Mental Health, Trauma, and Unmet Expectations
TW: At The Spectrum, we believe in bringing awareness and attention to mental health, especially on campus among students. Please note that this article mentions and talks about suicide and depression and discusses an instance of a suicide attempt. If this topic is triggering, this article is not suitable for you. We recommend that you discuss this article’s content with a licensed professional or a trusted friend. If you struggle with thoughts about suicide or depression, we encourage you to reach out to the Counseling Center or call 988 for immediate help.
Coming into this semester, I had this elaborate and amazing idea of how my second year was going to go. I was already pretty involved, but I was going to go all in.
I was going to work part-time and save a ton of money. I would write tons of articles for the Spectrum, be the best Vice President of HSE Ambassadors, and attend every Bible study I could on top of church every Sunday.
I wanted to apply to be a Bison Guide and show off the school that I am falling in love with. Maybe I would’ve joined Student Government, too, if I had the extra time.
This semester was going to be my time to shine. I wasn’t a first-year student anymore. I was past the discovery phase of college and flaking on commitments because I was still adapting to the adult way of time management.
The first two weeks of school felt like a dream. I was finally in a big girl living situation: an apartment on the north side of campus. I had gotten in two articles for the paper by their deadlines without any setbacks or excuses. I was starting out strong and ahead in my online classes, and I was spending at least an hour a day outside enjoying the fresh air and moving my body.
I could see my dream coming to fruition, and I was engulfed in a naive and blissful certainty that everything was going to work out. Given the history of constant unexpected change in my life, I really should have known better.
The Thursday night before Labor Day, I had a serious conversation with an immediate family member over the phone. For the sake of privacy, we’ll call her ‘M.’ She was a little intoxicated and emotional, but it wasn’t extremely atypical for her, so I didn’t think anything of it.
We shared some feelings and some desires in our relationship because it had been rocky for us the last couple of years. M had felt as if I wasn’t including her in my life since I had gone to college. I am not great with calling or texting, so it really was a valid complaint.
The conversation eventually came to a close. She said a few strange things like asking me not to forget her, but they did not seem way out of place for the context of the conversation and her state of mind. I thought nothing of it.
The next morning as I was getting ready to leave for class, my phone started buzzing on my dresser. It was another immediate family member. I was delighted to see that she was calling. Again, in the name of privacy, we’ll call her ‘A.’
“¡Hola! ¿Qué tal?” I greeted her often in Spanish as she started learning the language in middle school before I did here in college.
“Azzy, we have a situation down here.”
My heart sank, and just as the first time I was put in a situation like this, every possible horrible and no-good scenario began running through my head.
“What happened?” I was pleading with God for her not to affirm my worst fears.
“I’m in an ambulance with M. She took a bunch of pills this morning.”
Suddenly, “don’t forget me” rang over and over in my head. Anger, hurt, and pain welled up within me, and panic spilled out. I told A to keep me updated, and she agreed, her own voice shaking under the weight of the situation. She had only been living with M again, her mother, for the last year.
When I was 14 and A was just 11, she did the same thing that M had just done. Oh, how the tables turn and how history is repeated.
I felt bad for my roommate as a stream of profanities, a form of language I never used, flew from my lips. I chucked my phone across the room, just missing our mirror on the wall.
Pacing back and forth, I ran my shaking fingers through my hair. I had just washed it, so the strands were soaked and sticking together, but I had nothing else to do with my hands. I couldn’t keep them still.
I dialed my father over and over again, and each time it went to voicemail, I felt another layer of my composure sloughing off. I tried my stepmother, too. This time it rang a few times before ending the same way that my dad’s number did. Fruitless.
I didn’t want to disturb my roommate any further with my unsettled pacing, so I booked it to the study room just down the hall. Once I was in there and the door was shut, I fell to my knees and screamed. I screamed like I hadn’t screamed since I was fourteen.
When I felt that my eyes were sufficiently puffed and my vocal cords were appropriately shredded, I left the study room. I made momentary, freaked-out eye contact with the building custodian as he was waiting for the elevator, too. I felt like such a mess.
I spent the weekend without hardly any answers coming my way. I found out later that day that what had happened to M was not nearly as serious as what had happened to A. A had been kept in the ICU for three days after a series of Benadryl-induced seizures.
