Sep 21, 2016

To Persevere and Excel – Managing Mental Illness as a Student

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To Persevere and Excel – Managing Mental Illness as a Student

By Cody Hike, 2016 GHQ Summer Intern & Indiana Lambda (Southern Indiana) Phi

One of the defining moments during my Phikeia experience occurred when my big brother asked me a compelling question: “What has happened in your life that has made you who you are today?” My answer wasn’t a bad breakup, a family relationship that had deteriorated, or a specific event. I wanted to share that managing two separate mental illnesses has made a profound impact on me. At the time, I felt this was not what the Fraternity or my big brother would want me to reveal. Though I don’t recall my specific answer at the moment, nothing has impacted my development as a human more than my battle with mental illness.

At the age of 22, I have learned how to handle my bouts with depression and General Anxiety Disorder as well as possible. But, for the majority of my life, I struggled to understand and cope with these feelings. By sharing my story and struggles, I am hopeful that I can help others realize that the inner demons you may battle do not define you. It is very possible to live a fulfilling and productive life.

I first started noticing signs of depression in high school, but as a teenage male, I was truly afraid to show my emotions. Art was the only forum that allowed me to share my feelings towards these issues. This, however, did not come until after something that I am still recovering from  happened. In December of 2009 at the age of 16, I tried to take my own life. I will spare the specific details, but I had hit that point. As I write this post, I still struggle to accurately describe my state of mind that evening. To start, I was your typical high school student, but I really did not feel like I fit in anywhere at my high school of 2,000 students in the upper middle class area of Fort Wayne, Indiana. My family wasn’t wealthy, I didn’t play high school sports, and I just didn’t “fit in” with the classmates I had grown up with from second grade to high school. But, I persevered.

To say the least, I had very interesting relationship with my father growing up. My mom and dad separated earlier than I can remember, and my dad lived in every state possible besides Indiana for the first ten years of my life. I would see him a handful times throughout the year before he moved back when I was 10. However, this would be short lived as my dad made a few mistakes and again began moving often for work. Until I was about 16, I tried to have a decent relationship with my dad, but at that point, too much had built, and I quit trying. The feeling was pretty reciprocal, and we didn’t talk for eight months. This angered me for a long time, but once again I persevered.

By the time I hit high school, my mom was my best friend. She still is to this day in every way, shape, and form. We have had our differences. I was never the perfect child, especially in high school, but we dealt with each other. She made continual sacrifices for me that I will never be able to repay. She worked a third shift job five days a week, so I was on my own from 8 p.m. until 4-6 a.m. each night. I felt lonely A LOT, especially while I dealt with depression and anxiety of which I had no understanding. I didn’t tell her about the my irrational thoughts, and I didn’t tell her or anybody else how much I hated being alone five nights a week. I wasn’t sleeping more than four hours a night due to the continual thoughts I was having, and I had no real forum to project myself. After four years of this though, I persevered.

I persevered through everything that culminated into the night that I hit rock bottom. This is something I often remind myself of when I have rough days. On May 25, 2010, I had a normal day at school. I arrived home and planned to spend the day playing basketball with a few of the neighborhood kids. When I arrived home, my sister’s car was unexpectedly there – It was a Tuesday, and she lived in Muncie. I will never forget the look on her face when I saw her. She was crying tears I had never seen in another person. She hugged me in a way she had never hugged me before. She had learned that day that her high school boyfriend had committed suicide. This was the moment I figured it out – Life isn’t about one person’s inner struggles, trials, and tribulations. We live for every single person who has ever made even the slightest impact on us. Life is for the family you share at home, your parents, your friends, your fraternity brothers and for whomever you have shared life. Your life matters whether you see it or not. You mean something to someone. I made a promise to my sister that day that I can happily say I have now upheld for six years.

Phi Delta Theta has and continues to play a vital role in helping me persevere. On July 27, 2014, my Uncle Terry passed away after a 20+ year battle with HIV/AIDS. I was in my first summer as an initiated member of Phi Delta Theta at the University of Southern Indiana (Indiana Lambda), and I had been selected to be one of our representatives at the Kleberg Emerging Leaders Institute. I did not attend due to my uncle’s funeral. My truck, as my chapter brothers know, is a glorious piece of machinery that chooses to work when it wants. It decided to call in sick that week. Instead of allowing me to miss my uncle’s funeral, my chapter brother, Russ, decided to drop everything, made the five hour drive to Fort Wayne to help me, and returned home at 6 a.m. the next morning to make his summer class. That is Brotherhood! I was the last person to speak at my uncle’s funeral, and it helped me find a bit of inner peace and solace with his death. We are drawn to the negative moments when we lose someone permanently. It’s human nature, but we have to learn to accept the bad and cherish the great moments. The moments of grief, depression, and anger associated with losing my uncle rocked my world and sent me on an emotional downturn, but I have persevered.

In October 2015, I had a complete breakdown. Anxiety was at an all-time high. I hadn’t been to class that week, and it was Wednesday. I called my sister with plans to transfer to Indy. I had no desire to be in Evansville. For the majority of the semester, one of my three little brothers and a pledge brother basically dragged me out of bed every morning to attend class. On the day of my breakdown, I went to my Greek Advisor, told her about how I felt, and cried in her office for about twenty minutes. We talked, she gave me the time to vent, and then she escorted me to the Campus Counseling Center to schedule an appointment. I hated the initial thought of counseling. I knew I had problems, but I couldn’t imagine counseling was going to help. Regardless, I took a chance and began to see a counselor, and I continue to do so today. This was the first real step I had ever taken to deal with my problems. It helped me realize what I was fighting against, and I learned to treat it differently than I had before. Since, I have been succeeding slowly but surely in life. I was elected IFC President and maintained my Alumni Secretary role in the chapter. As Phikeia Educator, I led the largest initiate class that the chapter has had in the past decade, and I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. I plan to be a Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life someday, and I owe that to my advisor and friend, Trish. I even turned my semester around and made the Dean’s List for the first time.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned through all of this is to stop hating the fact that I have depression and General Anxiety Disorder. I started to embrace that part of my life, and I have made it a big part of who I am. My only goal with this post is to show any individual who may be struggling with the same things that it is possible to achieve more than you think and that your life truly matters. Do not be afraid to seek help. Talk to your chapter brothers. Find a forum where you can project how you feel. Do not hate this part of you. Love every part of who you are. If you think you need professional help, get it. If you think you need medication, talk to a professional to see what they think. You are only so strong on your own, but as Phi Delts, we are never alone. I am proud to be a Phi, a fraternal man, and a twenty something male battling mental illness.

I’m going to leave you with something that has helped me deal with my mental health. It is as simple as a semicolon. A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the sentence is your life. Be a semicolon. Keep living, keep fighting, and love every moment of your life.

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