Why is deciding where to begin always the hardest part of telling a story? Although my most painful struggle happened during my second year of college at Cal Poly, I feel like I need to touch on my high school self for everything to really make sense. In high school, I wouldn’t go straight into identifying myself as “popular” as I would rather use the adjective “well-known”. You could mention my name to every person in my senior class and they would be able to give you a fun fact about me: I was on the soccer team, I was in AP Calculus with them, I hung out in the ASB office at lunch, I was an after-school tutor in the library on Wednesdays. This doesn’t mean I was constantly engulfed with friends and a poppin’ social life, but more that I was a well-rounded student who stood out as an outgoing girl with a 4.6 GPA.
It was during my senior year where things started to fall apart a bit. I lost interest in my classes, I half-assed my soccer practices, and I started staying in bed all weekend. I specifically remember my favorite English teacher writing in my yearbook that although I was an all-star student, I “looked as if the life had been sucked out of me, that I was merely a ghost, a shell” (he had a flair for the dramatic, if you couldn’t tell). What he didn’t know, and what nobody else knew, was that the pressure of upkeeping my image had taken a toll on me, along with breaking up with my boyfriend (I know, I know, high school relationships are whatever but it felt like the end of the world at the time, okay).
This attitude stuck with me my entire first year of college, and although I kept up with monthly FaceTime calls with my therapist back home, I was still struggling. It was always off and on, some weeks better than others. My second year, I was encouraged by my older brother and some peers to rush a sorority, and things got better for a few months. I made some new friends, got a big sister, and always accepted invites to hang out with the cool senior girls. This is the part of my narrative where you should be imagining that ominous Jaws theme music.
To put it bluntly, shit hit the fan. Hard. My parents announced that they would be getting a divorce, and a lot of unflattering details came out about my father’s behavior the past few years. I had these pretty awful images of my father from when I was a child, and when my mom and I finally got to sit down and talk, I realized they were not nightmares, but real memories. This put a huge strain on our relationship. It was difficult because although my family had never been perfect, I was able to use San Luis Obispo as a sort of “la la land” away from all the drama, but Cal Poly had started to turn into a nightmare as well. My classes were getting harder, I was unsure of my future, and a boy I thought I could trust with many of my past secrets ended up breaking my heart. I felt like I had no true home and no one to turn to.
I would sleep for 12 hours every day, skipping class and meals because I was constantly fatigued. I was constantly irritable, and ended up screaming at my therapist and ignoring her for 6 months. I would take long drives, and daydream about hitting 100 mph, and veering into the road median and dying. I had anxiety attacks when I had to interact socially for more than an hour. I specifically remember driving home from class one day after a presentation, and losing all feeling in my legs. I crashed into a curb and hyperventilated until my eyesight stopped blurring. When it all became too much, I cut. Long scratches against my wrist with a razor blade I kept in my jewelry box. If the weather was expected to be warm, I would switch to carving up my hips and upper thighs. Of course, no one knew. I couldn’t turn to family because it was embarrassing and it seemed like everyone already had enough on their plate. I constantly hid it from my sorority sisters, because I would have rather died than be known as the “weird girl with depression”. On the nights I did go out with friends, posting silly selfies on Snapchat and Instagram, I usually ended up drinking too much and crying myself to sleep because nothing was making me happy like it used to.
I kept this up until one night, I found myself on the top of the engineering building looking over Highland Drive. It was cold and breezy out, and I kept willing myself to feel it, but all I felt was numbness. I tried to calculate if jumping from the 4th floor would actually kill me, or just result in some badly broken bones and a concussion. I thought about the person who would find me, probably some engineering student who was up late studying for a midterm. I thought about my mom.
That night, I called a friend, who in turn called my mom. He didn’t give her details, but just said he thought I was going through a rough patch with school. That phone call ended with my mom calling pretty much every psychiatrist in town until she found one she trusted with her baby girl’s life. By the next week, I was on a heavy dose of antidepressants and antianxiety medication, along with a list of vitamins to stock up on (apparently Vitamin D is nicknamed “sunshine in a pill”). This was two years ago, and I honestly can’t believe the turn around I have had. I haven’t had a self-harm relapse in about a year, and I am now much more open with my struggles. I am graduating in spring with my degree in Psychology and a minor in Biology. I hope to one day get my PhD in neuropsychology or psychopharmacology, so I can help those suffering with mental illness through science and research. In the meantime, I am running my senior project on the associations between mental health and membership in a Greek organization. I found that, although college student mental health is a popular topic in the psych world right now, Greek members are often overlooked. I would hate for anyone’s struggle or story to be overlooked just because they joined a fraternity or sorority. Looking back at my social media at the time, I see sooo many photos with friends and family, and it baffles me that I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone. I wish I would have had the courage sooner.