I’ve never been a journaling kind of person. Journals — to me, at least — are too hard to keep up. With how busy I am, sometimes it feels impossible to spare time to write about my day. I much prefer writing at the whim of my moods, which means that I usually write when I feel like it — or don’t at all.
As I head into my last year at UCSD, I’ve been asking myself what I really care about, especially in the context of my last three years here. It’s pretty cliche to say that I hadn’t really lived until I came to college, but it’s true. In the last three years, I’ve experienced the full spectrum of my emotions. I’ve crashed through the depths of sadness, rising to breathe when the haze in my mind clears just a little bit. I’ve been angry, though I never care to admit it, and I’ve cried a lot, most of the time alone. But even so, these last three years, while a painful roller coaster ride at times, have also been some of the best of my life.
It was in college that I started to go to therapy. It was in the four walls of my room in Discovery Hall that I became painfully aware what a panic attack was for the first time. It was during the course of many, many months at CAPS and a clinic off-campus that I began to work through all of my diagnoses and process the trauma I had internalized growing up.
In the same vein, I don’t feel like we have healthy conversations about mental health quite enough at UCSD. We laugh and joke about being depressed, but what do we actually tell each other and ourselves about mental health? How can we address mental health as individuals, as a campus, and as a society?
Throughout the course of this school year, I invite you to look back and reflect on my mental health journey with me. I want to share parts of my story with you, through my eyes, so you can live through me and see what it’s like to live with severe depression, with anxiety and panic disorder, with borderline personality disorder, with complex-PTSD. These diagnoses don’t make me less of a human being; I like to think they add shades of color to my person, but they definitely make it hard to get through each day sometimes. I want you to know that if you’re in the same boat, that’s completely okay.
There were days when I would wake up in the morning and all I felt was sadness that I did. I used to look at myself in the mirror and pick apart every single flaw I could find. I used to work myself to the bone because I thought that if I wasn’t being “productive,” I didn’t deserve to be alive. I worked to ignore the ache inside me, and I worked to justify my own existence. And every time I just didn’t feel enough, I took it out on myself. I berated myself with abusive, ugly words, just like the ones I grew up hearing. I destroyed my own skin and pushed people away. Sometimes, when it gets too hard, I still do.
I realized that we are often unkind to ourselves because we don’t know how to treat ourselves the way we really deserve. I also realized that no matter how awful my life felt, I still hated myself more. And that honestly felt like shit.
Our mental health varies depending on our identities, our personal preferences, and our thoughts. What works for me might not work for you because I’m not you. But it’s so important to acknowledge that our mental health exists, because it’s always going to be there, whether we choose to see it or not.
As I look back on my journey, I know that a lot of my symptoms, even though they can be alleviated, won’t go away. I’m always going to struggle with my disorders, but that doesn’t mean I won’t get better at coping with them. It doesn’t mean I won’t get better at coaching myself through each episode. It doesn’t mean I can’t be happy. It just means that my world might be painted a little differently than yours, and sometimes all I can see is black, white and grey. But it also means that the world can be more colorful if I can hold on tight and ride the wave out a little while longer.
I’ve often been told that because I struggle with so many disorders that I am crazy or sick. I’ve been told that it’s embarrassing to seek help for something that seemingly isn’t real. But I look back on Ella from just a year ago and I feel like a brighter version of myself because I’ve chosen to prioritize my mental health rather than reject it.
I’ve gotten used to the way people look at the scars on my arms. I used to flinch when they asked, or I’d stutter to find a response that seemed normal. But my scars are just as much a part of me as my disorders, my past, as my organs are. They are the souvenirs left from a part of my journey, and I believe that souvenirs should be cherished rather than hidden.
I can’t tell you that I fully love myself and every single fiber of my being, but I’m trying and I’m always, always learning. And the more I discover about myself, through meditation, through self-care, through listening, through going to therapy, the more things I’ve found to love and understanding.
It’s nice being my own friend. I hope that as we continue this journey together, you are also able to reflect on yours. I hope you realize that you aren’t alone.. And most importantly, I hope it helps you find some reasons to hold onto this world for just a tad bit longer. You may not believe it, but I think that we are built from fractals of stardust. So trust me when I say that there will always be a light within you that shines, even in your darkest, most painful days.
Take care until next month!