Almost four years ago, I had entered UC Berkeley as a starry-eyed freshman with dreams of becoming valedictorian, graduating early and starting a career as a brain surgeon. It seemed like the planets had aligned and I had won the lottery — I was attending my dream school with my best friend, I got a newly renovated dorm room practically all to myself (because my roommate was always gone), and I was getting good grades — but at the same time, something felt off.
Underneath that shiny exterior of my new life, a storm was brewing. I cried and cried and cried and cried. And I slept. And that’s about all that I did. I went from being a straight-A student to skipping class every day because I was too sad and tired to get out of bed. I took long naps in order to avoid my responsibilities and my feelings. I missed club meetings and sacrificed time hanging out with my friends to wallow alone in my room. I lost a lot of weight (freshman -15, anyone?) because I didn’t leave to get food and survived solely off the applesauce and microwave oatmeal that I had stocked in my room.
I realized something needed to change, so I went to see a doctor at the Tang Center and they confirmed what I already suspected: I was depressed. Like, really depressed. That appointment led to therapy, which led to long talks that involved a lot of crying on my part and a lot of sympathetic nodding on my therapist’s part. This all eventually led to a plan that I never thought I would consider: taking a leave of absence from UC Berkeley. I knew the amount of work I’d have to put into staying wasn’t sustainable for me, so I decided to leave and move back home to San Diego so I could focus on my mental health and figure out what I would do next.
While I was home, I decided to take a community college class in graphic design, a topic I had always been interested in, to help get myself to leave the house. Unexpectedly, I fell in love with it and decided to forgo my passion for science to pursue design. After two years of taking design classes, I started applying to art schools. I had a clear plan in mind and nowhere in this plan did the words “UC Berkeley” show up. But still, a small doubt floated in the back of my mind. What if I wanted to finish what I started?
Cue weeks of agonizing self-doubt and sleepless nights. Who was I? What did I want? Could I even handle going back to school full time? The depression affected my ability to concentrate and keep up with schoolwork. Most of the time at community college I was taking a reduced course load. Had I gotten any better, or would going back just exacerbate my condition again? What would this mean for my future?
I think you can guess what I eventually decided on.
Although my priorities for my career had changed, I felt a certain pull toward Cal. I knew choosing to go back would mean giving up on getting a degree in graphic design since UC Berkeley doesn’t have that as a major, but I felt sentimental toward the school and the time I had spent there. I had wanted to go here since I was 12, and in some ways I felt a need to complete the journey I’d started. And I knew if I was determined to, I’d find a way to make my goals work, regardless of where I went to school.
That first night alone — back in Berkeley, in my new apartment, after my mom had left to go back to San Diego — I cried. (Me! Crying in Berkeley! What déjà vu.) When I was a freshman, I cried because it felt like I had no control over my situation; this time, I cried because I had taken control but I still didn’t know where I was heading.
But in my first semester back, I went to my classes; I continued to see a psychologist and took medication; I talked to the campus Disabled Students’ Program about my struggles with schoolwork and got help. I joined the design department at the Daily Cal and started talking to people and eventually made friends. Over the past three years, my depression has grown and changed and adapted, throwing new obstacles in my path and threatening to take me down again. But with time, I’ve learned to not back down, and I’ve grown and changed and adapted with it.
Some days are still hard. Often, I wake up terrified that I will never get any better and that I made the wrong decision to come back. Other days, I wake up and see how far I’ve come. I tell myself, Look! You just survived your first year back at Cal! And you are continuing to survive. It’s a work in progress, and that just means I have to keep working.
“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the summer semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.