I didn’t want to fall into their category of “unmotivated and needs to focus more.” Truthfully, I had been a depressed and anxious wreck, so going to have a sit down with the head of the school wasn’t exactly something I wanted to do. So, I talked. I decided it was better to be honest rather than lie about the sadness and hopeless feelings I had been experiencing. Instead of hearing the long, blown out of proportion “are you safe” response I normally get after I tell someone about my situation, the dean signed my withdraw form and I was out of that office in less than three minutes.
For the most part, everyone typically has the same reaction when you begin to talk to him or her about your depression. You can guarantee that their reply will include questions regarding your safety. Then comes the nod of the head from them and then following their nod, you plaster a smile onto your face and go about your merry way whilst breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t just pick up the phone and call 911 on you for being a safety risk.
Can you imagine if I had gone into the office that day and told them I had to withdraw because of another diagnosis? I can imagine it. I might have gotten a feel better hug and later, a fundraiser in my name to help support the medical costs of my care. I might have received some supportive phone calls the entire way through my treatment. Depression though? That’s now a family matter and good luck with that.
“To see is to believe.”
What makes mental illness so daunting is that you can’t see it while walking by someone. There are no classic symptoms or telltale signs that can help anyone self-diagnose you from a few feet away. Humans first need visual and then scientific confirmation to back up their acceptance in almost anything. The fear of the unknown has found its way to devise our favorite concept, stigma. The only way to break this fear is to keep sharing your story. Go against the societal norm of keeping things in the family and lend someone a hand during a hard time. I promise, even the smallest acts of kindness can turn someone’s day around.