When I was 20 years old I was diagnosed with social and generalized anxiety disorder. I don’t tell many people about it because I am often embarrassed by the condition. Also, a lot of people don’t understand what it means, and some people don’t believe it exists at all. Most of you have seen the social media posts about identifying mental illness as a weakness and that is because there is a stigma about the existence of it. Because of that fact it is difficult for those with mental illnesses to feel free to open up. I know it exists because I am living every day with it. I know I am not the only mom in college who suffers from a mental illness and I want to make sure to reach out to the moms who do.
At first I was medicated but after a year on medication it just wasn’t working for me. If you do take medication and it works, I am happy for you but as a personal choice and because it’s possible for me, medication is my last resort. Instead I meditate, pray, and try to find ways to get the serotonin flowing. I also try to find ways to accommodate myself in different scenarios: I am always on the aisle seat on a plane, I sit on the side or in the back of the classroom in the same seat every week, etc. I have learned to cope in a way that has allowed me success thus far. The good news is, the college routine, while insane, gives me balance. However, semesters come to an end, don’t they? Two years ago during the summer I noticed that my mood changed drastically and I decided to see the psychiatrist on my college campus. The semester had been over for a few weeks and I felt withdrawn, unhappy, and depressed in general. How was this possible? I had just earned fantastic grades and was really proud of myself. I told her about my diagnosis and she then evaluated me briefly and told me that she felt I was dealing with Seasonal depression (also known as SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder).
Some symptoms are:
- Increased Sleep
- Carb cravings
- Decreased sex drive
- Avoiding social interaction
- Difficulty performing daily tasks
- Crying fits
- Suicidal thoughts
A small percentage of people experience this in the winter months, but there is an even smaller group that experience it in the summer. The psychiatrist told me that because I suffer from anxiety disorder, breaking away from my routine is stressful for me to the point where I don’t know how to function and I think she is right. Last summer wasn’t as bad, but this summer is. At first I felt fine but very slowly I have come to the place I am now – all of my social anxiety symptoms come to life and couple themselves with depression. I doubt myself constantly and when I do not doubt myself I am usually asleep. Oh and I barely sleep, did I mention that? It’s no fun and it’s not fair to my children either. However, there is a light at the end of this tunnel, I know it and I want you to know it too! Today I am here to tell you if you suffer from similar illnesses, you are not alone and there is a way to cope. Here are my tips on finding peace during summer break (or winter break):
- Write. Keeping a journal is a great way to get your feelings down on paper instead of internalizing how you feel. Some of you may not feel comfortable doing this, so find another way to connect to yourself: take a walk, get a coffee, read a book. Do something that allows you to connect with yourself.
- Get outside. Similar to the first but more specific to the cause of getting some sunshine! There is a reason seasonal depression is higher in the winter: the sunshine doesn’t shine as much and people are stuck inside. So, before you even get a chance to get to the place where you withdraw, get out and soak up the sun: take a walk, go to the beach, the park, etc.
- Eat healthy. Part of being a healthy person is putting good stuff into our bodies. Many students end up binge eating during finals and as much as it makes us feel better temporarily, it’s not good for you. Try to eat healthy food with a heavy load of veggies and fruit.
- Meditate and/or exercise. Take time to be mindful of yourself in the silence of your room, a park, anywhere really. Many people think that meditation has to be a very formal thing but it doesn’t have to be. If you don’t feel comfortable meditating, try exercise! Physical activity induces a higher level of serotonin (the happy hormone) and can improve your mood.
- Give back. Do something for others. This can be through your church, your school, a rescue mission, etc. I just signed up to volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles and I am really excited to start. That opportunity alone has helped me overcome my depression quite a bit in the last week. Doing something for someone else is equally as rewarding for the one doing the good deed and I guarantee you will feel good for whatever you do!
- Take a summer class (if possible). Even if you can only take one class, do it! The routine may not be quite the same but it could help. If you can’t take a class then look for one online, there are plenty of free courses now and you can find a good list here: http://www.mooc-list.com
I may be feeling down right now, but I am confident that the more of these things I strive to do, the better I will feel. It’s all about transitioning into a new routine!
If you have never been diagnosed with depression or any another mental illness, I want to encourage you to get help if my story is familiar to your own. This summer you may already be deeply into that slump after the semester, but it’s never too late to get help and hope for a better summer next time around. Mental illness is a constant topic in our society and each person who is suffering deserves the right to receive services needed to reach good mental health. If you are having thoughts of suicide, or you just don’t know where to start in terms of getting help, please visit this site: http://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/
*Symptoms found here:http://www.altmd.com/Articles/Seasonal-Affective-Disorder–Encyclopedia-of-Alter
**I am not a health care professional and cannot replace the opinion of such, please seek help if you are suffering from the symptoms listed.