I just finished reading the special feature article in this week’s Imprint and I just wanted to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing this story. As I’m writing this email, I am crying tears of relief, not sadness, because I feel that this article expressed the feelings of so many students on campus that are battling some form of mental illness.
Before I came to university, I always understood that I had anxiety issues, but never a predisposition to depression. My mum has always told me I have a negative coping style, but I never really knew the extent of what that could be until I got to university.
I chose UW for the research opportunities in my program (Honours B.Sc. psychology, biology minor). Don’t get me wrong with what I’m about to say next, but I love UW! It’s a fantastic school with amazing professors and is continually rated as a top university worldwide every single year. But after being here for two years, I’ve realized that sometimes we push for the wrong things. Hearing my classmates say how late they stayed up last night to finish that assignment or study for that midterm makes me feel like I’ve let everyone and myself down, even though I’ve been studying for the past week and a half. That student that sits front row, asks all the intelligent questions, and gets 90s on all the physics assignments — am I a worse student than they are because I can’t grasp concepts as easily? I constantly thought I wasn’t good enough compared to the other students, who all seemed to have it figured out. Being highly self-critical and exceedingly hard on myself, I always felt that people were looking for ways to reassure themselves that they were better than I was. I constantly feel like I’m in this student body competition for “who’s going to be on top” at the end of our undergraduate degrees, or “which one of us is going to get the best co-op job this term?” UW pushes for great students, but it also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us to do well.
Making the decision not to go into the co-op program for my degree was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done in the last two years — with a school full of students who are constantly competing against each other for jobs, was I going to be at the bottom of the barrel because I missed this opportunity? After months of making pros and cons charts (literally) and having crying fits due to stress, I decided that co-op wasn’t for me. This decision was probably the best decision I’ve made in the last two years, and I did it because I was finally starting to understand that our brain and our body has a limit with how much it can handle. We are not robots; we’re human beings. I went through my first year and a half of university thinking I had to do it all in order to succeed. However, my problem was not that I wanted to do it all, but with my definition of “all.” I thought that “all” was getting good grades and succeeding in every class… However, I was wrong.
Having it “all” figured out, to me, means understanding myself and acknowledging that I have a threshold for how much I can handle. Having it “all” means eating healthy and taking 15-minute breaks between study sessions, even though I feel like I have a mountain of things to do (even though it’s only 15 minutes, I know I have improved from first year, when I studied 23 hours for a chemistry exam and went six hours straight without food). Now, I understand that, for me, taking weekly yoga or salsa-dancing classes, trying new things and having something other than just school to focus on is the key to staying true to myself and my mental health. Having a severe fear of failure makes it difficult for me to try new things, but I realized that living in my bubble of school work, midterms and lab reports is a very fragile place that, like a bubble, has a very delicate structure, waiting to pop at any minute.
I wouldn’t have been able to do this without my extremely supportive long-distance boyfriend or my mum, who constantly asks me if I feel healthy. Sometimes, I’ve lied to her… I don’t do that anymore. Being honest with myself about how I feel is hard sometimes, but I’m getting better at it, and reading your article really hit home with me, so I just wanted to personally thank you. Even this small piece of encouragement from a total stranger is sometimes all we need to realize that there are others out there like us, and we’re not alone.
Best in everything you do, and I hope that you continue to discover yourself and empower other people with your story.
Take a breath, and step forward.