Coping with Mental Illness at WIU
Trigger Warning: This article discusses Mental Illness, and briefly touches on contemplated suicide.
As of the time of writing this piece, it has been roughly one week since I asked a group of my friends to put me on an impromptu suicide watch.
It is a lot to ask of them, especially given the complexity of their own lives, but if there is anyone in the world who I trust to help keep me in one piece, it would be this group of beautiful, mad individuals that I have the honor of calling my friends. I asked them to simply keep an eye on me, and they responded in a manner more powerful than anything I could have even hoped for–visits from friends that I thought far out of reach came faster than I could have imagined, monetary aid that I thought impossible, even little things like a candid conversation with one friend who was as far away as Germany. When I needed a shoulder to lean on, they responded by picking me up and carrying me, and it is no exaggeration to say that such a powerful act not only saved my life, but is one of the most inspirational things to have ever happened to me.
I live with Bipolar depression Type Two, characterized by long periods of depression with occasional manic episodes, and a host of other minor and major symptoms. It’s not an easy thing to live with, as I’m sure is fairly obvious at this point, but I manage to get by with no small amount of help. Sometimes that help is something big, like helping to pay for my medication when I’m having problems, and sometimes that help is something so small that I’m sure it doesn’t even occur to the people who do it, such as an offhand encouragement or praise. It might not seem like much, but there have been plenty of times when a simple compliment has pulled me out of the mire.
There are a lot of things I wish I had heard a long time ago, things like it’s okay to need help, that I wasn’t a failure for looking for it, and all of the usual emotional help that people need, but the more important things I needed to hear was how. What should I do, where should I go, who do I see? You can’t get help if you don’t know where to find it. Luckily, WIU has that help on campus if you know where to look, and if you feel like you need help then you should definitely look into it. The University Counseling Center is a free service provided to both undergraduate and graduate students, located in Memorial Hall on the first floor. By all accounts, it is a fantastic service, and you should definitely go see them whether you have a mental illness or not. If you’re concerned you have a mental illness, then you can set up an appointment with a psychologist through Beu Health Center. I can personally attest that they are a fantastic resource, and they are covered by the Student Health Insurance plan. Sadly, actually finding most of this information is a bit of a hassle, as WIU’s search optimization is woefully under-equipped to direct students to these resources. But there IS help on campus for those struggling with mental illness.
Unfortunately, access to insurance isn’t a permanent situation for many of us, and even when it is we still have to have methods for coping just in case. Everyone comes up with their own coping mechanisms, but for me, the most effective things turned out to be games and music. Not to keep me happy, but to just keep me level when the worst would come. So many long nights were spent grinding away in World of Warcraft or just cycling through the same four songs on Youtube. Escapism might not have been the best way to handle things, but it was my way. However, the most powerful coping mechanism I’ve found is a powerful support structure. Friends who will listen when you need an ear, who can help you out when you need it, or can just give you a place to crash for the night. Sometimes it takes a lot of outside help and having friends around; friends who are willing to give you that help is so incredibly important.
Sadly, this isn’t always going to be enough. Even the most devout friends and family will sometimes just be too busy or too wrapped up in their own lives to help. Worse still, sometimes people won’t know that you need the help if you don’t reach out. You have to be strong enough to reach out, you can’t just rely on quiet hints or macabre jokes in conversation, you have to learn to grab someone by the shoulders and say “I am not okay.” But in the event that your support structure isn’t available, then you have to know who and where to turn to. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is an amazing resource for this, reachable at 1-800-237-8255. While I haven’t personally used this resource, I know at least one other person with similar issues has used this before and rates it very highly. If, for whatever reason, you feel completely cornered, then at the very least grab on to anything you can possibly think of to keep going. Even the small and petty things can be monumentally important and can help you drag yourself just far enough. It can be literally anything, but for me, it’s a single phrase: “You can get back up if you’re still alive.”
Living with mental illness, even in the high-stress environment of higher learning, IS manageable. Maybe, like me, you’ve found yourself struggling to keep up with classes due to long bouts of depression, and have had to take classes multiple times to manage it: That’s okay. It sucks, but you can still manage it, even if you have to graduate later than you originally intended. In my experience, talking to your teachers can help mitigate this in most situations, and when it doesn’t, you usually don’t lose anything for trying. Regardless, all the tools you need to get through are available to you, whether it’s medication through the Beu Health Center, the support structure of friends you make along the way, or just a brief distraction in the form of a play or concert available for free with your student ID.
If you’re interested in similar work from this author, you can find it at https://medium.com/@matthewscottkirkham