I came back to Cal Poly at the start of 2017 feeling on top of the world– I thought I was “living my best life.” I had just lived abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark for the past four months and I felt cool, accomplished, smart, and I had a new wardrobe to prove it. I was stemming from an incredible experience where I learned about my passion, urban design, every day in one of the best designed cities in the world. I had never been happier. But soon my happiness and my passion wore off. Back at Cal Poly I felt confined, I could no longer walk and access anything I needed at any moment of the day. The momentum and energy that exudes from living in an urban environment that I so much thrived off of was gone. I was back to learning about land use and fiscal policy and the creativity I had harnessed while while in Denmark fizzled into oblivion in my own mind.
School has always made me extremely happy, I had friends in my classes and I felt connected to what I was learning, but when I came back to Cal Poly the relationships I had with my classmates and the skills I was learning in class no longer were fun or entertaining to me. They seemed unpractical and no longer were helpful for fulfilling my new dreams. My friends I had made from the last two years at Cal Poly no longer were interesting to me, and they seemed dull and unoriginal compared to the stimulating and “artistic” ones I had made while abroad. I dreaded going to class. My stomach would hurt at the thought of studying “boring” material. My mind would race everytime I close my eyes to go to sleep, thinking of all the ideas I had that I felt were being wasted away in the confines of San Luis Obispo. The peaks of SLO I once thought were so beautiful felt like they were suffocating me and trapping me in small time suburban America. And I felt I had no words to describe it and that I had no one to talk to about it. I needed out.
Finals week came around faster than expected and I took a look at my grades and was extremely disappointed in myself. I once was an A student with a 3.6 GPA but I found myself barely passing some of my classes, failing others, and feeling like there is nothing I could do to change it. Unsure how I got to this point it felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I hated what I was learning, my dreams no longer seemed feasible, my friends were no longer who I wanted them to be, and I was failing my classes. So cloudy afternoon I called my mom from outside the library full on heaving and ugly crying and told her I was going to withdraw from Cal Poly next quarter, and she told me “okay if that’s what you want to do, go for it.” And that’s when it changed.
It was my mom telling me that I could drop out of school, I was an adult after all and I was capable of making my own decisions, that I realized I could also be the one to help change the way I was feeling. Starting in the spring I started seeing a therapist, I was diagnosed with anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder and I started the process of refocusing my life. I started with remembering what once used to make me happy and why it did. I remembered how great my friends are and how lucky I am to have people who still liked me after months of me being a bad friend to them. I learned that not everything you have to do in life is going to make you happy all the time, and sometimes these more “dull” moments in life are just stepping stones to something amazing in the future.
I know what I experienced is not unique, and most people experience anxiety in their life at one point or another, but still it felt like it was me against the world. I did not talk to even my closest friends about what I was feeling until I reached my breaking point. Throughout this entire experience I felt like I had to keep up the appearance of a “spunky and adventurous girl” on Instagram. Mental health is such an important aspect of life yet I never once thought to share anything on the Internet but the “highlight reel” of my life with all 1,000 of my “closest friends.”
Most people who know me know I am very much an open book and extremely outgoing. I will tell pretty much anyone anything about me if they ask me and my issues with mental health have been no different. I feel that many people feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell their friends that they see a therapist, they feel weak for not being able to handle it themselves. But in reality getting help is handling it. The last few months I have become very open about speaking about my experience in hopes to inspiring others who might be facing hard times to seek help if they need it– but still my social media has remained mental health talk free.
I think one of my main reasons I have never posted about it is my personal passion for genuine interpersonal connections, something Facebook and Instagram do not provide me with. I have always felt like that random person who follows me who I have not actually spoken to since middle school did not need to know anything other than how “great” and how much “cooler” I am now then when they knew me as a twelve-year old. But what makes them different than the persons I share my story with in person? Maybe they need to hear it from someone who looks like they are “living their best life” on the Internet, serving a reminder that “living your best life” also means being healthy and happy and has nothing to do with breaking 200 likes.