Opinion: Depression does not define me

By Shelby Vaculin | September 15, 2016 3:34pm

I've attended four colleges in three years. The first diagnosed me. The second threatened me. The third aided me. The fourth challenges me on a day-to-day basis.

Let me back up -- I have depression, or "severe clinical depression and anxiety disorder" if you're fond of complicated jargon. I was officially diagnosed in August of 2013 while attending my first college, the University of Missouri at Columbia. I had suddenly become who I never wanted to be: I was unable to perform academically, athletically or socially. The only way I can describe the feeling is seeing the beautiful sunshine outside of the jail cell but being unable to get there.

I was a prisoner.

I was so unable to focus that I withdrew from the university and took the rest of the school year off. It was then that I did the traditional gap year things: I worked, I traveled, I lived in other places, I saved money and I worked on myself.

During my time off, I once again applied to colleges and got into Boston University. I believed that those 10 months cured me. I was able, I was functioning, I was genuinely happy. I thought that talking to a stranger about my problems and popping a few pills now and then could cure me and could change me back into the Shelby that I was for 19 years.

But that’s not how mental health works.

Having depression is not being sad. Sadness is natural and reactionary, and everyone feels sad sometimes. Depression is different. Depression is when extreme sadness engulfs your entire mind, body and soul for a completely and utterly unbeknownst reason. You cannot function. You are physically and mentally and emotionally at a standstill and the world is black and you are scared. You are so scared. You are scared for yourself, your life and your future. You’re scared for your feelings and how you are going to cope. You’re scared for those around you and how you will interact with them.

When I have a depressive episode, I feel empty. I feel like my body is not my own and I have no control over any of my actions or emotions. I feel that there are significantly large gaps in my life. I get so angry at myself for feeling this way, but I also feel helpless and hopeless. I go from zero to 60 real quick and it terrifies me how I can’t slow down.

But I did not know this after my gap year. I instead went to Boston and a month later I ended up in the hospital. Three days in the ICU, one week in an intense inpatient mental hospital and two months in an outpatient recovery facility.

I did not talk about my experiences with anyone outside my parents, sister, therapists and doctors for a long time. While seeking extra help, I attended Diablo Valley College and lived at home for a year. I was able to take 11 classes through three terms and work a part-time job. I applied to University of Portland and got in.

Upon coming to the Bluff this past January, I was confident. I was ready. I knew that round four would be my round. But a few months in, I realized that it doesn’t matter where I am, what school I’m getting an education from or how much time I’ve taken off-- I will always be battling my depression.

And that is okay.

And that is why I wrote this; Because it’s okay to have depression.

It is okay to be struggling with mental health. I am not ashamed of where I’ve been. I talk about it. I am not embarrassed of the help I continue to receive or the medication I take. I talk about it. The more people talk about it, the less shame they will feel, and the more likely they are to seek help.

Depression is real. Anxiety is real. Bipolar disorder is real. Suicidal ideations and attempts are real and they constantly affect so many people. We need to talk about it.

Over one-fourth of all Americans over the age of 18 struggle, or have struggled, with mental health. You are not alone if you feel this way.

Speak up. Talk to someone. Normalize it. People are wonderful creatures and they want to help you if you gather the strength to seek them out. Be aware of how you feel and know that it is not at all reflective of who you are.

Depression is not who I am. I am Shelby Vaculin. I have teal hair, I love Brussel sprouts, talking is my favorite hobby, my dog is my best friend and I can quote entire episodes of “The West Wing.” I have a chemical deficiency in my brain that makes it harder for me to do things sometimes, but it in no way defines me.

I’ve attended four colleges in three years. The first diagnosed me, the second threatened me, the third aided me, the fourth challenges me on a day to day basis, and I have become a better, stronger and more wonderful person because of it.