Last week marked the end of a four-week stay in Ann Arbor where I took classes in social science research methods as part of a graduate summer program. The trip was an important part of my journey in living with anxiety and healing my relationship with school. Not only am I insecure when it comes to math, but also any kind of disruption to my normal routine is incredibly stressful. In addition to the emotional toll of living in a new city, being one of the younger, more inexperienced people in the program, took a lot of courage.
Unlike most of my colleagues, I never studied advanced math, such as calculus, in high school, and I went to a small liberal arts college where math was not a heavy part of courses. By the time most people are in their early-to-mid-twenties, they don’t expect to learn new skills, and the process can be an emotional challenge. I’m no exception. Also, it’s really hard for me to ask for help because I’m afraid of wasting people’s time. During camp, I would get this vague idea that when I bravely march to the TA’s office to lay out my dilemmas, he’d say “OMG HOW DARE YOU! WE WENT OVER THIS YESTERDAY, HOW CAN YOU STILL NOT GET IT??”
Fortunately, I had a pretty good idea of the effect the program would have on me and went equipped with reminders of good coping tools and pep talks written in my journal. All the good practices I’ve learned didn’t make the anxiety disappear or the classes easier (I cried during a lab in the first week). This time was different from previous years, however, because I had a foundation that carried me through. And that’s the secret to mental illness: rather than finding a “cure,” finding a way to live the life you want and not let your disorders call the shots.
I kept taking deep breathes and asking for help when I needed it (the TA was nice and didn’t yell at me once). By the end of the second week, I found a rhythm. I was getting homework done early and had time to do things I enjoyed like watching movies and walking through the downtown area. I also started getting nine hours of sleep every night, which has felt amazing and is my new regular goal.
I used to think that going back to school would cost the price of being in constant survival mode, but the past year has seen my emotional roadblocks and unhealthy defenses gradually loosen and fall away with the rest of the past. I’m more hopeful than ever that I can thrive as a mentally-ill Christian woman in academia.
Oh, and I’m not saying that I’m Good Will Hunting, but I did get A’s in all my homework. Bottom line — if I can do math, no one else has excuses.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.