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."
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