Ben Dumas reflects on his college experiences and what they’ve taught him about finding happiness through periods of depression
After church service the other morning, one of my high school students was telling me how much he’s enjoying one of his classes because it’s actually preparing him for college and to live in the ‘real world’.
As we talked, I began to realize how quickly my college career is coming to a close and I began reflecting on what I’ve learned the past four years. There are many things I’ve learned in class, and many things I probably should have learned in class; but some of my greatest learning came from experiences outside of class. I gained a lot of valuable lessons simply by being a member of the ‘real world’ and living on my own.
Of all these real life lessons, one of the things I’ve learned the most about is how to move.
Since I first moved to college in 2009 I’ve lived with thirteen different people (two of them twice, but in different places), and I’ve lived in six different places (two of them twice, but with different people).
I’ve learned how to move and live with other people quite well, but there was a deeper, more internal learning that needed to take place. One that was a long time in the making and still very much in progress.
For quite some time now, I’ve struggled with seasonal depressions.
Summers are the best. I’m usually full of energy, always wanting to do something, and almost always in a good mood. On the other hand, come winter and I usually find myself in crippling periods of depression that come out of nowhere, depressive periods that take the place of my motivation and self-esteem.
I’ve been struggling with these spurts of depression and have been very quiet about them for many years. Recently, I moved out of the college housing and into the apartment where my fiance and I will spend our first couple years of marriage, and I thought everything would be fixed. As much as I love everyone I’ve lived with (and wish many of them were still living as close as they were then), I was excited to finally get away from living with roommates. I was excited to be done sharing a refrigerator with three other people and I couldn’t wait to get away from upstairs neighbors who sounded like they were practicing circus acts every night. I planned on spending some more time on my own, reading and writing more, and really just enjoying the next step chapter in my life.
But the move didn’t fix everything the way I thought it would. To be honest, it really didn’t fix anything, so when this winter’s depression hit, it hit me hard. I had never experienced it this strongly before and my hopes of being the perfectly happy, soon-to-be-married, introspective college student were gone just as quickly as the warm weather.
I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I began to reflect on my past living situations and I realized that these periods of sadness were present in all of them. These times of depression weren’t a product of the people I’ve lived with or the places that we’ve lived, but there was only one constant throughout it all.
I’ve come to realize that I’m great at moving, but I have yet to learn how to truly be in the places I find myself. I’ve become great at physically being comfortable somewhere, but truly being there; emotionally, mentally and spiritually, is quickly becoming the toughest, and slowly becoming the most rewarding, thing I’ve learned in college.
I’m slowly learning how to cope with these periods in my life and nervously awaiting them in the future, but I wanted to share what I’m beginning to learn. These are just a few things I’ve learned about what it truly means to be somewhere, even in the midst of my periods of depression. Things I wish I knew a long time ago. Things I hope will help me, and others like me, through tough periods like the one I’ve been facing.
1. Regardless of where you live, it’s your responsibility to make the best of it.
I’ve lived in crowded dorms where I shared two showers with over twenty other guys, I’ve lived in a married couple’s basement for a summer when I had nowhere else to go (thanks again), and I’m currently living in the place where I’ll become someone’s husband (still so surreal to think about). While all of these places had their ups and downs, each of them was only as good as the good I saw in them. The world is your mirror and the situation you’re in will only reflect the attitude you have about it.
2. Whether you live alone, or with a roommate, spouse or future spouse, you’re responsible for your own happiness.
You can’t depend on other people for your own happiness. It’s unfair to make someone play the guessing game in order to make you happy. You know yourself better than anyone, and only you know how to make yourself happy and pull yourself out of a funk. I’ve had to tell myself this, and have it told to me (more of the latter), time and time again and it’s finally beginning to stick.
It’s a terrifying thing to let go and not depend on anyone else for your happiness, but I’m starting to realize that’s the true beauty of relationships. When you learn to be happy and fill yourself up on your own, it gives those around you the freedom to do the same. Then, out of your own fullness, you will be able to add to the happiness of those around you as you trust that they’ll do the same in return. Things are much better this way.
3. If you struggle with any sort of depression, don’t force your happiness.
This is the mistake I’ve made for far too long. In our critical, gossip-obsessed society it is so tough to admit that something is wrong, especially as a man. And as a man in a leadership position who struggles with occasional bouts of depression, this is even more difficult. For so long, I thought it would be easier and more socially acceptable to just force myself to be happy, but it never worked. It provided a great mask for the outside, but it couldn’t mask the inside.
I could continue on this topic and try to give more advice, but I don’t feel fit to give any yet. Instead, I’ll end with the one thing that has taught me so much about dealing with my own spurts of depression and insecurities, courtesy of the great band, The Wonder Years.
“It’s not about forcing happiness, it’s about not letting the sadness win.”
I hope you’ll join me in finding rays of happiness amidst the cloudy periods of our lives. And when you do, I hope you’ll share that newfound happiness and hope with those around you.
photo: cambodia4kidsorg / flickr