Being isolated in high school translated to me not having a lot of typical social experiences that most teenagers have. I had never been to a real party and I’d never been exposed to alcohol or drugs. That was fine with me, but when I got to university, my ‘uncoolness’ followed me. Everyone wanted to party, and I legitimately did not know how, and I was so anxious and uncomfortable that I couldn’t just give it a shot. In my first year I went to Brock University, which is known for its parties, and I felt miserable and left out.
I am not joking when I say that I did not speak to anyone all year. No one. I hid in my room, I avoided the girl who shared a bathroom with me, and I sat alone in classes. At Brock, every class has a seminar attached to it, and I had a bad habit of not going to them. Luckily, I was still able to transfer to the University of Toronto, where I should have been all along, but I had the same problem there. Needless to say, I could have done better, and my GPA is suffering now as a result of my isolation in those early years.
I’ve been making great progress, but I had a setback this year – I had a major depressive episode in the winter where I was suicidal for a time, and I wasn’t feeling up to doing all of my school work, or much of anything at all, really. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to complete an assignment that I found very challenging, as I felt that I had been pushed to my breaking point already, so I went to the school’s health clinic. The doctor gladly gave me a form so that I could get an extension, and he recommended that I see a psychiatrist as well. I had been on the waitlist for one, but he ensured that I was given a higher priority and I was able to see someone within a week. It’s a good thing that he did – the psychiatrist prescribed me medication, something that I had been avoiding for years even though it had been recommended before. I didn’t think that it would help at all, but it turned out to be my saving grace, and I am doing much better now. I dropped the course that I was struggling in, but I did well in all my others.
I’ve been getting better and better at finding ways to be engaged in classes, even if it isn’t always by talking, and my grades have been reflecting that. I found that I made a significant improvement in my third year, when class sizes shrank to at least half of what they were before. Now, I try to find classes that I think will be small and unintimidating.
I still haven’t really made any friends, only acquaintances, but I’ve gotten more involved with my school’s community through a student group that I lead. I discovered my passion for mental health awareness, and I became president of a group called Active Minds at UofT that is dedicated to just that. Even when I can’t find many other things about school to motivate me, planning events never fails to inspire me and push me to do better in all areas of my life.
Not everyone is going to go through something like this, and I hope that you don’t. But if you find yourself struggling with anything at all, please reach out to the adults and professionals around you. There were times when I felt like doing this was weak – I should be able to get As on everything, no matter what, without anybody’s help. If someone gave me an extension or any kind of help, then I obviously wasn’t smart enough, and it meant nothing. This is not true. Asking for help is brave.
When you ask for help, you’re making yourself vulnerable. I was afraid of being judged, or even simply being told ‘no’. And it’s true that there were some people, even those who were very close to me, who refused to help and distanced themselves from me during my time of need, for whatever reason. But there were still people who did help, like the teachers and counselors and doctors that I’ve mentioned. Some of my friends were great too – when I was at my worst they kept me company and guided me towards whatever I was supposed to be doing next, knowing that to be alone with no routine would probably be the worst thing for me. It is so much better to try than to just drown, thinking that no one will jump in to save you. Even if you’re convinced that you will, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you reach out? Maybe something good will happen. Just maybe. And some day, your future self will thank you.