When I got back onto campus after a year off for medical leave to treat my depression and anxiety, I had so much energy. The first week I was back, I tackled huge tasks: cleaning out a fridge and pantry overridden with ghosts of tenants past, arranging my room and then re-arranging and re-arranging. When classes hit, I was a little glad to have an outlet for this unfamiliar feeling. I found my rhythm. I settled in.
It was a supremely affirming feeling to be back in school. I still struggled managing my energy, but I found a pace that worked to get everything I wanted done. I reconnected with friends, made new connections and felt myself actively thriving (a previously foreign concept). The feeling of my personal needs not outweighing my academic and social desires was liberating: for the first time in four years, I felt competent in school. I still struggled with my energy and paying attention, but even an obvious case of ADHD and hypomanic episodes seemed so manageable in the context of having struggled for years with wanting to be alive.
I went into winter break proud and just a bit tired. I came out of winter break feeling downtrodden and grumpy. I think this was due to noticing just how much mental illness affected those close to me, and resonating with how often my friends felt trapped. I also felt trapped within a school system that was obviously not built for me in many ways. Above all, I felt the stress of distance from many of my friends, as most of them are seniors working on theses and job applications while I am still here.
As the semester started, I told myself, “I just need to get settled.” To find a pace and stick to it. I pushed myself to stay positive about classes and the limbo between strong friend groups. But even as I found new connections, I remained emotionally unstable and tired. I at least felt some sense of relief seeing others dealing with similar struggles, especially with energy. I pushed myself to remember that I was high energy before winter came, and that I could very well be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. I forced myself to exercise, went to weekly counseling meetings and kept myself around people to cope.
The semester is nearing some sort of end, and I am still feeling a lack of consistency. It’s easy to minimize the big changes I have been seeing in myself and the world around me, and vie to find stability by trying harder. The world is seeing the effects of global climate change, our country’s government is proving its flaws and I have come to terms with needing top surgery in the near future to alleviate my dysphoria. I struggle between holding myself accountable and cutting myself slack weekly. I have to remind myself that sometimes every day becomes a completely new challenge. Some semesters you might just not be able to settle in. Life doesn’t stop for the barrage of stresses that come with academic life, and some days you have to be okay with looking like a mess.