The Mighty Logo

Why Saying 'I Can't Do This' Was the Bravest Thing I've Done

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Scrolling through my Instagram newsfeed, I double-tap to “like” the edited pictures of my fellow junior classmates. I glide my thumb past breathtaking New Orleans sunsets, the green and white blurs of Tulane crowds celebrating football tailgating season, the mouthwatering biscuits artistically captured at a Saturday brunch at Satsuma. I sift through the third-year semester abroad images; I admire the Parisian macaroons, the various sorority finger combinations overlooking the colorful boats in Copenhagen, Denmark, the selfie stick group shots in Berlin. From a digital perspective, fall 2015 is off to a fantastic start for the Tulane community.

But not for me.

Call me Insta-frustrated, but let’s just say my semester is not going quite as intended. In fact, if this semester were a jellybean, it would be that universally disliked popcorn flavored one. If this semester were a Blackboard assignment, it would be in the style of an essay typed in MLA format. That’s correct. MLA: Medical Leave of Absence.

I know, right? It’s literally the most embarrassing thing to say on this campus.

Tulane is ranked among the “Happiest Universities in America” and here I am, crying in my bed at home, eating chocolate by the pound, wallowing in my woes. It seems uncharacteristic of a freshmen resident advisor-Green Wave Ambassador hybrid to be struggling with mental health, especially because I proudly identify as a bubbly Libra with undying enthusiasm and an outgoing personality. Talk about a major plot-twist.

Actually, mental illness and I have been in a relationship for about three years now; the very first friend I made at Tulane was generalized anxiety. It has been no walk in Audubon Park, but with support from Counseling and Psychological Services, friends and family, regular exercise and massive amounts of journaling, I maneuvered through my freshman and sophomore year with solid grades, campus involvement and lifelong memories.

Like many other privileged 20-year-olds in college, I wanted to travel overseas for a semester. My growing infatuation with Asian culture combined with the societal pressures of studying abroad led me to purchase a one-way plane ticket, and thus I began the fall of my junior year in Seoul, South Korea, on a Tulane-approved program at Yonsei University, carrying only a 50-lb. suitcase and my nervous excitement.

Week one was over-stimulating and exhilarating, complete with new friendships, kimchi and rice, K-Pop music, museums, cultural shock and everything in between. In week two I started classes, learning introductory Hangul (the Korean alphabet), navigating the scenic campus and getting situated into some kind of routine.

Then, out of the blue, everything changed. Suddenly my travel excitement had completely evaporated. I became overwhelmed; every task, no matter how small or large, appeared daunting. I would wake up in the morning with a massive pit in my stomach, already inundated by the challenge of conquering a new day. I postponed simple chores, like laundry or food shopping, in fear that I would panic while attempting to comprehend foreign products. I remained hidden away in my dorm room for hours each day, hysterically crying as my experience began to unravel.

I slept and slept and slept; this unhealthy coping mechanism allowed me to avoid all confrontation with my frustration. I stopped eating. I missed classes. I lost 10 pounds and slept 17 hours each day. Weeks three and four were physically and emotionally debilitating as I slid deep into anxiety and depression without any ability to control it.

I made the extremely tough decision of taking a medical leave of absence. Naturally I felt defeated and disappointed in myself, constantly doubting my self-worth as I packed my bags. I bawled through the entire plane ride home. I tried so patiently to make sense of this incredibly irrational and illogical situation, but the more I hyper-analyzed my mind, the more aggravated I felt. It simply made zero sense, and in that moment, I don’t think it needed to. The best thing you can provide for someone suffering with a similar experience would be validation. I craved hearing the words “You are allowed to feel this way,” or “I hear you, this does not have to make sense” or “Yes, it can totally be infuriating.” (Hugs wouldn’t have hurt either.)

Now, a month later, shame and embarrassment may still tug at my conscious, but I chose to prioritize my health and wellbeing over the anticipated reactions to and stigmatized perceptions of my mental state. Sometimes, the most courageous choice is not to relentlessly persevere; sometimes the choice to say “I can’t do this” is the bravest of them all.

Fortunately, I found comfort in my family’s unwavering support. My appetite returned, I’m tackling an awesome paid internship and I’m even taking a class at a nearby graduate school. I am surrounding myself with positive energy and unconditional love. Yes, there are mornings when I absolutely hate everything and deem life utterly unfair, but the cliche “everything happens for a reason” can’t be too untrue, right? It’s time for us to end the mental health stigma in our society because this introspective process I went through, while certainly expensive and exhausting, truly enabled me to embrace my needs, listen to my body and develop attentiveness to those around me.

Thanks, Tulane Office of Study Abroad for a life-changing experience, albeit an unorthodox one. I’ll see you next semester in the spring, refueled to return to my NOLA home.

And, in the meantime, I’ll keep trolling your Instagram feeds! #FOMO

This piece was originally published on the Tulane Hullabaloo.

Originally published: December 3, 2015
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home