...from the Perry Castañada Library at the University of Texas at Austin around 3:45 AM with a couple of friends after a night of studying.
I’m a 21-year-old man who moved to the US from Pakistan in my early teens. If you would have asked me three years ago if I struggled with mental health, I would have given you a confident, almost arrogant “no”. I’m not sure if that would have been true, even for that time, but as a teen, I was happy to be not battling issues that so many of my fellow teens did.
Things first started changing when I developed plantar fasciitis in both my feet at age 18 in the summer of 2015. Everyday tasks became very painful, I couldn’t run, walk, or even stand for long. My tendency to procrastinate coupled with an attitude of “walking it off” only made things worse.
In addition to that, My ADHD, something I had been able to push under the rug all my life was finally becoming a bigger problem because of the commitments that come as a college student. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I didn’t want to admit anything was, after all, ADHD is just an excuse for laziness, or so I thought.
I was unable to concentrate in class or pay attention to anything really. In half of my conversations, I’d lose the train of thought. In most social settings, I’d make extremely impulsive comments and wouldn’t even know when it happened.
Sadness happened. and along the way, I developed toxic coping habits of dealing with it, like short-term self-harm or allowing myself to make every bad decision like skipping homework, exercise, consciously eating bad foods and abusing substances or skipping class, all on the first impulse, to cause myself long-term self-harm.
Soon I stopped going to class altogether, I stopped taking exams, I stopped trying completely. My first semester really giving up, I failed all my classes in college, semester GPA: 0.0. Then did the same thing the next semester, then the next GPA:0.0 for 3 semesters straight. Also during this time, I had a bad drug reaction which put me in the hospital for three days and under a massive amount of debt
It was a good idea in theory, but backed by a nonexistent plan, was a bad idea in practice. I ended up wasting most of that time the same way. I got into a short relationship that ended up being more harmful to me than I thought. Then late summer, I developed severe knee pain in both knees that came from ignoring my plantar fascitis for 2+ years. Severe elbow pain followed two months after in both elbows.
At this moment, I’m sitting at an insane amount of debt, with poor mental health. With feet, knees, and elbows that hurt almost every minute of the day. And two more years in college at least with an awful GPA if I’m able to even afford college anymore. And now I think, out of all these things, the most important thing I need is my happiness, and a sane mind, because with that I can slowly but surely work through this all. Had I not ignored my academics, physical health or been so careless as to indulge in drugs and bad habits, maybe I wouldn’t be in this position. But also, if I had to act like I did and do all these things but had simply not ignored my mental health, that would have given me the tools to cope with a lot of what happened and even with this situation now. At this point, I’m convinced there’s no way I’m gonna continue this trainwreck.
Except that a few weeks later I get drunk and crash a friend’s truck…
I see no hope, I’m amazed at myself. I decide to confide in a friend, he tells me to seek professional help and checks in with me to make sure. Soon I confide in a few other friends of mine. Things don’t change until you try to change them and habits don’t fade away until you try to break into them. I’ve always known that. I’ve also always known that the first sentence of this paragraph calls for “try” and not “do”. I realize that good health, both mental and physical, and happiness is getting on the path to become better. It’s a journey, not a destination.
We all know this, but we don’t always do much about it. It sounds inspirational yet abstract, poetic yet impractical, it seems too much work and you often don’t know where to start.
So if you think your life is going in a direction you don’t want it to go, if there are mental health issues you’re struggling with my advice first and foremost is to seek help. This is such a huge thing that has tremendously helped me in the past few months. Confide in a friend, confide in a partner, in someone. Anyone to begin with. And let them check in with you and hold you accountable. Also, seek professional help. Give therapy a chance, if it doesn’t work it’s one thing to mark off your list but it’s only reasonable to go seek help from people who have been trained with years of education and experience to help out other people who are going through the same things that you are. If you think you don’t need a therapist, my advice is to let the therapist tell you that and not you.
Another piece of advice is to develop a routine and a weekly schedule where you minimize access to temptations and habits that harm you and maximize the ones that help you. For example, if you’re having trouble with understanding course content or focusing, mention on your schedule a study time closer to the tutoring center at your school or a place on campus that is quiet with fewer distractions (as opposed to home ). If you have a problem with pornography, make sure to schedule study time where you are not alone, unmonitored for long hours late. Alongside your schedule also write your weekly monthly, semester and even yearly goals. And suit your schedule to include progress towards some or all of them.
Understand the harm procrastination, laziness, and negligence of mental health issues could do. Firstly, the former can feed the latter. But also these can affect you in other areas you may not even anticipate, to begin with. I never knew how these habits would affect my physical health, my financial situation, etc as much or as soon as they did.
Finally, as cliche, as it sounds, keep trying, keep fighting, I used to hate every time anybody told me that because it sounds like such a vague, low-effort piece of advice. But think about it, when you have nothing, the ability to fight and keeping at it, no matter what your pace, is all you have. Life can take away a lot from you, but what you do after it has taken everything away (fight) can’t be taken away. I’m not perfect, but even after taking classes three times and failing them, crashing a car drunk driving, ending up in a hospital from drugs and so many other things involving carelessness I continue to try and get out of this. Because that’s all I have.