**Content warning: The following text describes substance use and depression and can be disturbing and/or triggering for some readers. Please find resources listed at the bottom of the article.**
At the start of my freshman year at Penn, I felt great. By the end of my freshman year, I had intense body issues. By the start of my sophomore year, I was in a relationship that I hated. By the end of my sophomore year, I had begun experimenting with hard drugs. And by the start of my junior year, I was extremely depressed. The start of my junior year is also when I met a person who would later become very important in my life.
From the day we met, I was infatuated. Not in a romantic way, at first. For the first three or so months, when I only knew him as a friend, I saw what he was on the surface. He had a gigantic smile, a strong voice that would carry through the loudest of rooms, and an exuberant confidence that was hard for anyone to match. I could tell he was inherently smart, which I admired. Everyone loved being around him. After these initial few months as just friends, I developed feelings. I soon found out that he felt the same. We began dating soon after that.
I fell in love fast. I knew I loved him after a week, though I didn’t admit it until months later. This is when I began to learn about the real him. I learned that he was kind to his core. Kind in the strongest sense of the word. He cared so deeply for every single person in his life, and he valued his friendships and familial ties immensely. He didn’t have endless confidence, even though he appeared that way on the outside. He was insecure, and he doubted himself in many ways. Though insecure, he had an admirable self-awareness. He learned more about me during this time, too. He learned that, despite my everything–is–fine appearance, everything was not fine. I was a bit of a mess.
He didn’t have a great sense of style, he wore graphic t–shirts and sweatpants daily. Sometimes his voice got so loud that he was practically yelling. Sometimes he really acted like a child. I didn’t like these parts of him much. But I didn’t care at the end of the day. How could I care when he had so many good parts?
In the few months before meeting him, when I really fell into my depression, my behavior was erratic, uncharacteristic, and shameful. I hated myself. I sought therapy for the first time ever when it got really bad. I wasn’t consistent in going. I tried Prozac, but I hated it. I quit both therapy and medication and decided to deal with my sadness myself. I was inconsistently suicidal, which I felt was a weakness. One day I was fine, the next day I was sobbing and wondering why I was this way. When I began to date him, my depression didn’t get much better at first, but it got easier to handle. He was there for me in a way that, at the time, my friends weren’t. My friends wanted to be there for me, but I wouldn’t let them. I pushed them away with my alcohol–and–drug induced rants, aggressive behavior, and half–ass disclosure of what was really going on with my mental health. I felt like everybody hated me, and that I was a burden to them. I felt that they were better off without me. I was the definition of self–destructive. But I let him in, and that was the best decision I ever made.
There were parts of me that he didn’t like. He didn’t like how mean I could act towards him, when all he did was treat me with love and respect. He didn’t like that my moods were so unpredictable. He didn’t like that I placed so little value on my own life. Yet, he understood me. He saw why I acted this way, and helped me want to be better. He was so patient and gentle with me, but he could still be firm. He told me that I had to seek consistent therapy, and he wasn’t going to let me quit. I couldn’t half–ass it with him around. Through his tough love he made me see that I needed to keep going to therapy. He showed me that I could get better and that I didn’t have to live this way. I didn’t have to do it on my own. He showed me that even though my attempts to get help failed in the past, I shouldn’t give up.
I am still going with my therapy a full year after I became consistent with it with his help, and I recently started taking a new antidepressant. This medication complements my therapy in an amazing way that I didn’t think it would. I have developed far better ties with my friends, and today most of my old relationships are completely restored. I no longer feel like I am a burden. My thoughts of suicide are extremely rare now.
I can’t credit him fully for pulling me out of my depression, there are so many factors that played into that. And I still have a ways to go. But I can say that he kept me afloat and, more importantly, he kept me alive in a time where I saw not even the smallest value in myself. He saw me at my worst, at the true lowest point of my life, and he stuck around.
I don’t know if we’ll always be together, but you have forever changed my life. You made me see that I can’t give up, and I can’t push people away. If you’re reading this … thank you, and I love you.
The HELP Line: 215-898-HELP: A 24–hour–a–day phone number for members of the Penn community who seek help in navigating Penn's resources for health and wellness.
Counseling and Psychological Services: 215-898-7021 (active 24/7): The counseling center for the University of Pennsylvania.
Student Health Service: 215-746-3535: Student Health Service can provide medical evaluations and treatment to victims/survivors of sexual and relationship violence regardless of whether they make a report or seek additional resources. Both male and female providers can perform examinations, discuss testing and treatment of sexually transmissible infections, provide emergency contraception if necessary and arrange for referrals and follow up.
Reach–A–Peer Hotline: 215-573-2727 (every day from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.),A peer hotline to provide peer support, information, and referrals to Penn students.
Penn Violence Prevention: 3539 Locust Walk (Office Hours: 9 am – 5 pm), (215) 746-2642, Jessica Mertz (Director of Student Sexual Violence Prevention, Education)email@example.com, Read the Penn Violence Prevention resource guide.
Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention Team: A multidisciplinary team at CAPS dedicated to supporting students who have experienced sexual trauma.
Public Safety Special Services: Trained personnel offer crisis intervention, accompaniment to legal and medical proceedings, options counseling and advocacy, and linkages to other community resources.
Penn Women's Center: 3643 Locust Walk (Office Hours 9:30 am – 5:30 pm Monday–Thursday, 9:30 am – 5 pm Friday), firstname.lastname@example.org. PWC provides confidential crisis and options counseling.