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Student shares story of mental health struggle and survival

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

June 20th 2019 is a day I will never forget. 

As I was driving home down the back roads of the-middle-of-nowhere, Oklahoma, my tears and screams could only momentarily be interrupted by the pills I was washing  down with whatever water had been left in my car. It took everything in me to not swerve off the road, thinking about how mad my parents would be if I wrecked the car. Those intrusive thoughts of “I could just flip this car” snuck into my mind nearly every time I drove a car. 

The 20-minute drive home felt like hours of pure pain that I couldn’t wait to escape, but when I got home, I wasn’t moving. I just wasn’t getting out of my car. After another numbing half-hour of stillness, I finally got out of the car and started aggressively pacing around the street. My mother came outside, and, between anguished cries, I begged her to take me to the hospital. 

Now, this wasn’t just one psychotic break. I hadn’t been living my life as the pretty cheerleader, student councilor-turned-sorority girl I appeared to be. So much more lay under my skin.

My battle with mental health began before I can truly remember. There are tales out there of early elementary school teachers bringing up concerns of anxiety to my parents because I showed major signs. Looking back, I agree. 

I hated the thought of change and could not cope with it in the slightest. Whenever I had a substitute teacher, I would complain of a stomachache; when my church got a new priest, I was petrified; when I found out my dad interviewed for a job in Washington and we could soon be moving, I was traumatized. All these things, big or small, caused me to lie awake at night and let the anxiety course through my veins.

Although those feelings started so early, the real trouble didn’t start until middle school, when the bullying set in. As an outgoing and positive child, I strived to live my life with a constant smile. The world didn’t agree. 

Even though the comments and abuse went over my head at the time, they still hurt. The degrading comments from my family and constant feeling of living in my older sister’s shadow added to the hurt. The daily smile I put on my face was real, but so was the pain. Each battle was one I could win, but when the names started becoming vulgar and the threats started becoming violent and the inappropriate passes started to become physical, I started to become weak and I started to lose.

High school came with more battles but better hiding places. When I first got to school in the mornings, I would immediately go straight to my favorite teacher’s classroom and sit in the corner on the floor. At the time I had some made-up reason as to why I was doing so, but it was really because I was hiding from all the hurt. Occasionally, I’d find a small group of friends, but they were some of the most toxic and harmful to me. After a week with who I thought loved and supported me, I’d retreat back to my home base of a classroom. 

I got very involved in high school. My best friend likes to say I was the Rachel Berry of our high school because I was super talented and involved, but everyone hated me for no reason. I didn’t watch Glee so I didn’t understand that reference, but people who did think it’s fitting. Although I cheered and was on the  student council, my real passions were in the orchestra and Youth and Government. 

The list of involvement goes on and on with track and field, poetry club, student political groups, dance, theater and Girl Scouts and on and on. I seldom had an ounce of freedom and I loved it. Less free time meant less time to think about the pain I felt.

With high school graduation came time to say goodbye to all my old organizations and the old me. I was ready to start anew. I confidently walked across the stage with the most genuine smile I had produced in a long time and I felt a sigh of relief. My days of agony were over, right? The summer after my senior year would only bring me joy. My days were filled with (joyous) freedom, smiles and art. I worked at a children’s theater camp where I met someone, and for the next year he would be my heart and soul.

Jumping into my freshman year at Oklahoma State was hard to say the least. I was eager to go through the Greek recruitment process, but it did not go how I hoped. As my week carried on and my number of houses stayed very high, I was surprised to get a knock on my door one morning from one of my recruitment councilors telling me I had been released from every single house. A wave of horror hit me that I still occasionally feel to this day where I am reminded that out of 13 sorority houses, not a single one wanted me. That was a painful pill to swallow. Now don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for how things ended up working out because I did decide to go through the Continuous Open Bidding process and I now belong to a wonderful sisterhood that I absolutely love. But there are some feelings you just can’t shake.

Once college really got into full swing the story gets a little complicated. I spent nearly every weekend in Oklahoma City with my boyfriend who I thought was helping me but was slowly diminishing my mental health little by little. I had very few friends until November when I met a small group of people from an organization I was involved with who are still some of my closest friends, yet I kept shoving them to the side because my priorities were with my boyfriend. Lastly, I was studying something I hated. Coming into college, I had this very clear idea of what I wanted to do, but I very quickly realized it was not at all what was going to make me happy. However, I was terrified to change my major because that concept of change had petrified me so often before. 

The culmination of these challenges led me to my breaking point. With the pressure building and building, I couldn’t help but crack and crumble until one day I completely gave up and gave in.

But I do want to say there is hope. After my attempt, I spent a week in a mental hospital, and I came out on the other side alive. I came out breathing with a heartbeat and the ability to love and hug and smile and kiss and dance and remind people how beautiful they are. I came out on the other side. That is irreplaceable. 

Talking to someone helps. Whether it’s a friend, a parent, a professor or a licensed professional, it helps and it is so worth it. Taking prescribed medication has helped me as well. Taking medication can be really scary and it may be difficult to find the correct dosage and combination for you, but it is so worth it once you do. My path to finding the right medicine for me was not as challenging as it may be for some because I regularly met with the psychiatrist at University Health Services on campus. Although I was nervous to go at first, the ease and vastness of the treatment and care on campus was astounding to me. Oklahoma State truly cares about its students and I see it every single day in my professors, my employers, my advisors and my peers.

The first thing you try may not be right, but the first pair of shoes you try on may not be right either. You’ll still find the right chunky white sneakers, so don’t give up. 

It’s OK to say “no.” It’s OK to take a day for yourself. It’s OK to not be OK. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of this, it’s that you are loved, I promise you that. And even if you feel like the entire world hates you right now, I still love you.

— Sydney

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