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7 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Starting College With Mental Illness

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I remember the excitement of pulling into my school on move in day. My mom and dad were sitting in the front seat and I couldn’t wait for them to leave. I, by no means, want to kill that excitement. College is great! I love my school, my classes and the friends I have made here that will last a lifetime. I know how many blogs out there talk about how great school is, what to pack and how to make the most of your freshman year because I am pretty sure I have read all of them. So let me help you with a topic less talked about that may be in the back of your mind: how do I deal with mental illness in college?

I had never been actually diagnosed with a mental illness when I entered college, but had been told by doctors that I might have anxiety and depression. Throughout the next two years, my mental illnesses really started to appear.

Here are 7 things I wish someone had told me about dealing with mental illness in college:

1. You are not alone.

Let me just say this one more time, you are not alone. I know how many times you have heard this, and until you discover it for yourself, you might not believe me. My first semester of college was really hard on my anxiety, but I did my best to hide it because I didn’t want my new friends to think less of me. When I did start to open up to my friends, not only were they super supportive, but a lot of them told me they struggled with mental illness as well.

2. It’s OK not to be OK.

I have to thank a really good friend for shoving this idea into my head. I think social media has made the need to be “perfect” even worse. We feel like we have to put up a front to make it seem like everything in our lives is so perfect, like we have a permanent rainbow over our heads. It’s just not realistic. I urge you to accept the fact that you are going to have bad days, and on those bad days, it’s OK if you can’t even get out of bed.

3. Seek out help.

Maybe you have been dealing with mental illness for awhile and you know how helpful it can be to have a therapist, or maybe the stress of school has aggravated an underlying problem. I know my school offers free counseling from three different programs and has support groups. If you know it will be difficult for you to find these resources, try asking your resident assistant. A lot of time they will offer to make the call with you or will walk with you to the office. They know the resources available and they care about you!

4. Seek out support.

Although professional help is great, you still might need the extra personal support. I think you need the friends you can text saying, ”I’m having a bad day,” and they bring you tea or coffee, or they just offer a shoulder to cry on. These friendships won’t happen overnight, but when you find them, they won’t leave. These are people who want to know the real you, who know you are not perfect and still love you. And keep persisting if friendship is difficult to find.

5. Get off campus.

This is a huge one for me. Campus can become it’s own little town that seems impossible to escape. Maybe it’s a church off campus that you go to and do things through. Maybe it’s somewhere you choose to volunteer. Even if it’s just going to a coffee shop, getting off of campus can give you some space from the stress of school. If I can find something to do in my small town, I think you can too.

6. Practice self-care.

This is another huge one for me. In college it can be so easy to go a few days without a shower (I know it sounds gross now but it happens to the best of us). It can be hard to make the time to do something relaxing when you have three papers due tomorrow along with three tests. There is no need to justify taking time for yourself. Maybe you spend 30 minutes at night reading a fun book or going for a walk. It also helps to have a morning routine. I know I have to wake up 45 minutes before I go somewhere off campus and 30 minutes if it’s on campus. This gives me time to shower and get ready for my day. Putting this time into your schedule just to make sure you do it each day is definitely worth it.

7. Don’t overdo it.

I was taking 15 credits freshman year. For me, this felt perfect. I had time for a part-time job and time to be involved on and off campus. By the beginning of second semester, I was burnt out and struggling to stay on top of college stress as well as home stress. It’s totally OK to drop a class or withdraw from it. Do what you need to do for your health! Taking 18 credits, leading three student organizations and having a full-time job are not worth the overwhelming stress that it could cause you.

I want to leave you with this: college is great, but it can take its toll. Know your limits and learn how to say no — it will help you to not get overwhelmed. Enjoy your college experience, but don’t put your health on the line to get the “typical” college experience. Your health takes number one priority.

You can do this! You can reach all your dreams! I believe in you!

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Thinkstock photo via Design Pics

Originally published: August 28, 2017
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