In my sophomore year of high school, I told my mom why it was my second week of skipping school. I wasn’t sick; I tried to jump from the 35th floor of our apartment window when nobody was home. The day I told her what was then my most shameful secret, my mom took me to the park just five minutes away from where we lived; where I read a book with my head resting on her lap, where she told me how important I was to her. Things became easier and a bit happier—it was the first time I had ever told anybody I felt otherwise. Then I left my home in beautiful, imperfect Hawaii Nei and came to beautiful, imperfect UBC.
Instantly, I started losing sight of self-love. During my first year of university, I went to only about half of my classes. Schoolwork was heavy, but I wouldn’t study. I would sleep at 3am and wake up at 2pm. Days would pass as I avoided speaking to others. Boys fell out of love with me faster than I could recover. Most nights I don’t remember because I was either drunk or high. Of the nights I had gone out with friends, many ended with me crying on somebody’s shoulder outside of Pita Pit. And yet, I knew everyone around me was probably going through the same things. UBC Counselling was booked up for the next month and I didn’t have the slightest bit of confidence in myself that I could deal with anything, really. In the simplest way, I was sad, and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would never be able to beat it.
Mental health is a tricky thing because for most people, depression and anxiety never truly leave you. Oftentimes, it is the part of you which you despise the most; it disgusts and devours your self-worth, until you’re ultimately forced to surrender to it. That’s when you break down completely, ugly crying into pillows until you realize that the hyperventilating is just the onset of another panic attack. That happens to everybody though, right? I was no special case.
For me, it was all those things, as well as pushing away my loved ones, replacing them with harmful substances, hiding away in my room, and refusing to respect myself. I tried to disguise my sadness as something else, blacking out on weekends so I could convince both myself and my therapist that I was more than depressed or anxious. Instead, I was an addict or a self-abuser or a nut job. It seems as if one day I had just decided that my life was a tragedy—not tragic enough to end, but tragic enough that I could never be happy.
The truth is, the more I wished I wasn’t wired this way, the more I beat myself up for it. Then, time just sort of passed by me. Despite my odds, I made it to 22.
For the most part nowadays, I wake up feeling okay. I went to go see a behavioral therapist, got prescribed some medication, and allowed myself to feel sad. I deleted sad songs from my morning routine. I drink less when I go out, but I still go out. I’ve replaced Instagram with Parks and Recreation. I even laugh out loud when I watch it by myself now! Eventually, I learned to put aside the image of myself as a lost cause, and without realizing, my depression slowly began to fade into the background again. Of course, I know it will come back forward again someday, but that’s okay, because it’s what happens.
I still have days where I feel as though I can’t leave my bed because stress, heartbreak, and self-hatred are pinning me down. I still go to sleep sometimes, afraid of falling into another hopeless space tomorrow. I still drink or smoke too much once in a while. Even so, I wake up the next morning, take my anti-depressants with a glass of water, and keep going about my day. Go for a run. Watch the sunset. Text your friends. Breathe. Focus on the sky and the trees and the birds and everything will be okay.
I started treating myself as I would a friend, a stranger, even my own mother. I stopped speaking about myself and began speaking directly to myself. I used “you”, “your”, and “yours” because I wanted to remind myself that I was my own friend. With that small realization, I started leaving myself notes around my room on good days, so that I could read them when I had bad days.
I strictly drink decaf tea at night. I try to keep my toenails painted. I even deliberately changed my vocabulary, using more often words like “still beautiful!” to describe a Vancouver-esque rainy day, or “good enough!” after coming home from a long day of work, or “still fuckin’ sick!!!!!!” to cheer myself up whenever I am feeling like a lame excuse for a human. Sooner than later, I also found myself repeating everyday: It’s okay! It’s okay to be angry, sad, and lonely. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
The crippling anxiety and depression still rest heavily on my shoulders. I still cry in bathroom stalls and turn in assignments two weeks late. But I try to forgive myself more, and when I can’t, I try to forgive myself for that too.
If you relate to any of this, please don’t beat yourself up anymore for your decisions. Try instead, from now on, to make better ones. And when you don’t? That’s okay too! Rinse and repeat.