Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Help is not a Personal Defeat

As I've established Bottom of the Top, I've never been sure whether I was sharing too much about my life or whether I was merely being transparent about being a student.  It's been crazy living as a student here at MIT, and it's always been important to me not to only show one side of it.  Like I said last week, there's been a lot going on in my life that has been causing me to rethink how I've been living and how I'm going to move forward once I graduate.  One things I've decided is important is my physical and mental health.
I think the hardest thing to take care of is your sanity and mental well being.  This is something I have been struggling with for years, especially during my time at MIT.  I won't sugar-coat it; I've sometimes likened studying engineering as a form of mental abuse.  The pay-off is amazing, but for 4 years you have to tough out grueling hours of getting incredibly difficult work done.  It's physically and mentally draining.  To a 20 year old, 4 years seems like an eternity to struggle through this.  As I finish my time here, I look back with many fond memories, but many troubled ones too.
I'm telling you this because two years ago I came to a pivotal decision that I think is one of the most important of my life.  
After finishing a little under half my degree I was utterly frayed.  My nerves were shot, I was physically twitching and I couldn't handle listening to more than one person talk at a time.  I would literally start to cry anytime anyone talked about school or my future to me.  My free time was spent staring at a wall listing things I needed to do.
One day my sophomore year I realized that I was not supposed to feel like this.  Now, I had always been a person to "tough it out".  Fall off your bike?  Tough it out.  Didn't get any sleep?  Tough it out.  Kids are mean at school?  Tough it out.  I considered myself a tough person who could weather anything life threw at me.  This is when I began to take my feelings as a personal defeat of character.  I was no longer tough enough to handle my own life.  
As someone who studies chemistry, I should have know this was not true.  At this point I was so exhausted that my brain couldn't produce enough serotonin to keep up with my lifestyle.  I was physically ill.  Mental illness has a huge stigma attached to it; we think we're crazy like Norman Bates if we need help regulating ourselves.  When we realize this isn't true, we can help ourselves get better, just like getting antibiotics for strep.  This realization was essential for my time here, and if I hadn't started taking sertraline I don't know what my mental state would be today.
I'm writing this now because I've arrived at another crossroads: do I continue taking it?  With less and less work on my plate I'm becoming tempted to see how I function without it.  I want to try to function on my own because I'm still stubborn and still want to tough it out.  This is the point where I have to recognize what's stubborn, what what's healthy.  After mulling it over and talking with my doctor (don't not talk to them!) I'm tapering down and easing off.  So far it's been promising and I've been able to handle the day-to-day stresses of my life.  
However, I'm also going through honest to goodness withdrawals right now.  I wake up nauseous and with a splitting headache.  Sometimes during the day I'll start sweating and shaking.  It's been bad enough that I've considered staying on this drug forever, but I know I only have to make it through 2 weeks and it'll be out of my system.
The moral?  Take care of yourself always.  There is no such thing as a healthy person, but that doesn't mean every little thing wrong with you is a condition.  Just do what you need to get by and know you're not the only one who sometimes needs help.

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