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Staying afloat in a hectic world: my best advice for mental health

My mental health ebbs and flows.

In my freshman year of high school, I was diagnosed with social anxiety and depression. For a long time, it was debilitating.

In middle school, I missed the maximum number of days allowed because I simply couldn’t go to school. For a while, my parents thought I had a gastrointestinal condition. Most school nights, I would fall asleep on the cold tile next to the toilet because I was so nauseous.

The doctors found nothing wrong with me, so I just kept my routine. Occasionally, it would get better. In seventh grade, I found a core group of friends who loved and supported me unconditionally. Things were really good.

In high school, however, I was thrown into a new sea of people. I dated the wrong ones and experienced a bad case of slut-shaming. In society, boys are never blamed; somehow it’s always the girl’s fault.

That burden was a lot to carry as a freshman, and things eventually got bad enough for a trip to the psychiatrist and a prescription for Pac-Sol — an anti-anxiety drug later deemed too strong for teens.

After that year of hell, the sun finally peeked through the clouds, and I thought I had finally overcome my mental illness.

Spoiler alert: They never really go away. You simply learn to manage them.

In a sense, college has been wonderful. I certainly have not sunk to the place I was as a freshman in high school. However, I can’t say that things are peachy-keen.

This pandemic — in combination with my entirely online schedule, lack of spring break, my mom’s recovery from surgery and the process of packing up my college house in preparation to move home — has definitely done a number on my mental well-being.

I can’t promise you a fix-all cure, but I can offer you advice based on how I function.

Step 1: Eat breakfast, always

I know getting out of bed can be hard, but a full stomach is the best way to forge on. If you don’t have the energy to make breakfast, buy pre-packaged drinks. Bolthouse Farms chai protein drinks are my go-to.

Step 2: Surround yourself with friends who care

I know this one is easier said than done. I really suck at keeping up with people. Luckily, I’ve found a group of people who love me regardless of how much I text them. Trust me, there’s nothing that elevates my spirit like talking with an old friend. You don’t even have to mention your mental health; just calling them is enough.

Step 3: Finish your assignments, even if it’s not your best work

I know school is tough, but when you start slipping up on assignments, everything else slips, too. Even if you can’t produce your best work, submit something. Communicate with your professors upfront about how you’re doing. They care; I promise.

Step 4: Find a way to get away

When everything is falling apart, find a place where you can get away. I have found several. Most mornings, afternoons and nights, I can be found on my rooftop that overlooks University Street. As the cars pass beneath me, I feel like I’m above the world, and thus, my problems. My anxiety can’t reach me when I’m 20 feet above the ground.

Another place I enjoy is Laura Bradley Park. When I can, I try running there at sunrise. I can’t explain how surreal it is. The landscape, skyline and atmosphere are other-worldly. When I get sick of running, I sit on the swingsets and watch the sky lighten.

Step 5: Do what you need to do to survive.

Recently, I quit my job. It wasn’t bringing me joy and hadn’t been for a while. Granted, I’m finally in a spot where I can afford to quit my job, but it was nonetheless essential. Participating in things that make you miserable, whether that be work or extracurriculars, is absolute madness. Forget your FOMO, get out of there.

That being said, please don’t quit things that are actually good for you. Don’t isolate yourself from the people who care about you because that never helps.

Again, I’m sure this is all really generic advice, but I promise it works and implore you to take it. People care about you, and you are irreplaceable.

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