It’s not just me, myself and I

I often feel like my emotions control my state of being to a greater extent than my state of being controls my emotions. Routines, however trivial they may seem, are crucial to my existence.

My morning routine is a simple yet well-practiced tradition – I get dressed, sling my backpack across my shoulders and make sure my earbuds are securely in place before I dare open the front door and start a new day.

I make my trek through Southside and across campus with a practiced precision, hands in my pockets as I follow a route that I have perfected over time. I blast a carefully curated playlist and drown out the ambient noise around me, stepping in time to the bass reverberating through my bones. This routine in particular is one that has permeated my days at UC Berkeley, yet I haven’t always found such peace in this dance with the early light of dawn.

At times, as I make my way through campus, I can’t help but look around and notice the sheer number of people around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot friends hugging each other hello and laughing alongside one another as I walk with my head down, my music canceling out the conversations and laughter closing in on me.

It’s quite a strange feeling to be surrounded by thousands of people and still feel utterly alone.

Loneliness is an emotion that is particularly difficult for my brain to process as I continuously struggle to manage my mental health. My carefully practiced morning music ritual isn’t meant to help me de-stress or be energized — it’s my method of blocking out the voices that reside inside my own head, the ones that tell me that I’m a broken person, that I’m a failure and, most often, that I am alone.

As an awestruck freshman who was easily intimidated by the rather thick and tense air surrounding the pre-med community at UC Berkeley, my feelings of loneliness spread like wildfire. Here were budding scientists whose brains didn’t quite malfunction the way that mine did far too often. I tried my absolute best to mirror what I saw around myself — I wanted to be the perfect student, the flawless intellectual.

For the longest time, I lived two lives — I emulated the picture-perfect pre-med student and undergraduate researcher by day and the weak, emotionally inconsistent young woman who was quickly losing her grip on reality by night. I refused to let my unblemished façade slip even for a second and reveal the deeply unhappy and drained girl beneath the carefully constructed mask.

These were the moments when I felt the most lonely at UC Berkeley — I had built strong friendships across campus communities, but I was terrified of losing the life I had constructed. I couldn’t fathom why my friends would want to waste their friendship on such a damaged person — I couldn’t imagine being worthy of their love.

It was disheartening to realize that even my closest confidants didn’t really know who I was — a reality that led me to feel lonely even when surrounded by my most trusted companions. It took me nearly two years of self-induced loneliness to realize that while I often couldn’t control my emotions and mental state of being, I had the ability to control my reaction to them.

Letting my painstakingly constructed emotional barriers crumble to reveal the vulnerable woman standing behind them was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. Finally giving voice to the darker thoughts in my head that previously only existed in the privacy of my mind was equal parts intimidating and cathartic.

Of course the route from revelation to reality was not all smooth sailing — I lost friends along the way as people who I trusted to be my community on campus dwindled with each unanswered text and broken Snapchat streak. But I don’t blame them — even I myself can’t help but fear my own struggle with my mental health at times.

Yet what surprised me the most was just how many people decided to stand by my side even after discovering that I wasn’t all that I had made myself out to be.

I was astonished each time my friends helped me make therapy appointments, brought me meals and groceries when I couldn’t bring myself to leave the house or simply talked me down when I was spiraling. It wasn’t until I tossed my mask into the flames that I realized just how strong of a community I had built at UC Berkeley. I surrounded myself with people who were willing to accept my dysfunctional brain as it was.

Nowadays, I like to scan around me as I walk to campus in the cold morning air, listening to a playlist of pop hits created by a dear friend. I smile quietly to myself as I hold my head up, responding to a text from another friend asking me how I’m feeling this morning.

I blast my music to drown out the darker voices that still swim around in the choppy waters of my headspace. But this time around, they’ve floated further back into the recesses of my brain, making room for the seeds of unconditional support that my community has so lovingly planted in me.

Contact Manisha Ummadi at [email protected] .