Last summer I was part of an honors research fellowship working on my undergraduate thesis. Well, I was supposed to be. My mental health had other ideas. I got out of the hospital the day before the fellowship’s kick-off camping trip, I was still incredibly depressed all summer, I almost decided to not write a thesis at all, and I was hospitalized again at the end of the summer.
Let’s just say despite my good intentions as an honors student, not much research got done. I was unable to distance myself enough from my poor mental health to be productive. Additionally, there was very little structure which can be a bad combination with depression. My plan for that summer was to make significant progress on my thesis, and study for and take the GRE. However, there was little to hold me accountable. The GRE didn’t happen at all. I made some progress on my thesis, but mostly I would work on it for an hour a day, if that, and then end up mostly sitting around doing nothing.
Somehow, I made it through the summer completely faking the image of “a perfect honors student” (more on this in the video below). I didn’t tell my thesis cohort about the hospitalizations. I did tell the honors director I was struggling with my thesis, but I downplayed it as usual. And no one knew that I was doing biweekly DBT therapy to try to improve my mental health.
With time, the DBT helped immensely. My symptoms significantly improved, and I am no longer in a depressive episode. I also decided to switch my thesis topic to something I am more passionate about: student mental health! Within several months, plus having the structure of a typical semester, things were back on track.
Soon enough, it’s summer again. My plan for this summer was surprisingly similar to my plan to last summer. I’m working on finishing my thesis and making plans for graduate school, again with no real structure or much accountability. Yet, this summer could not be going more differently. I work on my thesis consistently every day, have studied many GRE words, and have researched graduate schools. Beyond that though, I am taking summer classes, have read sixteen books, have written 15,000 words of my book, paint, color, write Not Alone Notes, and blog. I’m incredibly productive.
Before I had blamed my lack of productivity last summer on an absence of structure and accountability, but now I don’t believe that was entirely the case. My mental health was the true culprit. I think sometimes we underestimate how much our mental health may be affecting our life. This summer I’ve discovered my true potential when I’m feeling well. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you’re not depressed.