Megan is a NJ/NYC theater-maker who sometimes performs if offered gluten-free cookies. B.A. Theatre, Kean University. While not writing or covered in gaff tape, she travels the world with her backpack, Nikon and yoga mat most recently having backpacked the West Coast. Follow her misadventures at www.meganbandelt.com.
The transition from high school to college is never easy, especially while residing on campus. It is the first time you are trusted to make the right decisions for yourself and learn personal limits. Countless times did I reap the consequences while deciding to attend a party off campus on Saturday and sighing heavily as I stumbled into a six-hour rehearsal starting at 10AM on Sunday. You’d rather go to the open gym than head to the library and select books for a paper? Be prepared to do it quickly before class the next day, and pray your classmates didn’t grab them first while slurping down your coffee. Feeling very anxious, have a constant stomachache and feel that everything is out of your control? It is very possible that you are like me, one of the many college students who have suffered from mental illness.
Attending college was a gift for me, a way to break free from a small town that is .8 square miles and receive an education. Books, makeup and clothes were not the only baggage I carried to my dorm. Shrouded by a cheerful smile and boisterous sense of humor was mental illness that crippled me heavily throughout high school. Adjusting was not easy when I was noticeably more anxious than my other classmates and struggled with practicing the “self-love” I learned about in my freshman seminar class. Medicine I had been prescribed had the awful side effect of severe weight gain, and cruel people even went as far as prank calling my friend to call me fat. That’s when I began to feel more unhinged, and the obsession over my weight began.
I was open about my mental illness, except my mania with weight and how it defined my value as a person. Watching many of my colleagues suffer from anxiety and depression based on stress from their studies and being away from home was not easy for me, and I successfully convinced five of them to seek out counseling. Watching them regain a normal regimen and not rely on alcohol or their bed as a way of coping filled me with delight and shrouded my own struggle.
Although I was vocal with my therapist, advisor and friends if I was exceptionally sad or anxious, my anxiety soared as my weight was mentioned and receiving Bs instead of As. I began my daily regimen of restrict, gym and binge, and I felt like I was in control. My roommate knew I had a problem and confronted me, but I was not able to comprehend what was occurring. When you’re mentally ill, the world is an endless funhouse mirror; what you see is not what is actually there.
If you feel you are struggling with mental illness, do not lose hope. There is so much that awaits you, from your college degree to traveling the world or moving to a new city to start your dream job. Seek out your campus counseling center for a depression screening and make an appointment to speak to a counselor. Remember, all information you give is confidential. Always maintain contact with your academic advisor or department head if a drastic event occurs in your life. By keeping them in the loop, they can advocate for you if your grades are dropping due to illness. Talk to your friends and do not be embarrassed and think that mental illness is a sign of weakness. The strongest people are often those who have been through the cruelest situations. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.