To the Student Still Awake in Your Dorm Room Afraid to Ask for Help
Dear 18-year-old self,
Right now you are wrapped in your dirty dorm room sheets. It’s 5 a.m. Your roommate is sleeping soundly, taunting you with her snores. You know that in three hours, the sun will rise and you’ll be expected to attend your 8 a.m. class. Only you know you won’t be there.
Instead of taking notes on paper with pencil, you’ve spent the week marking up your abdomen with razor marks. Instead of answering multiple choice questions like the average college student you hoped you could be, you’ve etched lines into your hips and thighs like you’re trying to communicate some message to yourself.
I wish I could’ve been there with you to help you figure all this out.
You’ve been suicidal for months now. You’ve been suicidal in years past, too, but this year’s been the hardest. It’s January, and the trees are bare of leaves. Darkness falls early in the afternoon. You grow resentful of the pigeons who can escape your 11th story window, the one that opens only a few inches — the one that makes it feel like you’re suffocating. Not even a month into the semester and you are failing all of your classes. There is a moat of trash around your bed. You stay in sweatpants and skip your showers.
Since orientation, you’ve thumbed through the college information booklet on serval occasions, your trembling finger resting on the page with the counseling center’s phone number.
Of course, you don’t call. You’re too scared.
You’re worried that once you ask for help things will never be the same again. They won’t be. You’ll need to put life on pause for a bit while you learn to live again. And this does mean some scary things, like inpatient and intensive outpatient hospitalization. It means swallowing pills, and it means looking into your parents’ faces and telling them, “I’m not OK.” It means resting up and resuming school only when you’re ready.
You’re worried that, once again, you won’t get a straight answer about what’s “wrong with you.” You won’t. Yes, you’ll receive a diagnosis. But you’ll learn this is no recipe to feeling safe and sane. You’ll discover that even with the right medication, life’s stresses and changing seasons can make it hard to find stability and balance. But you’ll eventually learn to read the signs, to lean right when the world pulls you left.
You’re worried that once you get treatment you’ll “screw up” your recovery and have to repeat the cycle of getting well all over again. You will. You’ll question your diagnosis and your therapists. On more than one occasion, you’ll refuse to take your medications. You will blame your illness on the doctors, blame it on your mom, blame it on societal stigma. It will take years before you can comfortably put the blame where the blame belongs: on your brain.
You’re worried this will be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do in your life: Walking past the Dunkin’ Donuts, turning right onto Tremont Street, and making that left-hand turn into the building that houses the counseling office. And it will be.
When you cross the threshold into the waiting room, you’ll immediately break down and cry. Splotchy tears will create wet marks on your purple shirt, and snot will run out of your nose. The concerned receptionist will call for someone to see you right that moment. You will shiver and shake as you explain the silence of struggling with mental illness for the past six years. The intake therapist intake therapist will nod, take rapid, scrawling notes, and hand you a box of tissues. When you leave, you’ll feel like you’re made of rubber.
So, I know this might not sound so appealing right now. But believe me — please — it is worth it.
It is worth it because you will come out of this whole thing stronger than ever before. You will become empathetic; you will become resilient. And hey, if nothing else, you will have a story to tell. You’ll be able to talk openly with others who have been in your shoes, and you will heal through the once-unspeakable conversations you’ll have. The world will eventually turn from gray to light. This is somehow not impossible.
It is worth it to seek help because, even though you have done nothing but aimlessly surf the internet for four days straight this week, in less than a decade you will have done all these things: You will have completed college with a Bachelor’s degree; you will have skydived, traveled to London, been a barista, and seen Florida and Chicago. You will even get a full-time job and see your older sister get engaged. Most importantly, your family and friends will have you in their lives to hug and laugh with, and you will have them to hug and laugh with, too.
In a few hours, the sun will come up. There will be dark bags under your eyes, and the places where you’ve hurt yourself overnight will groan in pain. I’m sad I can’t wipe away those sores for you, but I’m happy they can heal in time. I’m here to tell you that you can do this, that you are strong enough to do this, and that you deserve every minute of the life that’s ahead of you. Especially the good ones.
Your 25-year-old self
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