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My Freshman Depression Story
University hasn’t always been easy for me. It’s not all the books I have to read or essays I have to write or hours and hours of research I do on an almost daily basis. It was the social and psychological toll it was taking on me in first year, though I’m happy to say things are getting better.
As a bit of background info, in 2016 I decided to quit my job at Apple technical support and go move… somewhere. I just knew that I wanted to live abroad. I wound up applying to a bunch of English as a foreign language teaching jobs in various countries like Russia, Taiwan and Japan, but ended up taking a job in a country I knew almost nothing about, Colombia. I went there knowing almost nothing about the country and speaking next to zero Spanish. I took a massive leap of faith, but it paid off. I faced all sorts of challenges in Colombia, but I also made some great friends and had an experience that I’ll never forget. It was there that I decided I wanted to go back to school. I had been toying with the idea for a while, but with recent changes in OSAP (that have since been reversed, unfortunately), I decided now was the time. I knew that I wanted to do something with languages and culture, having enjoyed learning Spanish and Latin-American culture so much. I had also lived and worked in Asia before and thought learning an Oriental language and South-East Asian culture/ history would be cool. One Google search later, I was applying for East Asian Studies at Huron University and a few months later, I was back from Colombia and starting school. It all happened so fast and suddenly I’m here.
But something was missing.
The first thing I noticed when coming back was just how flat Ontario was; no mountains, no waterfalls, no canyons, no active volcanoes looming over the city, just fields and trees. It was the first sign of what would become a long and difficult struggle with depression in the ensuing year. At that year’s O-Week at Western University I discovered just how out of place I felt. The events were not catered to off-campusers like myself and I felt sort of awkward and lonely at most of them. At the final concert I apparently sat in the wrong part of the grass. When approached by a Soph about ten years my junior about it, I abruptly stood up, said something not very PG out loud and walked back to my car. I missed a Marianas Trench concert apparently. I honestly haven’t been back to an O-Week event since. No one informed me that classes started on Thursday, so I was late for my first class, which wound up being the wrong classroom, only discovered after taking attendance. Although I was back in my home province, everything felt foreign to me and it felt like everything was going wrong. This sense of off-ness continued for most of my first year. Being a mature student was already hard. I wasn’t connecting with a generation young enough to not even remember 9/11, never mind what life was like before it happened. And now I felt like I didn’t have any friends and the ones I did have were all far away, in other parts of Ontario or halfway across the planet. I was alone and a little bit miserable, so I focused everything on my studies. I wound up with an 85 average by the end of the year, but my struggles with my own mental health were challenging to say the least. On a bad day, I’d find it hard to leave my bed and go to class. I tried to stick to a healthy diet and regular exercise, but it didn’t seem to help much. I had no one to hang out with and on occasional Friday nights I would go to a random bar, have one or two drinks, come back home alone and go to bed sad and miserable.
My low point came in the second semester reading week when I came home to spend a week with my parents. I had just joined Tinder and decided to meet a girl who I had been chatting with for the last couple of days. I bought us tickets to go see Black Panther and we went to a sports bar together to eat dinner beforehand. Things were going OK and she told me she had to go to the bathroom. Ten minutes later, she hadn’t returned and I was getting a little concerned that we might miss our movie, but maybe she wasn’t feeling well. Another ten minutes later and I was even more concerned. What was going on? I sent her a few messages to no avail. Another ten minutes later and I started to realize what was happening, but I was still in denial. Something in my mind was blocking me from believing what was happening. Another ten minutes and we were now late for the movie. The UltraAVX tickets I had purchased were now useless. The bartenders and wait-staff were starting to look at me with pitying glances as I sat alone in my booth, hands clasped on a cold glass of water, unable to move. Finally, I worked up the courage to message a local friend and ask for help. I didn’t know what to do. I had never felt that low before and I was afraid of what I might do if I drove away. My friends Nick and Amy, who I went to Niagara Falls Comic Con with this year, came and helped me finally leave my booth at the restaurant after what was probably an hour of sitting there after dinner, unable to accept what had happened. We walked around and just chatted for a bit until I felt ready to go home. Of course, I messaged them once I had made it back safe.
I spent the entire next day in bed at my parent’s place. The girl in question finally messaged me back to confirm that she had indeed simply abandoned me and didn’t want me to ever talk to her again. I’m not sure what I did wrong during the date that triggered her to simply walk away without telling me and never want to talk to me again after about a week of non-stop online chatting, but I’m glad in the end that things didn’t work out, because less than a year later I would meet my current girlfriend. Everything happens for a reason.
I’ve always had issues with being abandoned or left out that I’ve had to work through for the past couple of years. I’m not quite sure where they came from. I can’t point to a specific experience from my past as a triggering event. I wasn’t left overnight in a funeral parlour like John Candy’s nephew from Home Alone or anything like that. I’ve since learned that different people have different triggers when it comes to depression. Some are a little easier to predict as they might be tied to seasonal changes or specific life events, but others are a little harder to pinpoint and could be different for everyone. For me it just happens to come from anything that gives me a sense of “you don’t belong here” or “we’re leaving you out”. I felt it during O-Week and I felt it big time when that Tinder date walked out on me.
After hitting what was basically rock bottom for me, I decided to reach out and get help. I had never talked to a therapist before, but after a few friends encouraged me to give it a try, I decided to give the one at Huron University a shot. She gave me a lot to think about, especially when it came to how my negative thinking can become a pattern that perpetuates itself. I started to keep track of when I fell into these “negative feedback loops” and started thinking of strategies to break out of them, even if it was just to distract myself with a walk or going to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi for the sixth time. I decided to essentially quit social media outside of a useful chat tool to keep in contact with friends from abroad and perhaps most importantly, I deleted Tinder. I let go of the FOMO that had held me captive for so long and just started to live my life for me. I realized that the amount of likes I got or the amount of people I influenced through my posts and photos didn’t really matter, as long as I was enjoying my life.
Things did get better for me. I found this awesome job at mindyourmind. I joined match.com and found my current (and very awesome) girlfriend there (not a paid endorsement, I swear) and I’ve made a few friends at school. My studies are going strong and I’m still in a somewhat regular fitness regimen. I also tried skydiving for the first time this summer, which I will honestly never do again, but hey, at least I tried it. I don’t say all this to brag. I just want people reading this to know there is hope. I don’t think it’s entirely accurate to say that life will get better, because it won’t always get better. It’s more correct to say that life will change. That means that good times won’t be here forever, but neither will bad times. As Thor so aptly points out in Avengers Endgame, the only thing that’s permanent is impermanence. I’ve learned that that’s not a bad thing though. Take the time to appreciate where you were and plan for where you’re going, but focus on where you are, even if it’s not quite where you want to be. Focus on yourself and getting the help and finding the right tools you need to start making positive changes. mindyourmind does have great tools and wellness tips for just that, but it’s not all about us either. What works for one person might not work for another, so make sure you take the time to find what works for you. It might mean therapy or a support animal or cutting out toxic people from your life. Try different things until you find what works. There’s always hope. Don’t give up.
David is a former intern at mindyourmind. He is a mature student currently in his second year of East Asian Studies at Huron University. He speaks English, Japanese, terrible, broken Spanish and a few basic phrases in Mandarin Chinese. A lover of anime, fitness and weird music, you can often find him working out at the gym or blasting some random band through a pair of headphones (or both). He loves travelling and has lived abroad twice, in Taiwan and Colombia, and hopes to go study in Japan next year. David has Autism Spectrum Disorder with depression and OCD and he hopes to spread the word to Canada’s youth that they are not alone.
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