I should have been getting ready to meet some friends at Ezra Stiles College for dinner. Instead, at 5:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening, I couldn’t get out of bed. I had already skipped breakfast, lunch and two of my three classes that day. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to eat or go to class or see my friends — I felt incapable of completing those simple tasks. Dragging myself out of bed, picking out an outfit and interacting with people all seemed way too daunting. By 9:30 p.m., my lack of motivation turned into total panic. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move.
The experience was not a new one. Fighting a battle against a chemical imbalance in my brain had been my full time job for years. I was growing more and more frustrated by the extent to which it inhibited every aspect of my life at Yale. I frantically texted my freshman counselor for help, and he brought me to Yale Health. The doctors there interrogated me about my symptoms and gave me water from a sterile plastic cup. They asked me if I wanted to be hospitalized and I said yes because I knew that going back to my room on Old Campus would not change anything. So they called me an ambulance and took me to the Emergency Room.
I spent the next week in an adolescent unit at the Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital talking to psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and social workers, trying to figure out just what was going on with me and how I was going to get through it. Together, we unraveled a complicated narrative of untreated post-traumatic stress disorder and depression that had spanned my entire lifetime. Suddenly, everything I was struggling with seemed clear — but most importantly, treatable. I couldn’t believe that it took me almost 20 years to finally break down and ask for help.
Though the hospital had a lot of downsides, like bad food, that terrible hospital smell and a lot of rules, my time there was the biggest gift I have ever given myself. I opened up and finally accepted the help and support that I had needed for so long from professionals who have dedicated their careers to helping people like me.
Coming back to campus after disappearing for a week was weird, to say the least. I got a lot of “Wow, I haven’t seen you in forever. Where have you been?!”-type questions that I had no idea how to answer. I ate vegetables that weren’t canned and went outside whenever I wanted. I was able to use my phone and tried to get back all of the Snapchat streaks I had lost.
The weirdest part of coming back, however, was realizing how normalized the symptoms I had been experiencing were, among my friends and peers. Drinking as a form of self-medication, struggling to get out of bed to complete everyday tasks and living in a constant state of stress and panic are experiences with which we are all too familiar. However, these symptoms should not be taken lightly when the consequences can quite literally mean life or death. But here at Yale, they are.
I am not writing this piece to argue that everyone should check themselves into a hospital for a week. In fact, my motivation for writing is quite the opposite. I’ve noticed an attitude at Yale — and among our generation at large — where we feel like our own problems are too small or insignificant to merit help. These situations are exactly when you should ask for help: before a problem festers and develops into something that can drastically affect your ability to function.
In my experience, I have felt infinitely better ever since receiving the continuous treatment and counseling that my condition necessitates. I feel like a fog has been removed from my eyes and a clutter has been removed from my brain. My mental health doesn’t drastically infringe on my Yale experience in a negative way. It’s not that I don’t experience challenges or emotions; I just have confidence that I can handle the ups or downs that come my way.
If you take away anything from my experience, let it be this: Don’t put off taking care of yourself. Reaching out for help when you need it doesn’t make you weak; it makes you brave. Even if you aren’t sure about whether you need help, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Make your 2017 New Year’s resolution self-care.
Yale Mental Health and Counseling: 203-432-0290
SHARE Center: 203-432-2000
Yale Student Wellness: 203-436-5464
Yale Walden Peer Counseling: 203-432-TALK
Anna Hope Emerson is a freshman in Morse College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .