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Why You Should Take Care of Yourself Before Taking Care of School

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“If you wouldn’t have gotten help this semester, you would have ended up in the hospital.” 

This statement from my counselor chilled me to the bone. I was still functioning and succeeding in school and work, so I couldn’t understand how she could think I was in such a bad place. Almost a year later and after being prescribed antidepressants, I now see she was right. I had accepted that I had depression and anxiety, but I didn’t think it was that big of a problem. And the illnesses themselves weren’t the problem. The problem was I didn’t realize how bad it was.

I didn’t realize my mental status was severe. I thought I was a negative person and my attitude was something I would need to accept. I didn’t realize suicidal and self-deprecating thoughts should have caused concern, so I kept them to myself. In my head, it was normal to sit after you had finished a test because you didn’t want all eyes on you when walking to the front of the classroom to hand it in. I didn’t know self-harm was a serious concern, and that it wouldn’t be perceived as me simply “seeking attention.”

I also didn’t realize my level of physical exhaustion wasn’t normal. I was so exhausted that I struggled to walk up a flight of stairs to get to class. I assumed this was because I was tired, but the reality is that my body was so exhausted, it was beginning to shut down. I thought shaking just meant I was nervous, not realizing my body was trying to cope with high levels of anxiety. I thought diving into my schoolwork and extracurriculars would help me feel better. Truthfully, it kept me from seeing how much I was really struggling.

I didn’t even notice I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t showering for days at at time. I wasn’t eating like I normally did — thinking it was just me being busy. I was receiving no nutrition in my diet that consisted of cans of soup and microwave meals. I would sleep through the weekends, thinking I was tired from the week. I wasn’t listening to my body, as it was trying to tell me I needed a break. I was oblivious to all of it.

If there is anything I have realized in my battle with depression and anxiety, it’s that no one else can make you get better. It has to be something you want to do. That’s part of what makes my mental illness so scary: it doesn’t let you see how bad it is. I had to hit rock bottom before I was able to see how poor my mental health was.

With the school year about to begin, it becomes more important to assess my mental health on a regular basis. Having a mental illness has taught me a lot in my schooling, but to everyone struggling with mental illness, please know this: It is OK to take breaks. It is OK to take time for yourself and admit you are not doing well. Your mental health will always be more important than your paper being handed in on time. If you need help, ask for it. If you don’t take care of yourself as a person, you won’t be able to take care of yourself as a student. I can do this, and you can too. 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via macrovector.

Originally published: August 30, 2017
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