Letter submitted by Evan Rosenberg ’15.
I go to CAPS. I started going midway through last semester. I struggled through two bouts of depression, one in middle school and one in high school. I have had difficulties with anxiety since childhood, which also used to cause a slew of motor and vocal tics. Nowadays I manage my occasional waves of anxiety better, but I’m still terrified of encountering another depressive episode. I’ve been taking antidepressants since I was fourteen, I think, and they generally help to keep me emotionally stable. I increased my dosage this past summer because I felt early symptoms of depression beginning to creep back up. The increased dosage helps, and lately I’ve been feeling pretty good. Up until fairly recently, though, practically only my parents and my therapist knew any of this. The close friends that I’ve had since high school—or even earlier—hardly had any idea. Writing this article is a huge step in a quest to share all aspects of my life with people I care about and people who care about me. Recently, I have placed more and more importance in being open with people about deeply personal matters, including my mental health. But I wasn’t always like that.
One of the first times I really let people know how I was feeling is when I was abroad in Copenhagen during the fall semester of my junior year. I was having some trouble negotiating the language barrier in my dorm, and the physical distance between where I lived and where other American students lived left me feeling lonely. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my difficulties with anyone who I knew in Copenhagen—I had just met them—so I kept these feelings to myself. Eventually my emotions reached a boiling point, and I felt as if I had no choice but to share my struggles with some very close friends from home and from Swarthmore. Sharing how I was feeling helped me feel better about my struggles, and also helped me feel supported by my friends stateside. This was the beginning of my journey towards being more open with people.
When I started going to CAPS last spring, it was several weeks before I told even a single person about it. I would envy people who would freely share this information with others like it was no big deal, because I thought it was. The first time I freely volunteered in a casual conversation that I was going to CAPS, I expected a specific type of reaction; condoling words, a nod of pity…something along those lines. That is what I feared, because I was worried that embedded in that reaction was an assumption that I was struggling and that I would be placed in a mental category as a “person in therapy.” I viewed this as a negative judgment and something I wanted to avoid. Instead of my mention of CAPS causing a huge uproar or a subtle judgment, as I had feared, the conversation I was having continued without pause. I was surprised. What I had doubted for myself started to actually become true: that going to CAPS really is not a big deal.
After sharing my difficulties in Copenhagen and volunteering that I was going to CAPS, I began to share more and more information with close friends about what was really going on in my life; my fears, my difficulties, any passing feelings of sadness or loneliness. And sharing got easier. Before I started opening up about my mental health, it was an increased burden on me to keep this information private, which only exacerbated the emotional burdens and difficulties I was already experiencing. But I slowly began to realize that not having to bear the burden alone helps me. It really, really helps me.
Friends and family act as a support system. Friends and family share in my joys and my triumphs. But it is important to remember that my support system is also there to help me when I’m struggling. Save coming across a particularly perceptive friend at a particularly difficult time, no one knows how I’m doing unless I tell them. And if I don’t tell my friends and family how I’m doing, then they have no way to help me. That is why, although sometimes it feels scary or difficult to share my struggles, I have made a personal goal of being more open with people about what I’m thinking or how I’m feeling. Sharing my struggles activates my support system, and activating my support system allows my friends to be on the lookout for signs that I am struggling or directly informs them on how they can help alleviate those struggles. But again, this can only happen if I tell people how I am feeling.
Beyond activating my support system, sharing my challenges also helps my own mental state. Knowing that I am not alone, that I don’t have to keep my feelings hidden, and that there are people out there who care about me helps me feel better just by itself. Simply the act of letting people in can have positive effects.
It is important for me to remember that everyone struggles occasionally at best, and constantly at worst. Whenever I might feel sad, or nervous, or scared, it is important to remember that I am not the only person who feels this way. It is also important for me to remember that my support system is there not only to revel in my successes, but to support me in my hardships. I shouldn’t worry about “burdening my friends with my problems,” because I know they are there to help me, just as I am there to help them. Sharing personal information with people who are close to me, and really letting them in, has positive effects not only in and of itself but also allows the strong support system that I have built to take charge. And I would encourage others to do the same.
So I write this open letter to you, Swarthmore community, to lift the weight of my struggles and to tell you that you are not alone in your own struggles. Instead of keeping all of your emotions and your hardships bottled in, let close friends know how you’re doing. Your true support system is there to help you, but they can only do so if you let them in.
If you have questions or concerns about depression, anxiety, sharing struggles, or anything at all, please email us at S2S.email@example.com. We’d love to hear from you.