As a Student: How my seasonal depression became a blessing in disguise

Illustration by Rebecca Kottke

Illustration by Rebecca Kottke

It starts out slow and small. The dirty dishes pile up in the sink and you’re a few days behind on laundry. Your phone calls home become less frequent and you find yourself napping more than usual. Social interaction becomes less desirable and you might feel more irritable. Soon enough, the motivation and enthusiasm for the things that keep you going seem to disappear. This lack of drive results in incessant procrastination and the classic “down in the dumps” feeling.

For me, this began around three years ago. I usually experience these changes in behavior right around the beginning of fall lasting throughout the winter. These signs, among many others, are typical symptoms of seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It is said that one in five college students suffer from some sort of anxiety or depression.

Before I understood what these changes in my character and behavior meant, it was easy to look down on myself and sometimes even place blame on other people or things for how I was feeling.

In school, I always fall behind in my classes. My attendance and participation drops dramatically. I’ll be honest, I have failed a few classes and they have all been in the fall. This usually results in beating myself up about it, convincing myself that I have no ambition, I’m lazy, and sometimes even a deadbeat.

I didn’t realize it then, but this was the most destructive way of thinking. In reality, I am an incredibly passionate person and I have incredible dreams for myself. It just happens to be that I have a mental illness that convinces me otherwise.

It’s not that I don’t want to succeed in my classes, it’s just that the stress that comes from looming deadlines is debilitating to the point that I am convinced I cannot physically complete certain assignments or go to class. Sometimes it feels as if my life is passing me by and I am simply the mechanism that moves my body from place to place. I am skin, muscle, and bones—nothing else.

Luckily, I began to notice that something was genuinely wrong with me. I wasn’t a lazy, unambitious, and angry person. My subconscious was trying to notify me that a change needed to be made.

In his book “The Road Less Traveled,” M. Scott Peck writes, “the unpleasant symptoms of mental illness serve to notify people that they have taken the wrong path, that their spirits are not growing and are in grave jeopardy.”

Three years ago, I was in a major that made me miserable. I was caught up in a persona that got people to like me when I went to college, but one that didn’t resemble how I actually felt. I was living a life that wasn’t true to myself. My depression began as a sign that I wasn’t leading the life that was best for me.

Unhealthy relationships started to unravel, I focused on the relationships and hobbies that were more meaningful to me. I switched my major to something I was more passionate about. I began to travel more. I became less afraid of voicing my opinions and feelings. I began to worry less about where I would be in 10 years and enjoyed every day as it came. My life became less about abundance and more about quality.

This isn’t to say that my seasonal depression is gone. It still comes around every year as a reminder that I need to continue to work diligently on myself and let my spirit grow. I still fall behind in school, but I also begin to focus on the things that genuinely make me happy. Small things, like the joy I get from reading a good book or enjoying a good meal, help me regain the motivation and enthusiasm I need to get out of bed and get things done.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to find a positive from things such as anxiety and depression the way I was. I happened to do it myself through tough and continuous self-reflection and research. But, there are resources for those who cannot do it themselves.

UMD Health Services provides free and confidential counseling for anyone experiencing feelings such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and anger. I encourage anyone that is struggling with mental illness and doesn’t know how to manage it to take advantage of this program. The phone number to make an appointment for counseling is (218) 726-7913.  

I will end this with another quote from one of my favorite books, “Rebirth” by Kamal Ravikant, “to think your hurt is special is nonsense. You have pain, I have pain. The world has stories of pain… It is not your wound that makes you special… It is the light that shines through that does.”

If you do not have the courage to seek help from someone else, I encourage you take a different look at your life and how it may be affecting you. It may be difficult and scary to make changes, but the benefits greatly outweigh the consequences. There could be something beautiful lying beneath your symptoms of mental illness.   

VoicesHrystyna Bobel