The Art of Balance: Deadlines and Depression
Written by Anna Claire Hodge // Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
The floor of the dorm’s lounge is sticky. Dust bunnies have piled under the couches. There are remnants of footprints made by shower shoes, a few dry Easy Mac noodles spilled from their package, and behind an easy chair – me. I’m 18, in my freshman year of college, and by now, my 9a.m. class has already begun. I’m hiding from my roommate who chides me when I skip class. I’m dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, as if I were leaving the building, but came here instead. I’m asleep.
By the end of the year, I’d be on academic probation. It didn’t make sense. I was curious and capable - but when asked about my grades - wasn’t able to define just what it was that kept me from doing even the bare minimum. One of the school’s psychologists suggested I just take a "cool photography class” or “stop drinking at parties.” Soon, I was taking four-hour “naps” in the middle of the day, knocking myself out with NyQuil at night, and keeping from everyone what my days actually looked like. This was what lazy people did. This was what I did. The word “depression” never crossed my mind, and my shame kept me from reaching out. I assumed my unhappiness stemmed from leaving a boyfriend back home in Florida and gaining the ‘freshman 15.’ I never considered that I might have a chemical imbalance
Somehow, I was accepted to a Master’s program and matriculated with a few achievements along the way. But ask my professors, and they’ll remember a talented woman who wasn’t high-functioning on a professional level. It’s difficult to be kicked out of grad school, but I happened to come very close. I’d been assigned an assistantship which required 20 hours a week of work, and between the times I called in “sick” and the days I just didn’t show up, I wasn’t earning my stipend. The work was well in my wheelhouse, but I was overwhelmed with a compulsion to hide from the world. The guilt of not fulfilling my objectives only added to my poor self-image. It was a cycle that I didn’t know to talk about, much less break.
Depression kept me from reaching my potential in school, and it killed my drive to seek employment afterward. A few rejected applications, and I checked out. I lived alone, did freelance writing gigs every now and then, and was miserable. Not only was I not finding work, I wasn’t functional enough to properly seek it. Did I know how bad off I was? I can’t say for sure, because at the time, I was numb. Comfort came in the unhealthiest of forms, and despite how often I spill my guts on the page these days, I’m still not ready to delve into my past relationship with certain vices in a public forum.
A life preserver came in the form of pursuing another degree, which began as a Hail Mary and ended triumphantly as I curtsied to the university’s president during the graduation ceremony. It took a team of loyal friends, patient faculty, and a psychiatrist who really knows her shit to yank me into health and keep me there. The right medications have made a world of a difference, but they’re not a panacea. My meds can’t make up for poor nutrition or too many boozy nights, and I have to keep up with exercise, therapy, etc. I drop the ball constantly, but it doesn’t send me into a tailspin like it used to. Medicine has made it easier to stay level and bounce back more quickly.
Since that period of real recovery, I’ve moved and begun part-time work with a nonprofit organization, working with underprivileged girls in an after-school setting. The job begins in the late afternoon, which helps when I’m not thriving. But this gig has an expiration date, and I’m terrified by how I might fare at a regular 9-5. My past writing and teaching gigs have allowed for a malleable schedule, which leads me to believe that the best work environment for me is one I create for myself by piecing together freelance work, service, and my own creative pursuits. So far, it’s going beautifully, but the onus is on me to self-motivate and stay creatively and physically active.
Despite being very far away from that terrifying period of my twenties, depression is an affliction that I struggle with every day. Whether it’s fatigue, lack of motivation, or just the shame of past behaviors, I’m constantly waging war with my brain. But I’m learning to be gentler with myself, and to use my experience to connect with others who have struggled similarly or continue to. I talk a big game when it comes to reducing the stigma attached to mental illness, but I’m still frightened of what a potential employer might think now, having read this.
I would much rather be passed over for a job, though, than pass up a chance to reach even one woman who’s suffering.
Anna Claire holds her PhD in Creative Writing. A former journalist, her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, newspapers, magazines and blogs. She is currently working on the launch of her apparel brand, Late Bloomers Club. Follow her on Instagram and check out www.annaclairehodge.com for more of her published work and musings.
Mental Health Resources:
Are you struggling with mental illness or want to learn more about those who are? Check out the links below for helpful resources that have been personally recommended by the Babes Who Hustle community:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
- National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
- S.A.F.E. Alternatives for Self Abuse
- The Trevor Project (LGBT Crisis Intervention)
- Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders (F.E.A.S.T.)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline // CALL 1-800-273-8255
- The Trevor Project Lifeline // CALL 866-488-7386
- Crisis Text Line // TEXT 741741