It’s May and that means it’s mental health awareness month! Self Love Coffee writes articles every week that touch on mental health, personal growth, and other related topics. We are so grateful to be a part of such a supportive community that embraces vulnerability to raise awareness for mental health.
This week I want to talk about mental health as it relates to going to college. I am not a professional in the mental health field, so I, of course, will only talk about my experience because it is the only one I am sure of. I also want to touch on doing things at your own pace and not feeling shame for living your life on your terms! We would love to hear about your personal experiences with mental health as well! Drop us a comment, or send us an email to get in touch!
Mental Health and the College Experience
This past Sunday I graduated with my BA in business management. It’s weird because I don’t feel better, or smarter, or like I know so much more now that I have a piece of paper that tells me so. I feel the same as I did yesterday, and it’s strange because I thought I would feel like a knowledgeable wizard when I finally crossed the finish line. Wingardium levi-no-sa. I don’t want to downplay my accomplishment. I spent the last three years working a full time job and going to school full time. I had high levels of stress, cried more than I should, and constantly felt like I wasn’t going to make it. I felt this often, but I pushed past it and got it done. I deserve to recognize myself for pushing past the anxiety, panic attacks, and the depression that accumulated during that constant period of high stress. I did it. I made it. It’s done. I happy cried and had three beers to celebrate. So yeah, go me!
You will see my BA as part of my highlight reel, but I will also be open about the failed attempts it took to get here, because my life is more than what you see online. Duh. I am all about openly discussing my mental health journey, so let’s touch on some words that are not-so-often associated with successfully achieving a goal: anxiety, panic attack, and depression. College was an emotional roller coaster for me, as I am sure it is for many, and sure, to the outside world I probably seemed totally okay. It is hard to recognize when someone is struggling with the negative side effects of life, it is hard to recognize this even in ourselves. Also, you are never going to see me running around in flames screaming that I’m on fire. Those flames are internal and I am not trying to shock you. But, life can happen to anyone, this is why self-awareness and vulnerability are so important.
At the end of my second year (it took me three years to finish) I met a woman who I could openly talk to about the struggles I was experiencing. I started articulating what I was feeling openly, and started to figure out that the fear I was experiencing was anxiety, but I could get through it. That the irritability and feelings of not being enough were depression, but the thoughts weren’t real, and I could get through it. That the panic attacks were a warning that I had too much on my plate and I needed to do some self-care. I could get through it. Until I started embracing vulnerability and working through my feelings, I didn’t know that I wasn’t alone. With the support of the mental health community, I was able to get through it. I was able to achieve my goal, despite life’s difficulties. Thank you, mental health awareness and the people who aren’t afraid to share their story, because of this community we know we are not alone. If anyone is dealing with any of these things, join the mental health community, you will realize you have a lot more in common with us than you think.
No Shame in Your Game
I graduated college and, for the sake of recognizing the money and time I spent, I do think it was worth it. In 2016 I decided that I wanted to go back to school so I could get a better job, make more money, and to prove to myself that I could do it. I learned a lot of useful information that I am sure will contribute to a thriving career (who knows?). But, the real college experience, from my perspective, was the personal growth that happened during this period of my life. I think this is why I didn’t magically feel a sudden shift in the universe when I walked across the stage. The knowledge and personal growth has been accumulating slowly throughout the three years it took me to earn my degree. I think about who I was when I started and who I am now, and THAT is what brings a twinkle to my eye. 2016 Danielle never finished anything, never felt good enough, and failed often. 2019 Danielle still feels a little inadequate, fails and will fail, but 2019 Danielle finished what she started. She is also great at quality control, conflict resolution, organizational development and other management related things, because she knows things now.
You get out of the college experience what you put into it. I was a proud non-traditional student so my experience is a little different than those who are starting fresh out of high school. I think that going back later in life was the best path for me. I was in a better state mentally and financially and had the ability to clearly set a goal. I wanted to finish, to stop letting my anxiety keep me from achieving my goals, and to become a better person. I was 26 when I started, I am 29 now. I don’t feel bad about taking my time, even though, as I am sure you can believe, people still feel the need to shame me for it. But, I am too far into my personal growth to let the opinions of those, who don’t have a right to an opinion, bother me. I think that the most important thing to remember is that everyone’s story is different and we should not feel shame for doing things in our own way on our own time. I don’t think that I am any better for going to college, I am proud of myself, but my degree does not define my success. Being a good person is far superior than any other measure of success in this entire world. Change my mind. I don’t think that I am any worse off for going back to college in my mid-twenties, and I don’t think anyone needs to be rushed to get things done, or to feel like they need to do anything to “fit in” in the first place. Do whatever you want, but be kind about it.
For all of you who are setting goals, achieving them, and pushing past the point of comfort and changing for the better, I celebrate you. For those of you who are embracing vulnerability, sharing your story, and changing the world, I celebrate you. For those of you who found the strength to leave the bed today, I celebrate you. Join us in celebrating mental health awareness month by sharing your story!