A year ago, I stepped into my first year at Oxy, and I fell in love. I leapt into college life with as much enthusiasm as anyone can. My first semester and a half had its ups and downs, but for the first time in my life, I felt I had found my place and my people.
I didn’t know that in the summer following my second semester, I’d be deciding to take a year-long leave from the very school I had fallen in love with. It was a practical decision, but it stung, and my lack of control over the circumstances has left me feeling bitter.
Now, I have a year in limbo to look forward to.
I’ve always been the type to keep myself busy. I’m excellent at filling my time: with work, friends, extracurriculars, school, family, hobbies, whatever else.
Even in my lowest times — when depression and anxiety were overwhelming — I strove to be active. When the pandemic first began, I was optimistic that it was an opportunity to learn more, to hone my skills. I started learning guitar, practicing my painting and working on my creative writing. I convinced myself that if I just filled up my time enough, it wouldn’t be so bad. I’d be back in five months, tops, anyways.
Now I’m going on month six, with another year to go, and I spend half my day in bed most of the time. I’m in bed writing this right now.
Don’t get me wrong, I get through the bare minimum: I brush my teeth, do the little schoolwork I have for the two community college courses I’m taking to keep myself fresh. I tutor a fourth grader for an hour and a half every week. I water my plants when necessary.
Yet, despite the fact that I’m doing the least I’ve ever done, I’m exhausted. It took me a month to clean up my room at one point: I had a barely-started painting in the middle of my floor, a jar of paint water included, which I inevitably managed to trip over (the painting still sat out for another week). Laundry dwindled to the occasional load of the same shorts and T-shirts I wear every week, and it goes unfolded. My eyes still feel heavy after my morning cup of coffee, even though I’m oversleeping most days. There’s the rare day I come alive in between the monotony, but I know exactly what this is: depression.
Even though I recognized my problem pretty quickly, it went ignored for a long time. What was the point? I’ve done the therapy thing before, and my usual coping mechanisms were all either unavailable or too exhausting. Reaching out to friends didn’t feel worthwhile, staring at a tiny screen just isn’t the same and I’ve always despised texting.
There was nothing to be changed, nothing to be done.
After a while, that thought scared me. In the past, I always had the willpower to do something about it. I had always tried, even if it was something as simple as putting on a cute outfit. There was the occasional day I didn’t have the energy to do anything, but that was a day, not a week, not a month. It made me realize how malicious mental illness is in these times when there’s nothing pushing you to do the little things that help.
I don’t really have any answers here, either. People have been talking in the abstract about how bad this crisis is for mental health since the beginning. But there aren’t any great solutions either, even if all the new mental health apps and online therapy options pretend there are. It’s gotten really hard not to feel hopeless about it all. Most of the things we hang on to have fallen away, and are distant in the future. When all the little, mundane spots of joy in life are gone too, what’s left?
Apparently, what’s left is staring at the wall across from me while listening to Kelsey Lu’s cover of “I’m Not in Love” on repeat.
I’m taking steps to improve, gradually. But I’m scared for myself and I’m scared for the other people going through the same thing. Regardless of how much “we’re all in this together,” in reality, we’re the most alone we’ve ever been.
I guess I’ll see you all in a year.
Pacita Del Balso is an outside contributor and a sophomore Philosophy major.