In Johann Hari’s TED Talk about addiction (which is fantastic), he claims that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. In my life, the same can be said for my mental health—the cure was connection. Let me explain.
I have always been a healthy person—physically, mentally, emotionally—with only a few exceptions. Last school year was one of those exceptions. I was a sophomore coming off an incredible freshman year, where I had been constantly surrounded by awesome people and an incredible atmosphere in my residence hall. I was living with the same three people from the dorms and was ready for another great year. The year didn’t go as planned.
Some of my core relationships, for one reason or another, broke down. My apartment, which I had expected to be a life-giving environment like the year before, became a place where I dreaded being. I began displaying uncharacteristic behaviors: I would isolate myself in my room for hours; I remember feeling a sense of despair and pointlessness; I would avoid hanging out with people; I even went to the doctor during second semester because I was so exhausted all the time—a deep, oppressive exhausted that could not be remedied by coffee or extra sleep. Eventually, I began to realize what was happening, and I fought against it as hard as I could, telling myself, “I’m not this kind of person; I won’t submit to this.” That helped, but that exhaustion and sense of hopelessness still tried to claw its way into my life.
Near the end of the year, I was at LifeGroup with my church, and we were all sharing about our lives and how we were doing.
I remember being so afraid, thinking that by giving language to what I was feeling, I was giving power to the sickness.”
But I also knew that I needed to talk about it, so I took a deep breath and told them, “I’ve been displaying symptoms of depression.” Rather than give it more power in my life, however, this vulnerability was an incredibly freeing moment. Even with this experience, though, I entered this year afraid that I would slip back into those destructive habits, and once the year began it would be too much for me to handle again.
But this year has been amazing. I used to hide in my room to do homework. This year I haven’t done homework there once. I used to avoid common spaces, like the kitchen. Now that’s where I spend most of my waking hours at home. I’m less involved on campus than I was last year, but I feel more important and more a part of it than I did.
What I was searching for all of last year was not involvement or importance, but connection. I’m surrounded by connection.”
My roommates are amazing; I feel totally free to be myself and share my junk. Every day, someone is over at our house studying, talking, hanging out, or watching movies. Whereas a year ago I wanted to escape my living situation, now my house is a place for others to escape to. As I write this, I realize that I haven’t dealt with depression in probably two months at least—and that’s amazing.
Of course, my battle with depression was relatively mild. I know people who have had such crippling mental illness that they couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning. My purpose in sharing my story is not to say that everyone will experience healing in this way; it’s more about showing that healing is possible and encouraging people who are struggling. I realize that not everyone can change their living situation or find great friends easily. So I’ll just give three words of advice for anyone dealing with depression, or any kind of mental illness:
- Vocalize. I know it’s terrifying, but tell someone. There’s no shame in struggling, and you actually give it more power by keeping it locked away and hidden. Having it all together is overrated, and you’re not fooling anyone. There are people who care about you, and they want to help you.
- Socialize. This one was really hard for me. When I was dealing with this last year, I just wanted to put in my earbuds and go to my room and listen to my radio show—but that only made it worse. Sometimes making that effort will feel like a waste of time, but I promise: it’s worth it.
- Connect. This one doesn’t come with a step-by-step process, and there is no one way to find connection—but it was the cure for me. Whether that means finding a new community, making the effort to meet up with someone once a week to talk about your mental health, or just calling your mom/dad every few days, it all helps. I could have made my life a lot easier last year if I had reached out to people who loved me and been honest with them.
The University has resources, like the Counseling Center (I’ve been there) and Goddard, with doctors who can prescribe medicine, if that’s what you need. Use them—that’s why they exist. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to recognize a problem too late. Don’t be afraid.
All of us want to be healthy, and one of the best remedies for mental illness is finding someone else who is struggling and connecting with them. Who knows? Maybe that connection will lead to healing—for both of you.