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Put your mental health on the front burner

| Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Earning my acceptance into Notre Dame prompted my belief that I was closing an old chapter in my life indefinitely and beginning a new one free of my previous insecurities regarding my mental health. I came to college thinking my mental health issues would magically get better or even disappear altogether. I was attending the school of my dreams, ready to begin the journey towards my career of a lifetime; nothing, not even my intrusive thoughts and self-deprecating actions, was going to get in the way of my collegiate success. I understood I might not always be my best self every day, but I knew I must focus on taking advantage of this incredible opportunity; my anxiety and depression would fix itself along the way.

And then I came to college.

I subconsciously locked my concerns regarding my mental health in the back of my mind because there was an overabundance of tasks that needed my focus in order for me to succeed as a college student. School no longer came easily to me, and preparing for my career as a gynecologist was not the straight path I had planned for; instead, it is full of potholes and detours. I expected to meet the people I would spend my lifetime with, but making friends can be difficult and keeping good ones around is even harder. People my age were beginning to get engaged and start families, and I worried that if I didn’t pay attention, I’d miss out on my Notre Dame husband, and I wouldn’t have a family of my own.

While these issues warranted my attention while we were on campus, The outbreak of COVID-19 only added to this stressful list. The national lockdown forced me to think about all of the work that I should have done but was struggling to accomplish, and I onerously watched the pandemic affect those around me who were concerned about providing for their families with their sources of income made uncertain. I was terrified of getting one of my immunocompromised family members sick, and as the disease was hitting closer to home, so were my own apprehensions.

Just as the pandemic added more reasons to restrain any focus to my mental health, so too did the media’s uproar of systemic racism and police brutality. The summer of 2020 was the first time I recognized that my successes, opportunities and earthly life are easily disposable because of my Blackness. Furthermore, my Black parents, sister, family members and friends are subject to this same fate for the same reason. This looming fate is an arduous weight to carry every day, especially in environments with those who refuse to try to understand the plight of the Black individual.

These obstacles gained my utmost attention while my mental health sat rotting in my subconscious.

And then it couldn’t sit anymore.

While I thought I was dealing with all of the important issues in my life, I refused to grace my thoughts with the most important detail: myself. I didn’t notice how poorly my mental health had suffered until my physical self begged me to pay attention. I wasn’t eating, I was sleeping 12-14 hours a day to avoid all of the responsibilities I claimed I wasn’t capable of doing and my panic attacks became an every other day routine. The responsibilities and adversities of my college life did not replace the complications of my mental health, but instead added to the reasons for its deterioration. I thought I locked all my personal issues in a box and threw away the key, but my self-loathing thoughts and habits seeped through the cracks and fermented into problems I hadn’t prepared myself to deal with.

News flash: You can’t just stop having mental health issues. You can choose how you deal with your mental health, and some of us, including me, chose to do nothing at all. However, all of the success you have earned, goals you have set and happiness you have sought are unattainable if you aren’t present to utilize it. You are the most important part of your life, and you can’t attempt to tackle your secondary responsibilities without ensuring the health and safety of your primary responsibility, which is yourself. Your mental health doesn’t define you, but it is part of you, and it deserves just as much attention as any other aspect of your life.

With September as National Suicide Prevention Month, I want to stress the importance of checking in with yourself and making your mental health a priority. As college students, we dump all of our pressing concerns and issues to the front of our checklist and forget to make note of our mental health.

Sometimes our mental health check-ins are so far overdue that they may feel too strenuous to unpack, and though it isn’t the easiest place to be, it is more than enough to be present struggling than to not be present at all. It is okay to be unsure of how you feel, and it is okay to not feel like yourself. It is okay to find difficulty in the life you lead, and it is encouraged that you ask for help when you need it. It is okay to recognize that you aren’t okay, but you owe it to yourself to find and use the tools to be okay again. You deserve to be present in your own life — don’t lock your mental health away.

Sydni Brooks is a junior at Notre Dame majoring in English with a supplemental major in Pre-health and a minor in Africana Studies. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, she has made Flaherty Hall her campus home. She aspires to be a gynecologist to serve women from all backgrounds in the medical field. Sydni can be reached at [email protected] or @sydnimaree22 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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