I had never been inside of a therapist’s office before, but it was how I’d imagined it to be. Soft lighting enveloped the room, setting a carefully designed warm and tranquil atmosphere. I sank into a surprisingly comfortable chair as my drop-in therapist welcomed me. She was kind and we made some nice small talk, but she still had to address the elephant in the room: “What brings you here today?”
“I think I have depression,” I replied hesitantly. I let the words hang in the air for a bit. “Or I might just be dramatic.”
Turns out I wasn’t. The previous few months had been gruelling, to say the least. I don’t know what triggered it, but around November I was absolutely exhausted emotionally and physically. I dragged myself through the rest of the semester, just wanting to go back home to London for Christmas. Usually, I do my best to catch up with everyone back home, but didn’t want to do anything while I was there. I barely told my family and friends I’d returned. Nonetheless, when I arrived for the spring semester I was determined to start the new year right—but then I struggled to find joy in anything, even simple things like eating or listening to music. I couldn’t concentrate long enough to really enjoy my favorite shows. I wanted to sleep all the time because sleeping meant I wasn’t awake. I had no motivation and had to force myself to do almost everything. I was no longer myself.
I was actually in the Ferris pasta line of all places when I Googled “symptoms of depression,” and I was so concerned by how uncomfortably relatable the symptoms list was that I went to a CPS drop-in to see a therapist. My favorite part of my first therapy session was after I explained how I was feeling and my therapist leaned in and said, “I’m glad you came in today.” And just like that, after a couple more sessions, I was diagnosed with depression about a week before my 20th birthday.
Being diagnosed right before I entered a new decade was the hardest (Zoloft) pill to swallow. But, in a weird way, depression helped me come to terms with officially being an adult. It’s a new challenge that I have to navigate through in my life, much like moving to the United States or starting college. I’ve decided to properly kick off my column this semester by talking about my depression because it is a new lens to see the world through. My diagnosis was the start of an emotionally tumultuous semester that has forced me to be more vigilant about my mental and physical health, all for the better. I’m still learning, but I’m making more effort to exercise, eat healthier, and to finally be more forgiving and patient with myself. Even with the ups and downs, I’ve been constantly surrounded by loving, supportive friends and family both here and back home in the U.K. There is no mistaking that I am loved, and I am so grateful to be covered in love and prayer on both sides of the gaping Atlantic.
That being said, I do want to add to the already vast conversation about mental health on this campus. I believe that Columbia has contributed to the deterioration of my mental health, to the point where this year I felt slightly anxious to return because I associate this school with being depressed. I feel neglected by the administration because there is a clear difference between the façade and the inside life of Columbia (and Barnard too). I’ve watched the University roll out new grass on the lawns while my suite in Hartley was infested with roaches and rats in the walls. The administration told students hospitalized for heatstroke from non-air-conditioned dorms to eat celery. Reported racists and sexual assaulters are allowed to still walk around campus. All these incidents and more create an environment where I do not feel the University is doing its material best to look out for me. But considering the resources Columbia owns, this is a choice. This University is essentially a multibillion-dollar corporation, and every day it shows us its true priorities through how it chooses to spend the copious amount of money it has.
I would also like to have more discussions and read more about the impact racism has on mental health. The racist incidents on campus last year—confounded by the administration’s lackluster responses—only exasperated my depressed state and the feeling that my presence is not respected or cared for. Students of color—and particularly Black women—are expected to educate our peers and even professors on racism, with little consideration of our emotional wellbeing or the fact that we too are students who are here to learn. And, as I am doing now, Black women have to walk a tight line between voicing our concerns and being touted as “the angry Black woman.” What’s worse, when our concerns are dismissed we are made to feel as though everything is in our heads, leaving us struggling with the very real burdens of racism with little validation to mentally process everything. The racism on this campus is not only an issue of physical safety and inclusion but a mental health concern as well.
The thing that bewildered me the most about depression before going to therapy for a while was the disorientating peaks and troughs. I remember having breakfast with a friend during the lowest point of my first spiral and telling him how I was feeling. He told me ardently, urgently, that things do get better, no matter how empty I was feeling at the time. And I remember looking at him dead in the eyes and not believing a word that he said. I remember thinking that things could never get better, that he couldn’t understand. But here I am now. He was right.
Liberty Martin is a junior majoring in comparative literature and trying to get her degree before her degree gets her. All jokes aside, she’s really enjoying life right now while living with depression because of therapy and some lifestyle changes, and she would like to specially thank CPS for all their help. If you can relate to any of the issues she’s experienced or simply want to talk about mental health please look at the directory of on-campus mental health resources here. Please contact 1-800-273-8255 for resources and information about suicide prevention. Also feel free to reach out to reach out to Liberty via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at @libertytaking. View from the Seven runs alternate Mondays.
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