I've never written anything this personal before.....
With this month being Mental Health Awareness Month, I was thinking about my first attempt at college. It was also my first encounter with depression.
Like most introverts, I excelled in high school and it was pretty easy to make good grades without having to study too much. I was even awarded an academic scholarship to attend college.
Once I arrived at NC State, I thought it would just be business as usual. I'd be there for four, five years tops and then I'd graduate with a great-paying job.
Pretty simple right?
Everything went according to plan my freshman year. There were a few of my high school friends at college too, so it was easy to find people to hang out with, plus I'd made lots of new friends as a member of the track team. I didn't have to study too much because most of the classes were easy that first year.
The second semester of my sophomore year is when everything started to change for me. All of a sudden the classes started to get harder, and that's when my grades started to fall off a cliff. The classes for my major were kicking my ass, but I had too much pride to switch majors.
I was too ashamed of the grades I was making, so I stopped allowing my report card to be sent home so my parents couldn't see I was failing. I ended up losing my academic scholarship and I also quit track.
Like a lot of introverts, I was used to figuring everything out by myself so I didn't bother to ask for help when I needed it. The more I struggled in my classes, the more stubborn I became. I was convinced that if I just put my head down and power through, everything will become okay.
By the first semester of my junior year, I had been diagnosed with depression and was given a prescription for Paxil. Looking back on it, things were way worse than I originally thought. I didn't really accept being diagnosed with depression, because in my mind it meant I was broken and something was wrong with me. I also refused to take my medication.
When I came home from school, I told my dad about being diagnosed with depression. He shrugged it off and said that I should just focus harder in school and maybe changing my diet would help.
(I don't say this to demonize my dad. Little did I know that he had been diagnosed with depression a few years earlier, and he didn't want to take his meds either.)
I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about what I was going through. The ironic part about this is people used to always come to me for advice on different issues, but I was too afraid to reach out for help because I didn't want to be seen as weak.
Like most high school friendships, my friends and I slowly drifted apart for no apparent reason. Some of you probably have a few friends like this now. Those friends you keep telling yourself you'll call or email, but never do.
For some reason, it started to become really difficult to make friends. I started to isolate myself from people all together even though I was lonely at times.
I was sleeping all day, and staying up at all hours of the night. I had no motivation to attend classes at all. I even stopped attending classes that I was passing. I'd stay up till two or three in the morning watching TV, and then I wouldn't wake up until noon.
Looking back, I was completely spiraling out of control.
Eventually I ended up flunking out of college, but I kept it a secret for about 2 years. Every time my family would ask how college is going, I'd lie and say it was going great.
All of my other siblings who'd gone to college were able to graduate, so I felt like a complete and utter failure. I didn't want my family or friends to know that I was a college dropout. It was during this time that the critical voice in my head started to take over my thoughts.
"You're a failure"
"You should've just studied harder"
"You're not as smart as you thought"
What little confidence I had in myself was completely gone, and I started working odd jobs here and there. I worked in the warehouse at Toys R Us for a while, and the whole time I kept thinking "I'm smarter than this, how in the hell did I end up here?"
No offense to Toys R Us, but I didn't get good grades in high school or take the SAT to end up unloading trucks for a retail store warehouse.
I also had a job as a waiter at one point. I remember one night in particular these four women were sat in my section.
Two of the women were former high school and college classmates of mine. I lied and told them that I was in grad school and was just waiting tables part-time. They told their other two friends at the table how smart I was in high school, and I instantly felt guilty and embarrassed.
I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders, and I knew it was only a matter of time before everyone found out I was no longer in college.
The Truth Comes Out
One afternoon I was at my brother's house, and he sat me down and asked me point blank if I was still in college. My older brother is sort of a second father figure to me and I've always looked up to him. I started to lie, but I could barely make eye contact with him.
Tears started to well up in eyes, and I eventually just broke down and started crying. I told my brother about how I'd dropped out of college and been diagnosed with depression. I told him how I felt ashamed and felt like I'd let everyone down.
My brother, in that fatherly way of his, just put his arm around me. He said that he figured something was going on, and he was glad I finally said something. I felt this incredible sense of relief that I no longer had to carry around this secret, and I could finally talk to someone about what I was going through. My other siblings also reached out to give me their support.
Fast forward 20 years, and I'm now a successful college graduate with a fantastic career. I know that if something is bothering me, I can always reach out to people who love and support me, and I don't have to go through anything alone.
It took about 2 years before I finally broke free from my depression. To be honest, there are still times where I may struggle with my confidence as a coach.
If you're currently going through something, there are people out there who want to help you. You don't have to suffer in silence.