About the author: Blake Downing is a senior set to graduate in May 2019 with a degree in microbiology. He works in Dr. Jeff Gralnick's lab studying anaerobic bacterial metabolism. After graduation, he will be headed to graduate school to pursue a PhD in geomicrobiology!
"I grew up pretty carefree. I spent a lot of time outside as a child as a would-be biologist: making friends with birds and bugs and trees. However, my happy-go-lucky childhood came to a sudden halt when I lost my mom suddenly to a genetic illness when I was 14. My mom was my emotional rock throughout my childhood, and her death had a profound impact on my mental health and emotional development because I was so young. I bottled up a lot of my feelings regarding my grief, my sexuality, and low self-esteem, choosing instead to hyper-focus on trying to achieve in school. I retained my interest in biology and eventually landed a spot in the UMN CBS Class of 2019. My first two years of college were difficult, and I struggled to stay on top of my classes. Attending college over 700 miles from where I was raised with no friends or family close by, involvement in an unhealthy intimate relationship, and struggling to accept my sexual orientation was incredibly stressful. This stress was exacerbated by the fact that as science students, we are often pressured to disregard our feelings for the sake of objectivity. These feelings and destructive influences compounded with my unresolved grief to severely impact my mental health. After reaching an incredibly dark point in the spring of my sophomore year, I reached out to my advisor, friends, and campus mental health services. Since then, I have attended weekly counseling sessions addressing the trauma of my past, formed stronger bonds with my peers, removed myself from a toxic relationship, and have healthily accepted my sexual orientation. If I had advice for other students, I’d say to be gentle with yourself. Life can be hard, confusing, and scary. But, every one of us has so much potential and good ahead of us. We just have to be patient and kind enough with ourselves to get there."
"I just got off the phone with my mother and am still crying. I'm probably getting B's and C's in most of my classes. My throat feels so tight, and I'm wondering, how can we ever support each other when so many of us are too tight to move? How can we make sure that we don't die of heart attacks at 50? If this is what ambition does to me, I don't think I want to be ambitious anymore. I'm paying to be here, and I'm not paying for anxiety. I'm not paying to be pressured into giving every second of my day to deserve to be in CBS. I really wonder if CBS has space for my failure. I've realized that the worst person you can compete with is yourself, it's just cruel. For everyone reading this, I hope you protect yourself and your light. You deserve to treat yourself better. Let's all sleep on time tonight."
About the Author: "I am a dancer at heart. I cook really well, soups are a favorite. I am a good listener. I've painted the walls of my room and they look beautiful."
"As I share my story with you, I candidly acknowledge that it could never encompass all mental health narratives worldwide - let alone in CBS. I can only speak of my own experiences on behalf of myself. Everyone’s mental health journey is their own - most paths different than mine. Likewise, my path of healing may not be the best choice for others. But I hope that my story - the first to be on Humans of CBS - will start a long overdue mental health discussion in a new safe space.
My depression and social anxiety started in middle school for reasons I will not mention. When you’re young, you’re not educated about mental health or taught proper coping strategies so I had no clue what I was experiencing. Society taught me that my social anxiety was shyness and my depression was incoming mood swings or stereotypical teenage angst. Over the next 8 years, my depression and anxiety worsened thanks to specific individuals in my life, both family members and peers. So instead of focusing on my deteriorating mental health, I laser-focused on academics in school and succumbed to the familial pressure of being a piece of a “normal” happy family unit. In my mind, everything would be fine as soon as I got to college.
However, I didn’t expect the magnitude of my isolation from home and the competitive CBS culture. In CBS we glorify the minutiae of unhealthy habits and thoughts. We are all part of a competitive populace of brainiacs aspiring to succeed in medical school, research, academia, or a fusion of something else entirely. We work to deserve our success. However, somewhere along the way we irrevocably linked success to lost health and sleep, negative comparison with peers, GPA status, and credit cramming. Though this was not the main source of my declining mental health, it certainly expedited it. I first reached out to mental health resources after my brother urged me to get help after a panic attack on Thanksgiving. Therapy was one of the most difficult, but rewarding emotional experiences of my life. I confronted my family and my past, but I am a much happier person because of it. I am by no means fixed (I absolutely hate that word), but it provided me with a direction for healing. Now I heal by talking to those who have experienced mental health issues, volunteering in advocacy organizations, and creating necessary self-care time when I’m burnt out. I also recommend making a “bad day box” with scents, food, letters from those you love etc. Green tea is a favorite.
But what is your story? You know yourself better than I ever could. If you feel like you might need resources, seek them out now. Understand that your emotions and thoughts are valid. Mental health is a continuum - a wide limitless grayscale. You don’t have to be depressed, suicidal, or self-harming to qualify for help. You deserve help and resources no matter where you are on that grayscale. The size of the continuum attests to one undeniable truth: you are not alone. Know that we are here for each other. Please take the time to reach out to campus resources or take initiative in self-care."
Humans of CBS
Humans of CBS is a platform for those wishing to share their mental health story, thoughts, or experiences with others in CBS. We hope that this series will give visibility to these issues, let students know they are not alone, and provide mental health resources for students on campus. Posts can be submitted either anonymously or named at z.umn.edu/HumansofCBS2018