College in the Mist
One of the things that makes the mist so difficult for me personally is how noticeably different I am when the mist settles in around me from what I would call my “normal” personality. That is to say that when I feel “normal” I am outgoing, gregarious, and locquacious. I like being around people, intereacting with them, learning from them. Depending on the size of the party, there were times when you would have called me the life of it.
In college, that side of my personality had a chance to shine. My inner Dr. Jekyll was on full display, especially given that I attended a smaller school (5–6K undergrads) with an even smaller social scene. Making new friends and connecting with people had always been easy, but in college that part of me flourished. I was a big fish in a small pond.
If only that WERE me, and not just PART of me, but every Jekyll has his Mr. Hyde, and the opportunity to be a social butterfly in college did nothing to prevent the mist from forming in my mind with its customary lack of forewarning. I could — and did — shift overnight from the life of the party to the sullen hermit.
I remember college being the most fun — although not the best — experience of my young life, but I also remember it being extraordinarily difficult. Never before had the dichotomy in my personality been so stark.
The college lifestyle encourages social interactions, but it also gave me a nifty excuse to lay low when the mist enveloped me and I felt the need to self-isolate. It was college, after all. I was there to learn, and because I was a humanities major with friends pursuing primarily business, pre-med, and engineering degrees, I was conveniently able to fall back on having papers that needed writing when I felt as though my thoughts were crushing me and I needed a breather. That these breathers lasted for days or longer wasn’t inexplicable either; sometimes 15–20 page research papers on obscure historical topics necessitated significant time at the library.
But none of this was helping me. I continued to ponder my condition, but was firmly stuck on the conclusion that as the problem existed in my head therefore the solution did too. Mental fortitude was my antidote, and the arrival of the mist as well as my hapless attempts to banish it were simply indications that I lacked mental fortitude. I continued the futile endeavor of reminding myself how lucky I was and thinking of those who weren’t as lucky in order to “snap myself out of it.” Rather than helping, this contributed further to the spiraling nosedive of my thoughts. My attempts to self-correct my thinking led me even further astray. The mist became thicker, the thoughts in my head bleaker and more devoid of hope.
This was also the first time that my inability to cope with the mist and its overwhelming darkness had tangible negative consequences. Holes punched in the wall of my parents’ home got me in a little trouble, and crying myself to sleep at night was hardly fun, but both of those actions were contained; there had been no exposure to the outside world, and therefore there had been few real consequences for my actions.
But in college one is (or can be, or ought to be) a young adult, and with young adulthood comes navigating the social conduits outside the protective walls of the family. It was in college that I had my first real girlfriend, and it was therefore in college that I first struggled with being exposed while in the mist.
My wonderful parents — who did and do love me unconditionally — were able to overlook holes in the wall and bouts of moodiness which appeared and evaporated with a ferocious suddenness, but my first girlfriend — about whom I have nothing bad to say — was understandably confused and concerned by my radical mood swings. It was therefore the case that my junior year of college was the first time someone suggested to me the idea of seeing a therapist.
I scoffed at the notion. Therapists were for people who had no control or dealt with severe mental health issues. I suffered from occasional bouts of unhappiness, which I was certain existed only in my imagination and could therefore be controlled by reigning in my thoughts when the mist darkened them and sent them spiraling downward. There would be no therapist for me. Though that refusal did not end my relationship — it would go on and off for a few more years — the underlying issue that I either could not or would not acknowledge would ultimately be the reason we ultimately broke up.
The problems the mist caused for me for the duration of that relationship as well as through the unique collegiate social experience as a whole had slowly begun to shift my thinking. I had no desire to or intention of seeing a therapist, but the proposition had come as something of a slap in the face — something I needed to hear as opposed to something I wanted to hear. This reality check was the beginning of a reawakening for me, but it was only as college ended and I began to ponder my future that the seeds of something larger and more ominous sprouted.
Four great years came and went. Once again, I moved on, and once again, the mist followed.