The Women in Housing series is a month-long project featuring the voices, stories, and experiences of women who currently or formerly work in housing and residence life. Today's post was written by Holly Weakland.
Once upon a time, I was suffering from severe depression.
It started upon securing a position as a residence hall director at the same institution where I finished my graduate work. A relationship I was in for a few months ended weeks after being offered the job. He was my first boyfriend -- I loved him and I was devastated. We shared a lot of the same friends, and he was a guy about town. I knew as long as I stayed around I would see him, but I knew I would need to deal with it.
The breakup left me feeling vulnerable, desperate, unattractive, unworthy… the list goes on. Resident assistant training started and while it was a welcome distraction, I was having a really hard time getting through it in one piece. I also was spending a lot of time with the other hall directors who were hired, and we all quickly became good friends. Yet another pleasant distraction.
In later months I would fall back into a relationship with John, a guy I first dated during graduate school. He came back for his second year and was happy to swoop in to act as my rebound. This relationship would prove more damaging and difficult than I imagined. Over time John replaced my ex-boyfriend as my continuous source of tears, confidence issues, and self-doubt.
Luckily, I was a master at keeping face. I came to work every day with a smile as if nothing was going on. I would laugh with my staff, entertain my residents, enjoy committee meetings with colleagues, and be thankful every minute of the workday that I was in that job. I loved my residents and they would make the day go by joyfully. Then I would shut my apartment door and go home.
There I shut all my curtains and voided my apartment of any light. I would spend my weekends drinking too much wine and watching TiVO for hours (I indulged in binge watching before that was a thing). I listened to melancholy music constantly. I would sit in my shower with the water running until my skin looked like a grape. I was a walking zombie when running errands, and I would drive around for hours late at night for no reason.
See, depression is a beast. It grabs ahold of you and does not let go. Anytime you try to loosen its grasp it will find a way to grab you tighter. It lies to you, makes you believe things about yourself that are simply not true. It strings you along and over time will leave you in the darkest of black holes where you cannot see the light.
Twice I sat in my kitchen holding a knife, in a trance. I would finally come to and call a friend in one of the halls close by. I would never tell my friends what I was doing. I wanted to keep it all to myself and didn’t want to bother them with it or be the source of their pity. It was easier just to keep face with all of them. What none of them knew is that they were saving me.
I sought counseling in the middle of my second year. By this time, John left to pursue his PhD at a university on the other side of the country. We continued what we had long distance, whatever it was. I resorted to extreme experimentation with my hair. I found myself questioning my faith and developing a resistance to any form of higher power. I was consistently putting myself in uncomfortable situations with my ex and our group of friends. I was a train wreck.
Meanwhile, I would prosper at work, being given more responsibility and advising roles, attending conferences, networking, supervising two more amazing staffs, and further growing into my own as a professional. I fostered great relationships with our department leadership and with colleagues all over campus, and the university felt like a true home. In that respect, it was a magical time.
Over time, counseling helped and I got on a very low dosage of depression medication. I still look back on that time as the most challenging of my life. When I look back on this time, I wished I would have confided in my friends more. I made it so much harder on myself keeping it all in. If I could say anything to the thousands of people suffering from depression, it would be that it’s going to be okay.
Holly M. Weakland currently serves in a graduate student services role at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has dipped her toe in a variety of different student affairs pools, but she continues to stay connected to the fraternity & sorority community through advising and volunteering. She lives in Raleigh with her husband and orange cat. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, her aerial silks classes, and farmers' markets.