Dear you,

Chances are, you don’t know me and I don’t know you. We are strangers coinciding through words on a page. If you are so inclined to read/listen, I would love to share with you a little bit about myself.

I live with depression and anxiety. It’s not exactly a secret, but I also do not go out of my way to “advertise” it, so to speak. Every so often, the “right” circumstances arise where I feel compelled to share my lived experiences, because stories have the power to inspire others to do what’s best for them.

When it was time for my friends and me to move on from high school to the post-secondary world, we realized that something was missing. There was this empty space – this gap– between the traditional classroom and the post-secondary lifestyle that the former didn’t quite prepare us for.

Tangible things like learning to live on your own, financial literacy, building supportive social networks, resume building, participating in meaningful activities, and so on and so forth. And the less tangible things, like exploring your passions, adjusting to new intensity, coping with failure, and being resilient.

At the age of 17, I couldn’t wait to go to university. I was a first-generation university student, one of the lucky few in my entire extended family with the opportunity to pursue higher education. I had the utmost optimistic outlook that I was going to love my time away and that this would be the best 4 years of my life.

There was this common expectation (myth almost) endorsed by my teachers, my parents, and my friends: if you work hard, you will succeed. Get good grades. Get good jobs. It seemed relatively straightforward.

I struggled in my first year of university. My roommate and I did not get along. Making new friends was a lot harder than I imagined it would be. Staying in touch with my old friends seemed almost impossible when we were scattered across the country. I was constantly homesick. I had a hard time grasping concepts in class. It felt like no matter how much I studied, I just couldn’t keep up. Miraculously though, I managed to pass all my classes. I was upset, but I breathed. I thought, “This was first year – it’s supposed to be hard. I can do better next year.”

Come second year, I resolved to do better in every aspect. To be more social and well-rounded, I would join a club, try something new, and volunteer. To be more academic, I would join a study group and ask for help. If I needed more time to study, I would wriggle out of spending time with my family.

Toward the end of my second year, I began to feel very overwhelmed. I was trying to do too much simultaneously in order to be the perfect student. I quickly learned that it wasn’t enough to just have good grades, and even then my grades were slipping to the point where I failed two courses. I could literally see the “failures” on my transcript stamping themselves on everything I touched.

I cannot adequately convey to you in words how disappointed and ashamed I was. It wasn’t just that I was falling behind in the arbitrary 4-year timeline of attaining an undergraduate degree – it was also losing scholarship money that I relied on and tuition money that my family and I had painstakingly saved up. It was being unable to take part in the intellectual conversations that my peers were having. It was going to my professors’ office hours and being discouraged that the questions I had were something that had already been addressed in class. It was being in shock of having been placed on academic probation and being told that if I failed to maintain my GPA, I would be kicked out of school. It was lying to my friends and family about how everything was going swimmingly.

I stopped paying attention in class – disassociating to the point where the entire hour would go by and I would realize too late I hadn’t caught a single word of lecture.

I stopped eating properly – as hard as I tried to stay healthy, I had no appetite and what little food I could eat refused to stay down.

I couldn’t sleep – my scumbag brain alternated between worrying about what catastrophe would come next and ruminating about all the things I did not do properly.

I started withdrawing from day-to-day activities, gripped by sadness and anxiety I could not for the life of me understand.

I stopped talking to my friends and eventually I stopped talking to my family.

Now, if you’ve been following along with me, maybe you can see the downward spiral that I was in. There was a point in time where I could not imagine myself having much of a future. It wasn’t much of a life that I was living. Days drudged on like this until in a moment of distorted and desperate clarity, I decided that my life was not worth living anymore.

Dear you, I’m happy to say that I have not been claimed by suicide. I was really lucky that a friend who had been living with depression themselves noticed and cared enough to check in on me at a time that made all the difference.

What it took was for someone who recognized what I was going through to knock on my door and say, “Hey. I see you. I can tell that you’re going through something big and it can be scary. Please let me take you to see someone about this. We can get through this together.”

And it was a life-changing moment; one filled with terror, uncertainty, and seemingly never-ending tears, but also relief, understanding, and belief that there was something more in store for me.

The first step to change is always the hardest, but it is also essential because even one step means progress. After the first step comes the next step, and the next step, and the next step. It takes as long as it takes and you can do it at your own pace.

It has been almost 6 years since that life-changing moment. Many things have happened, both good and bad, but I am happy and appreciative of where I am today and the support system that I have.

Dear you, we are strangers coinciding through words on a page, but maybe, just maybe, we are kindred spirits through our lived experiences.

I want you to know that I see you. I can tell that you’re going through something big, and it can be scary. But I know that there is more in store for you and I am cheering you on. We can get through this together, and I hope to meet you for real some day.

Thank you for reading.

About Mariette Lee

A lover of swords, writing, music, reading, travel, long hikes, and epic snowball fights, Mariette believes in bettering the world with grace and pizzazz. As part of her mission to become a socially-conscious citizen, Mariette engages youth in the York Region through fundraising and volunteering projects via her role as the Youth Mentor of We Can Change the World Day. A Masters student in Counselling Psychology, Mariette aspires to work with youth and young adults who may be struggling during the critical periods of their lives, and empower them to be their best selves every day. Mariette is the Co-Founder of Gap-Gen and designs programs to inspire and encourage youth in their pursuits and connections.

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