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Living with Depression as a College Student

Written by Lucy Anderson

Photography by Sophia Keefe

Talent: @ellyadira on Instagram

Imagine you are walking on a race track with hundreds of other people. After a moment, you look up and realize that everyone is jogging. You’re the only one walking. You start sprinting, heart racing, face sweating, heavy breathing, all in an effort to try and catch up. Suddenly you’re ahead. You smile, take a deep breath, and let yourself slow down. You start walking again. You keep walking, and slowly but surely everyone is ahead of you again. You’re confused. Why is everyone else jogging? How do they not have to take breaks? Why can’t I keep up? Is there something wrong with me? What’s wrong with me?

When I was thinking about how to start writing this, the image of the racetrack kept popping up in my head. Every person has a different picture of what depression looks like for them. Maybe to you, depression feels more like a swimming pool. Or quicksand. Or it doesn’t have a face or picture, it just feels like darkness. The inability to complete the tasks you know you have to do. Not showering for a week because you just can’t get yourself to. Sleeping through classes and plans with friends because you just feel so indescribably tired. It’s difficult, it’s exhausting, and to be honest it’s scary. I hate feeling out of control of myself. I hate being labeled as lazy or unmotivated because it’s simply not true. It’s not that I don’t want to get out of bed, or brush my teeth, or do my laundry, or complete the other things on my long list of tasks that I have running through my head nearly all the time, it’s that I physically can’t.

Okay, enough of this blabbering. I am writing this article, not just to vent about my problems, but to explain how I am attempting to work through them. I was diagnosed with depression in July 2023 and wow did it hit me in the face. At first, it felt like just another label (if you know me you know I’m not the biggest fan of those.) I was frustrated, sad, sick, angry, at the world, the psychiatrist that diagnosed me, and at myself. But the more I let myself think about it, the more it made sense. Looking at my life, how I process things emotionally, and where my default train of thought leads were all solidifiers for my personal diagnosis. I know I just spent a whole paragraph talking about my race track analogy, but my depression does not feel like any form of exercise. To me, my depression feels like a black hole in the pit of my stomach ready to make my whole body collapse in on itself at any moment. It is a looming shadow that lives inside of me while also simultaneously consuming me from the outside in. My depression manifests itself in a lot of physical ways for me, as well as mental. I constantly feel drained and exhausted no matter how much sleep I get or how much caffeine I drink, and my body feels sick with dread and a weird empty numbness about 90% of the time. These, along with the mental aspects of depression, can make life feel miserable. I have gone months feeling like my life is just a collection of doctor appointments, a handful of tests and quizzes, and a huge impossible-to-conquer mountain of cloudy thoughts. If this sounds similar to you, or similar to something you are either currently experiencing or have experienced in the past keep reading.

One of the biggest things I’ve learned about myself and how I deal with my depression is that an outlet of any form is so helpful. There are so many different kinds of self-expression and movement that can be done from so many places (both mentally and physically.) My chosen outlets are as follows:

  1. Writing

  2. Singing

  3. Dance Parties

  4. Long walks (preferably while listening to an audiobook or podcast)

Listening to podcast episodes and watching video essays is also a great distraction for me even if I’m not taking a walk or spending some time outside. I’ll put these on while I’m in the shower, doing chores, working on homework, or about to go to sleep. This is great for me, as well as listening to music, because instead of focusing on my anxiety or how I feel or look or what I need to get done or what I have already gotten done but didn’t do as well as I could’ve, I have someone else's train of thought to focus on. And no, unfortunately, this doesn’t work 100% of the time, but on the days that aren’t as difficult, or when I’m able to have something else to pull my focus away from the thought spiral, it greatly benefits me. Along with these benefits I also get to learn about things I’m interested in and discover new ideas and concepts that I hadn’t known of before. With that being said though, immediately following my listening or viewing of this content all of my friends and loved ones are forced to hear about said things I have learned.

My current favorite podcasts and video essayists are:

  • SmartLess hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett

  • The Psychology of Your 20s with Jemma Sbeg

  • Maintenance Phase hosted by Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes

  • SkipIntro on YouTube (he has a great series on Copaganda in media)

  • Johnny2Cellos on YouTube who mostly makes commentary videos on animated shows.

Of course, you don’t have to listen to any of these, I would honestly prefer if you didn’t because then I can feel like I have a cool little secret niche just for me. But I hope that little collection inspires you to seek out some cool little secret niche of your own.

Another thing I’ve found I struggle with is “task paralysis”. Task paralysis can be caused by a multitude of things but for me, it is caused by an overwhelming amount of tasks, so overwhelming I can’t do any of them. My thought process when this happens is kind of like this: “Okay I have some free time what should I do… Oh I have homework that’s due tomorrow I should probably start on that. But if I start on my homework I should probably do my laundry too it’s definitely time. But if I do my laundry then I’d have to fold it and put it away after and I realllyyyyy don’t want to do that because I hate folding my laundry but also hate keeping my clean clothes in the dirty hamper but wait I should probably clean up the bathroom a bit too if I’m gonna be doing chores but I think I have an assignment to do tonight and if I start working on that I should make sure I…” and this just happens over and over again until I either give up and decide to do nothing at all or if I manage to get one thing done (and it’s usually the homework assignment due the same night.) Something that has helped me process this and work through these periods of paralysis is only making myself do what NEEDS to be done. And I mean that in the way of just doing the one homework assignment that’s due because any grade at all is better than a zero. Or on the really hard days literally just get up to go pee and refill my water bottle. Breaking up tasks as much as I can instead of connecting them in a neverending circle of anxiety makes it so much easier to not only process them but actually get up and do them… well at least a couple of them.

Hopefully, this collection of word vomit has helped you find a new coping skill or two or just showed you that you’re not alone in your anxiety-induced depression bubble. Even if the idea of these things sounds terrible see if you can find something that works for you. Or don’t, I don’t care (yes I do I care so much I hope you enjoyed this article and if you ever need help here are some resources.)

Written by Lucy Anderson

Photography by Sophia Keefe

Talent: @ellyadira on Instagram

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