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Monday, May 16, 2022
The independent student publication of The Unversity at Buffalo, since 1950

An existential retrospective

The art of understanding

When I was a freshman in high school, I was diagnosed with panic disorder.

After a series of very public panic attacks left me temporarily paralyzed from oxygen deprivation, and a retrospectively unnecessary ambulance ride from a 9 a.m. soccer practice, it was clear that I had a mental health problem.

This problem persisted further into my teens and 20s. I would erupt into full blown panic attacks in high school, only finding solace in a hydroxyzine tablet and a nap in the nurse’s office, or by hiding in my school’s social worker’s office for a few hours.

But there are far fewer places to cower outside of the tan brick walls of Hilton High.

Upon entering adulthood, my anxieties began manifesting in other ways. I experience erratic mood swings and hypersensitivity, until I settle into a deep, often week-long depression. I lose all motivation and desire, lazily trudging around my apartment. 

But what looks like a relaxing day in bed on the outside feels like a prison on the inside.

There’s a tiny voice in my head that constantly whispers commentary on my day-to-day life. She screams that I used to be so pretty when I catch a glimpse of an old photo, and laughs that I’m an embarrassment when my friends send me encouraging messages.

She objects to every kindness I am ever offered and revels in every setback I face.

After enough proding, I can’t help but cry.

I lose pretty much all self-control during these depressive episodes, regardless of my surroundings. I’ve had mental breakdowns in lecture halls during class, the Spectrum office during editors’ meetings, even the polka tent at Dyngus Day in downtown Buffalo.

It is a relentless and exhausting battle. I live in a pendulum, swinging back and forth between feeling devastatingly numb and debilitatingly depressed. Joy is a fleeting feeling whose glimpses only seem to push me further down the hole, reminding myself that I have not earned happiness.

And despite the ever-constant voice in my head telling me to quit, I’ve kept going. 

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But existing is really, really hard right now.

On the good days, I can get up before 10 a.m. and make my way to campus. I’ll grab a coffee, maybe send a few emails or complete a homework assignment or look at a few articles.

On the bad days, I don’t feel safe being alone. 

I won’t eat or sleep. My core body temperature plummets as I shiver under a mountain of blankets and Squishmallows — a key component of any hot-girl depression cave. I spend hours watching true crime documentaries and smoking weed, anything to keep my mind from wandering toward the “what ifs.”

But regardless of how desperately I need help, I can’t quite bring myself to ask for it, choosing a stiff and uncomfortable silence over the possibility that a breath to speak might turn into a choked sob. I’ll lay in bed, staring off into space while my friends watch, all silently aware that I am not OK, but none quite sure what to do.

They ask gentle questions: “How are you feeling today?,” “Can I get you anything?,” begging for some kind of multi-syllable response, but I usually just shake my head.

Inevitably, after a few days the cold feeling begins to subside. The voice gets a little quieter, and I begin to get a grip.

This is the numbness, and after enough time spent in the throes of my depression, numbness might as well be contentment. 

I started writing this in the midst of an episode which lasted roughly nine days. Reading it back, I can’t help but feel dramatic, like I was making a big deal out of nothing. 

Like I’d given away more than a week of my life for no reason.

But I can’t invalidate how I feel during my lows; I have to remember how scared I was at the time. Despite how silly I may feel afterward, my feelings were very real and very valid.

All I can ask for at this point is grace; for my professors and peers to remember I am fighting a daily battle with my own mind, and for my friends to remember that understanding goes so much further than indifference. 

I am not OK yet.

But one day, I will be.

Reilly Mullen is the editor in chief and can be reached at reilly.mullen@ubspectrum.com


REILLY MULLEN
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Reilly Mullen is the editor-in-chief at The Spectrum. She is a senior majoring in political science with a journalism certificate. She enjoys Dunkin’ iced lattes and Scrabble. A former web, features, news and managing editor, she is a columnist at heart but has covered everything from UB Football to breaking news. 

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