As a happy and optimistic person, I could never truly relate to my friends who shared about their mental health problems.
That was until the first day of university came around, when I began to experience the sense of anxiety and depression I had seen and heard them share about.
Suddenly I would tear up throughout the day randomly, break down during breakfast at the thought of the day ahead and just want to sleep the whole day away.
I became unable to feel anything and nothing could distract me. My hand refused to move though my beloved sketchbook was open before me. My food also started to taste bland.
Even my favourite comedy movie seemed more like a black and white silent film – it was totally unable to evoke a response from me.
I would tear up randomly, break down during breakfast at the thought of the day ahead and just want to sleep the whole day away.
What I especially struggled with in the early weeks of my freshman year were course registration and balloting, those were absolute nightmares for me.
Day by day, my classmates were filling up their timetables while I was left waiting. And when I was finally allocated a module, the professor asked all the first year undergraduates to drop it because he wanted the seniors to have priority.
When I talked to my classmates about my predicament, they responded along the lines of: “You die already.”
It took everything I had to continue to hold on and trust God (and not burst out in tears in front of them!).
I remember just trying to hold the tears back during the orientation dinner on my first day in hall.
I did not want to be away from home at all, but my parents had encouraged me to try out the independent life. The plan was even to stay on campus for the whole first week!
Back in my room, I was chiding myself for being so weak. Everyone else seemed to be doing fine – having the time of their lives even – and yet I was despairing about this privilege of even attending university!
HOLDING ON TO HOPE
Yet even in those really dark moments, somehow, I still knew that God was with me and comforting me even if I was too low in spirits to fully connect with Him and be refreshed by His truth.
All I could was to hold on to the hope that I would walk out of this eventually, even if I didn’t know how long more this journey would last.
The next day, I met my mum for lunch and told her I wanted to go home. I cried in the shopping mall because I just couldn’t hold it in anymore.
Yet even in those really dark moments, somehow, I still knew that God was with me and comforting me.
After this, mum would pray for me daily before I went to school. She told me it was okay to feel stressed, but reminded me never to label myself as weak. Her encouragement helped me to see that I couldn’t go on like this forever.
My dad also sat down to walk me through planning for my courses and shared the burden by making sense of the registration system together with me so that I didn’t feel so alone.
I also met my cell leader to have a talk. She led me to identify possible incidents and experiences that had unknowingly affected me leading up to school starting, such as bad experiences during orientation camp.
That, along with her counsel and prayer for me, really helped me to take a first step towards recovery.
Another turning point came when I was talking to a senior about my course registration woes and seeking her advice.
When she heard that I hadn’t gotten a single module by the second week, her immediate reaction was similar to that of my classmates – you’re in deep trouble.
Though she caught herself and assured me that things would be okay, I have to admit that I was disappointed by what she said.
I had expected encouragement and advice. Instead, I was particularly affected by her shock and worry because as someone already familiar with the system, if even she couldn’t see a way out, it certainly seemed like the end for me.
The twisting in my heart completely disappeared and there was peace like I had never felt before.
Nevertheless, on the bus home after the conversation, I prayed and told God that I forgave her for causing me to feel worse.
I knew she didn’t mean it at all. We all make mistakes, whether out of ignorance or impulsivity, and hurt each other unknowingly sometimes.
God’s intervention struck me like lightning in that moment. The twisting in my heart completely disappeared and there was peace like I had never felt before. I didn’t feel the urge to cry or escape to a hidden corner anymore.
I believe that moment of forgiveness was my turning point, because that was when when I shifted my focus from my problems to external and higher things like what God wanted for me in that season and empathising with others.
HELPING HANDS AND HEALING
At the end of two weeks, though I still wasn’t allocated a single module, God opened doors for me to receive assistance.
An auntie from church who happened to work at my school referred me to the administrative office for help, where they added modules for me manually.
When I finally took a look at my completed timetable for that semester, I felt peace in my heart because it was as if God had planned it.
As I look back on that first semester, I gained practical experience on how to plan my modules for the following semesters.
But more importantly, I also learnt to lean on God, to seek help from trusted and godly adults without shame and the power of forgiveness.
I won’t waste this encounter with mild depression, either. Now that I better understand the mental health struggles others might be going through, when God presents me opportunities to encourage my friends, I’ll be in a better place to do so.
I’ll also be able to empathise with friends who are transitioning to university and advise them from my experience.
Truly, no experience – no matter how painful – is wasted when God redeems it. I believe God has birthed something beautiful out of my freshman year and shaped me to be able to further glorify Him in the future!
So if you’re feeling anxious about university, know that it’s normal.
But don’t stop there: give all your worries to God and talk it out with a leader, adult or your peers who have been through it.
Conversations with the right people can help you see things in a new light, and be encouraged and edified with godly advice.
Ask God to build you up in truth and community, so that even when you walk through storms you will not be overcome by the waves but emerge victorious!
Are you a freshman at one our local universities? Here are a few ways you can connect with other students on campus!
- What was the toughest moment you faced while schooling?
- Looking back, how was God moving in that moment?
- Know someone who’s struggling with school? Send some encouragement their way this week!