Living with mental illness as a BYU-I student

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Natalee Westover a junior studying communications Photo credit: Natalee Westover

It’s natural to ask someone, “How are you doing?” What sucks is holding back tears and replying, “I’m good. How are you?”

This has been my life this semester.

I’m exhausted and dread that question, “How are you doing?” I want to tell people that I’m not doing well, and that question is getting old. I don’t know when I’ll be feeling better, so that’s a constant reminder that I’m not doing well.

I’ve lived with depression and anxiety since I was a little kid.

After middle school and high school, I thought that there was no way I would be able to function in college.

The insecurities I have toward myself have exhausted me this semester.

I kept hoping next week would be better as long as I made it through the next few days, but right around the corner was another bad day, another breakdown and another self-destructive thought.

There are so many pressures that come with being a student at BYU-Idaho that some days they feel impossible to live up to.

These pressures include dating, having a social life, doing perfectly in academics and working to pay my way through college.

I don’t use my depression and anxiety as a crutch or an excuse, but they do make these everyday pressures harder to accomplish.

Dating with depression and anxiety is a disaster waiting to happen. Overthinking leads to shutting down and pushing people away.

I get so frustrated with myself because I know that I have the capability to date, but I avoid going out sometimes because my anxiety gets too bad.

It’s rough living with anxiety and depression as an extrovert.

I love being around people, but sometimes I have to cancel plans because I’m too anxious, depressed or exhausted to go out.

I’m usually a pretty confident person and, when I’m feeling good, I can easily be myself.

If I’m going through a depressive episode, it’s almost like the real Natalee isn’t there.

Photo taken by Chloe Price
Photo taken by Chloe Price

I’m surrounded by so many people every day. At work, on campus and with friends, yet I couldn’t feel more alone at times.

 

I have had so many people tell me over the years that they had no idea that I have anxiety or that I was depressed.

I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve gotten good at hiding how I feel, because I believe that showing emotion (good or bad) is healthy, but sometimes I have to.

Another pressure that every student at BYU-I faces is academics.

Homework sucks; we all know that. I’ve always been a solid B+ student. I don’t miss assignments and almost always turn everything in on-time. This semester, I’ve dropped as low as a failing grade in my classes, and I’ve missed and purposely not turned in assignments.

This is not me.

Sometimes I get wrapped up in an assignment where I don’t understand the material, so I end up feeling helpless and inadequate, which leads to having a breakdown, and then I can’t finish the assignment.

When it comes to work and school, masks are nice. This might sound funny, but it’s true. They are nice because I don’t have to worry about changing my facial expression to make it seem like I’m okay; I just have to change my voice. It’s a comfort not to have to put in the extra effort to act like I’m fine.

When my brain is foggy and my thoughts are disoriented, it’s harder to answer questions in class because I can’t comprehend what we are learning, or I space out without meaning to.

On campus, I dress in nicer clothes, hoping a cute outfit will give me the confidence boost I need. It also makes it seem like I’m more put together than I really am feeling.

There was one time that I went to class unprepared, and I knew that I was unprepared, but I thought I could fake it and catch up later. Well, it turns out I couldn’t. I left to go to the bathroom and cried the least amount possible so I wouldn’t wreck my mascara. I went back to class and kept pretending I knew what I was doing, but inside I was beating myself up for not being prepared. I had an anxiety attack trying to complete the assignment that we went over in class; it got to be too much, so I didn’t finish it.

There have been many days I was grateful for Zoom because I was depressed and had no energy to attend class on campus, but I could still attend because of Zoom. I love and prefer campus classes and being in-person, but Zoom has saved me many times in the past.

This semester, I’ve lost friends, and it has affected me severely. I’ve had to let people go and tried to accept the new friends that have come into my life.

I tend to push people away because I’ve convinced myself that they don’t care about me. I know that this is unrealistic and that people do care, but when I get sucked into an overthinking mindset, it’s hard to come back to reality.

There have been times when I have been with friends or at a social gathering, and I’m internally having an anxiety attack, and no one knows.

Work is a priority of mine, and I love my job, but my anxiety and depression aren’t going to stop, so I can’t go to work.

There were many days this semester that I applied or reapplied mascara before I went to work so no one could tell I was crying.

It’s really hard to fake a customer service voice and have a happy attitude at work when I’m emotionally drained.

Photo taken by Shelby Wonnacott
Photo taken by Shelby Wonnacott

Even though all of these things are negative and my experience at BYU-I hasn’t always been ideal, I am grateful to be here.

Getting the opportunity to attend BYU-I is the greatest blessing God has given me. I feel like I belong and have a purpose here. This reassurance is what keeps me going.

I try to remind myself to be grateful for what I have overcome and accomplished since I started school here a year and a half ago.

I know I’m promised happiness and am capable of being happy, even in the midst of depression. I’ve tried to focus on the little things that can bring me happiness in the moment, like daisies and dandelions. They reminded me that there are good things in my life and that I can be happy.

Small moments of happiness
Small moments of happiness Photo credit: Natalee Westover

I’m working on moving past the stress that came from my classes this semester, the hurt that I caused myself, the pain from others and the disappointment I feel because I didn’t live up to my expectations.

I’m learning to be okay with the pain and suffering I felt.

I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be.

“We are always our own worst critic,” said Ellie Boyack, a senior studying communication and my editor for Scroll.

These words of encouragement have helped me get through this semester. I’m working on loving myself and overcoming each challenge, one by one.