Last weekend, I decided to frame my college diploma. It had been in a box under my bed, and I honestly wanted to forget about it. But I felt that I owed this to myself. It’s not because I’m particularly proud of having a degree or feel the need to remind myself and others of my accomplishments. It’s because I’ve decided to own the past, and in so doing reconcile myself with all of it — the good and the bad.
College was a miserable experience. As mental illness took its toll, I saw the high-achieving, A-type homeschooled kid I had once been gradually replaced by a shaky, damaged wraith of my former self. In some ways, going to college brought to light issues that had been simmering under the surface and revealed who I was all along. You can’t be high functioning forever when anxiety and depression run your whole life. The facade eventually falls away.
I didn’t attend my graduation ceremony because I felt there was nothing I could celebrate. It seemed to me that my peers were happily gathered together with friends and family to rejoice in becoming well-dressed, well-spoken, brighter, stronger versions of their adult selves. I felt that college had produced the exact opposite effect on me. On that day, I quietly said goodbye to a few people and took a Greyhound home.
Much of my mental illness exists in the context of my complicated relationship with education, a subject that I’ve spent countless journal entries trying to sort through. Like many (not all) homeschoolers, I grew up believing that not living up to your utmost potential was a sin against God and your fellow man and that having a classical liberal arts education would save the world. That kind of pressure is hard enough to bear without mental illness.
It’s been a little over three years since that graduation day, and I’ve come a long way toward a healthier understanding of the purpose of education, what God expects of us, and what it means to be a whole person. Freedom from a moral anxiety toward education has allowed me to explore the things that I’m really interested in and, honestly, have more fun. Most importantly, I’m closer to forgiving and accepting the past for what it was. I have a long way to go. Unlike former times, however, I now live with the belief that God doesn’t hold us to the same impossible standards that humans do and that the past need not define my future.
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.