Student stories: Fighting depression and anxiety
DEPRESSION and anxiety aren’t topics we usually like to discuss. But as more and more international students struggle with mental illness, it’s time we looked after ourselves and our friends. Chrisella Sentena shares her inspiring story.
It was one of the hottest days of summer on record. As the heat seeped into my room I feared a moth would gnaw my eyelids if I closed them.
Sleep was impossible. The constant buzzing of flies trapped inside the light bulb above me was relentless. It was 3AM and I was exhausted, but I was far from sleepy.
With this restlessness, symptoms of depression and anxiety materialised.
Living with anxiety is a like having Annoying Orange’s evil twin breathing down your neck. She yaps in your brain, constantly suggesting random depressing thoughts.
While Annoying Orange’s evil twin (let’s call her Mrs Orange) babbles away, my heart reacts. It beats irrationally and my chest tightens. The feeling is horrible.
At first everything seemed under control. I’d dealt with anxiety since I was a high school student in Jakarta. My Chinese parents expected me to deal with my mood swings and just “get happy, quickly” so I could carry on with more important things, like studying.
I did my best to tell Mrs Orange to can it. I dealt with my feelings the best way I knew how: by distracting myself.
Melbourne is Australia’s arts and culture capital after all. I was positive that if I isolated myself and did things to take my mind of my problems I’d be fine, just fine.
The books from the library didn’t help. The more I read, the more I found myself thinking about my life. Living with an unreliable internet connection I also kept maxing out my bandwidth. I streamed movies like mad, binge-watching predictable Korean shows where the girl always got the guy. When that got boring I moved onto old movies.
I told myself the stereotypical Arts student enjoys the classics, so I set about educating myself. I watched a bunch of Audrey Hepburn films and she was a good companion– until I grew tired of the subpar video quality.
My strategy – isolating myself and watching movies – seemed to work for a while. I didn’t have a lot of friends who stayed in Melbourne during the summer anyway, so cutting them off was relatively easy. I systematically ignored all calls, even those from a particularly persistent friend. I felt bad at first, but the anxiety of having to explain how lonely I felt extinguished the guilt quickly. I walked around with my head bowed down and my ears plugged with headphones so I wouldn’t meet anyone by accident and have to give them a fake explanation about what I’d been up to.
Meeting people was too much, so I limited my social interactions to the minimum expected during tutorials and ordering takeout. I couldn’t be bothered eating right, so my daily meals consisted of KFC and Grill’d until the Grill’d cashier remembered my name and usual order. That’s when I stopped going, because the little voice inside me was screaming: “She’s judging you for being a fatty with a burger addiction!”.
This particular bout of gloom seemed endless. I didn’t know when the next episode of calm and order would air. Back in Indonesia, I’d dealt with the gloom by imagining how brilliant my life would be in Melbourne. But when I arrived full of expectations about the ‘great international student experience’, what I got in return was far from what I’d expected.
I was too scared to expect anything good from the days to come. My grades were plummeting and my lecturers were telling me I had no future in the media industry. I was brokenhearted that the friendships I’d made in Melbourne were disappearing one by one and was convinced I was the cause of it.
The routine of crying myself to sleep after failing to distract myself got old quickly. One night, I was tired of being alone and powerless. Suicide seemed like the only option. I made my way to my medicine cabinet only to find I had nothing to overdose on. I finally made it to my kitchen drawer, but before I opened it, something stopped me. That was the moment I realised I needed help.
It was 3AM and my weary mind detangled a bit once I’d acknowledged the state I was in. I didn’t know who to turn to. So I spoke to Siri (like I said, suicide makes you do all sorts of things) and told her what was on my mind. She gave me the number for the suicide hotline. On their advice, I began visiting the GP and the counseling service at my university.
And after what seemed like a forest’s equivalent of tissues were thrown into the counselor’s bin, Mrs Orange and her depressing cronies finally simmered down.
If you or someone you know has ever considered suicide, reach out to Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14. Its a free and confidential hotline that’s open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also get free and confidential depression and/or anxiety counseling by calling Beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or chatting with them online at www.beyondblue.org.au.