In high school, I was never the cool girl. However, I was blessed, for a while, to have a steady group of friends who I met in elementary school. We all walked home from school together every day, until one day, when I was 15 I found that they had left without me. I had fallen in love with the leader of the pack, unbeknownst to him, and that was just not allowed. Their motivations are still a mystery to me, but from what I can infer, they did not want to deal with any potential drama that could arise. I had to be taught that there would be consequences for my actions, and consequences there were — two years and a turbulent relationship later, I found myself almost completely isolated.
I saw others with loving friends and significant others, and thought that because I no longer had those things, there must be something wrong with me. My anxiety and depression, already present, but subdued, grew out of this period. At this point, I never became suicidal or had a serious desired to self-harm, but many people faced with similar situations do. However, I was young and I still had a vague sense of hope that things might get better for me in university.
I had no better luck there. I had difficulty fitting in socially. Eventually, I reconnected with my old high school friends, who offered me hollow apologies. Many claimed they didn’t know how I felt. I accepted their apologies because I was lonely, and we truly did enjoy each other’s company. I still cared about them, and I believe that people can change.
But it wasn’t long before a similar situation happened again, and I decided to cut my losses. Despite the decision being partially my own this time, the loss I felt was devastating — and now, four years later, the same old feelings came crashing down on me again. I was almost 21; this was no case of “typical high school bullying.” This was just my life.
I wondered if anyone would ever really love me, or if I was just doomed to repeat this disappointing cycle forever. I felt like there was a fence between me and the rest of the world, and like Ariel in The Little Mermaid, I wanted desperately to be part of that world. Over there, people had the friends and, more importantly, the love and acceptance that I so desperately desired.
At this point, I did become suicidal for a brief time. A lot of people think that if you suffer from depression, you must hate yourself, and for many people this is true. But by and large, I quite like myself. I think that I’m a great person and I am so angry at how the world has treated me that it makes me feel hopeless. Some days it takes everything I have just to get out of bed; other nights I can’t sleep at all. All of my life, having a solid social circle had been a primary goal of mine, but the constant disappointment was becoming exhausting. If I could not achieve my dreams or have love in my life, I could not see a good reason to live. I no longer had the idealistic hope that things would change.
So I stopped trying, or at least, I stopped trying with the same people who rejected me over and over again. Sometimes the only person that I had to talk to was my counsellor, who worked for free because I couldn’t afford to pay her. But despite a couple of close calls, I carried on, because I found something new to put my passion and energy into: helping others. I knew that I was not the only person who felt this way, and I wanted to help others feel less alone too. This led me to look into Active Minds, an organization that promotes mental health awareness at the student level. I am now the vice-president of U of T’s chapter, and planning our upcoming events gives me a reason to get up in the morning.
I want to include people, not exclude them, and help those who need a little bit of kindness in their days. My goal is to do that with Active Minds at U of T, and I strongly encourage anyone who struggles with mental health or just wants to learn more to get involved. On Wednesday, November 27 from 6:00 – 8:00 pm in UC140, we will be hosting an event called “Speak Out! Students Talk Mental Health” featuring speeches from students on their experiences with mental health. If you would like to attend, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chelsea Ricchio is the vice-president of the U of T chapter of Active Minds, a group dedicated to raising awareness of mental health issues on campus.