Point Park Globe

Mental illness does not define your life as a student

College life causes stress: avoid isolation and invest in all positive resources

Written By Chloe Jakiela, Class of 2018 Alumna

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My mind was swirling with mixed emotions, sitting in the passenger seat of a mentor’s car my last semester at Point Park. We were driving back to campus after I photographed him for my senior thesis project.

As we reached downtown, he said, “I feel like you have a heavy heart.”

Tears welled up in my eyes and I nodded and explained to him the smothering feelings of anxiety and depression.

He pointed at me and vehemently said:

“You are worth it.”

The emotions I had bottled up overflowed. I felt seen. Understood.

You are worth it, even on the days when your heart reflects Pittsburgh’s rare sunshine, on the days when you feel that you are becoming one with the city’s infamous gloom.

“You are worth it.”

You are capable of creating a life that you love, a life in which you want to live in the present moment and not be caught in the grey, between the past and future.

As I write these words, natural light is pouring through my apartment windows in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, one thousand, nine-hundred miles across away from Pittsburgh.

I am living in my first non-dorm apartment, in a new city, with the person I love and who led me here. The apartment is finally decorated after living here for two months, and it feels like home.

My Pittsburgh ‘Homesick’ candle is burning and reminding me of the strange concoction of smells that is Pittsburgh, though I am not homesick yet. My stomach is knotted as I try to craft words I hope will act as a lighthouse, a beacon of reassuring light to guide you through whatever storm you might be facing.

Moving has always been a dream of mine, to experience somewhere totally new and craft a new phase of life. I have never feared throwing myself into a foreign environment far away from where I grew up. Pennsylvania was home my whole life, between Murrysville and Pittsburgh until now.

I always thought geography could make mental illness seem less present, but it has simply shifted into a new phase of itself. Since pre-school, I experienced something I couldn’t find a word for until college. I thought I figured it out in high school, but I was told it was not real, that I was self-absorbed and just over-thinking. I was fed this manipulative lie so much that it became my truth.

This something seemed to isolate me and separate from the rest of the world. I often experienced the feeling of drowning in my own mind and it continued on through college and still does now.

At Point Park, my first and only therapist helped me validate that I have anxiety as well as its sidekick named depression. I struggled from freshman year until graduation to get through classes and convince professors that what I experience is just as real as physical pain.

About halfway through college, I discovered that mental illness is considered a disability by the university and that I could acquire accommodations through a disability form and validation through the approval of my counselor.

If you wish to acquire such accommodations, file for them, and they will help you.

With the accommodations, I felt like an alien, and never felt seen as someone with mental illness by my professors. Often times, they forgot I even had it. I was once told “Anxiety and depression are not written across your forehead.”

Okay, fact.

However, it oftentimes feels like it should be obvious to others.

I encourage all professors to give additional assistance to students with mental illness and to let them know their struggles are real and valid. It disappointed me and worsened my anxiety and depression when professors disregarded my struggles. Most of all, I was surprised when my work quality decreased randomly at times and professors had no comments.

While I understand it is important for students to be the ones to reach out and voice what they are going through, it is difficult for people with some forms of anxiety and depression. Not all, but some. I felt so incredibly isolated and desperately wanted professors who knew I had a documented disability to even just ask if I was okay.

To anyone experiencing similar issues, especially students; mental illness may be a part of you, but it certainly does not define you. Do not let the lies, anxiety and depression feed you and become your truth. I understand how difficult it is to continue on. I promise that things will incrementally get better, even if it feels like you are crawling and not seeing light.

Here is a quote I wrote on my graduation cap. They are words by Martin Luther King Jr. that I hope will lift you up as your fall semester begins: “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

You got this. I believe in you, and I am rooting
for you. You are worth it.

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