M was medically cleared to be admitted to a psychiatric facility by the afternoon. As per Texas law, she was required to stay there for a minimum of 72 hours. I wish I could say that that fact made it easier, but I’m not sure that I would be telling the truth.
I called the facility every few hours, but I could not get through to her until Sunday evening. Everyone and everything is okay now, but for some reason, I’m struggling to say the same about myself.
I dropped a handful of commitments because I suddenly lost all faith in myself and my ability to function when shizzle hits the fan. There is so much I want to do, but I am suddenly riddled with nothing but suffocating doubt.
I have so many questions running through my head. Both A and M tried to leave me, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it or what to think of it. I feel terrible because I know this isn’t about me, but I can’t help but wonder if I am so terrible that I just contribute to my family’s desire to end their life.
I can’t help but wonder if I just wouldn’t have moved away from Texas if this wouldn’t happen this way. Am I the one to blame? Is she the one to blame? Is there even any blame to assign?
I feel angry, but I don’t know where it should be directed.
I was debating if I should even write any of this because if you’re considering suicide, I wouldn’t be the person to contribute to the conversation. I cannot even read the word without feelings of anger swelling up within me.
Both of the people in my life have survived, and I’m still very hurt and angry. I cannot imagine the wounds I would have if they hadn’t.
Suicide is permanent for everyone involved, and there are people in your life who will live the rest of their lives with open wounds if you would choose to attempt it. These experiences have solidified my resolve to never consider the act despite the thoughts I sometimes wake up with that I am letting everyone down with each breath that I take.
No, matter what I feel, I just could not place that pain and panic on even my worst enemy.
I have tried to be kind and understanding with myself these last few weeks, and I urge you to do the same. It can feel like an uphill battle ninety percent of the time, but your life has value. You have value.
Maybe something similar has happened to you. I want to tell you that it is okay to give yourself time to heal. You cannot expect yourself to wake up the next day as a fully functional human being.
Physical wounds can take weeks, or even months, to heal, depending on their severity. We will cradle a broken leg and take some ibuprofen to make the swelling go down. Why, then, do we force ourselves to operate normally with a broken mind?
I get out of bed a little easier each day, and my focus is returning to me. My editor gave me great encouragement that I have gotten back up from this once, so I can do it again. I believe her.
Some days will always be easier than others, and I won’t lie and say that I don’t sometimes sit down and remember all of the deaths and near deaths that I had seen and feel just as hopeless as when they happened. But those moments grow fewer and farther between over time.
Disney’s Meet the Robinsons used to be one of my favorite movies, and the main theme is to “Keep Moving Forward.” To this day, I stand by and hold onto that. There really is no other option.
Again, it’s like breaking your leg. After you wear the cast for a little while, you have to get back on it and use it for it to heal properly.
While I had originally debated writing this article, I am now thankful for the opportunity. I feel blessed to have this medium in which to express my pain, and it has helped me take another step with my’ broken leg’.
I do wish M would have told me what she was really thinking about when she got off the phone with me. I wish she would have taken my countless pieces of advice about going and talking to someone. I wish she hadn’t been living in Texas with only her daughter and few other resources and family.
However, all I can do now is thank God that her decision led her to counsel and to live in Wyoming with her sister, who loves her more than anything. I can thank God that she was just as scared of what she was capable of in that mindset and made a change. But not everyone gets a second chance like we did.
It can be difficult to spot the signs of someone struggling with thoughts of suicide or other mental health issues. A few things to keep in mind, though, are sudden changes in mood, sudden sentimental remarks, substance abuse, and someone suddenly reaching out to have a serious conversation after you haven’t spoken for a while.
These are just a few of the things that I look back and notice in my own experiences, but it is important to be aware that everyone handles their mental struggles in a different manner. Some things may be more easily spotted than others, but a good rule of thumb is, if you know the person well, look for changes in mood, personality, and attitude.
There are resources available to you here on campus, and there are people in your life who care about you and want to know how you’re doing more than you even realize.
The NDSU counseling center is available here on campus, as well as the Green Bandana Project which has littered the campus with people willing and ready to help. You can call 988, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, if you are really struggling, but please call 911 if you have already done something to hurt yourself.