Why am I Cincinnati Smart? Over the years it has taken to get to this point, I have grown in many ways. While dealing with problems of mental health, I have made it a personal goal to be as open about them as possible and to highlight to others that suffer that there is help, and more importantly hope. I have had many friends over the past few years admit to me that they did not know what to do and thanked me for being open and giving them the strength to get the help they needed.
This is not a short story. I began my time in college like many people I think—equally excited and terrified of all the changes and opportunities. Since eighth grade music has been my passion. I was so eager to start my journey at the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. Though a completely new universe for me, I hit the ground running and my first quarter at CCM was both challenging and fun. I made the Dean’s list that quarter and was off to a good start for my freshman year 2005. As my freshman year continued, I began having troubles in multiple areas of my life, but nothing that would seem “medical”. The most prominent problems I had were fatigue and forgetfulness. What had started as the beginning to a promising college career became somewhat of a “let down”. I spent the summer after freshman year at home answering my parents’ questions as to how I could get a “C” grade in my horn lessons and whether I wanted to change majors or colleges.
I decided I just needed to try harder and I did. I was determined to right the ship and I spent all summer practicing my organization skills and working as hard as I could to be prepared for my second year. It was extremely fruitful. I excelled in my classes, lessons, ensembles, and impressed my horn professor enough to recommend that my scholarship be increased at the end of year two. One might think that this is simply the end to a success story, but it was only the beginning.
My third year of school at UC brought new challenges of living off campus, being more financially independent, and adding to my chores in general. It was not a picture perfect year but I managed to get through it relatively unscathed.
Cataclysm—a disruption in my life set off a deep depression. I spoke of my problems and feelings to a very select few who happened to be hundreds of miles away; no single person ever saw the entire picture of the problems I was experiencing. I began my first “senior year” with no regard for my classes, playing, or physical health, I was on track to fail almost every class I took that quarter. Fail I did. After the new year, I returned to school still in a deep depression that only worsened. As a result of failing my classes the previous quarter, I had lost all my scholarships and was no longer eligible to graduate on time, much less think about graduate school for which the deadlines had long since passed. I sunk further, eating too much to relieve stress; I slept too much every day, only to stay up until three in the morning most nights, the last hours of which were spent crying hysterically; I did not shower, I did not do laundry, I barely left my apartment. Perhaps the only thing I could manage to do on a daily basis was play my horn and even then this was extremely difficult: most practice sessions were interrupted by a new habit; I was accustomed to practicing in front of a mirror most of the time but now would stop and stare for a moment only to tell myself that “there was nothing about my life I liked anymore”. I would stop and cry in the corner of a practice room. Eventually I confessed my problems to my parents who suggested I seek counseling and helped as much as they could from a thousand miles away to arrange this for me. I met with a counselor once and was encouraged that maybe I could figure out what was wrong. The following week I forgot my appointment and was so ashamed that I felt I could not return; I did not. At the conclusion of the year I spent the summer in Florida again with my parents to figure things out.
A psychiatrist suggested that I had Major Depressive Disorder and prescribed me antidepressants which seemed to help. I spent the summer practicing and running, lost some weight, and got ready for the new school year. When I returned to Cincinnati for my fifth year, I felt a lot better, but I had many of the problems that I had struggled with for much of my college career—forgetfulness, fatigue, problems managing money, irritability, guilt, lack of focus, carelessness. Little things set me off easily. I was horribly inconsistent in almost every area of my life. I would drink too much and on the wrong days of the week. I completely disregarded my obligations for most of the year. My behavior had become irrational. The year ended and I had accomplished nothing.
Year six started with optimism that I could overcome my failings. But embarrassment set in, and I became more and more paranoid that everyone hated me and viewed me as a failure; I was afraid of talking to people about most things. I continued to struggle simply to show up to class, to get out of bed, etc. I was still on my medications. Then I ran out. I was not suicidal so I thought I did not really need them anymore and I did not see this as a problem. I had become incapable of performing the most menial of tasks. I had become completely dysfunctional. After two quarters of struggling and failing all my classes again, I was notified that I had been academically suspended from CCM.
Game over—I became suicidal immediately. At that moment the only person I could bring myself to reach out to was my brother, who immediately informed my parents of what had happened. For fear that I might hurt myself, my father pleaded with me that I go to the hospital and wait to be seen. I waited for eight hours in the University Hospital Emergency Psychiatric Services area of the hospital. The doctor gave me antidepressants, recommended that I continue to see a psychiatrist, and suggest I pursue talk therapy with a counselor. During my wait at the hospital, my mother was flying to Cincinnati from Orlando. After arriving, she began to see the extent to which I was having problems. During this time, my family worked with the faculty at CCM to determine the best course of action. Everyone agreed that I needed medical help and that I should take as much time as needed to get well before returning to school. The faculty told me to “come back when you’re ready; we’ll be waiting.” After my mother left Cincinnati, my brother helped me to arrange my move to Florida. During this time I reached out to a close friend and told her that I had trouble seeing my problems as an illness. I told her that to me “my own thoughts are a poison designed to hurt me” and that I did not believe in the devil until then. My parting words to my horn professor were that I would return. I made it home to Florida.
I met with my psychiatrist who examined the problems I had experienced over the years closely and determined that my initial treatment was inadequate. I was re-diagnosed as Bipolar II and my treatment was radically adjusted. My medication regimen was altered and I spent the next eighteen months receiving counseling. During this time I learned a great deal about things that trigger depressive episodes and learned to see it truly as an illness and not a personal failing. Much work and help went into my recovery and January of 2013 I returned to finish what I had started. It was not an easy semester by any means, but I coped. I had help through the University’s counseling center to stay on medications and to receive counseling when needed. I had planned my senior recital a dozen or more times, but on April 28th 2013 I was able finally to give that recital. Since then I have had to tie up a few loose ends academically, but I am finally graduating with a BM in horn performance from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music.
Mental illness is insidious in that it convinces you that it is your fault rather than see it for what it is—an illness. I am Cincinnati Smart because I know to be thankful for help from my family, community, and faculty; I have the strength to keep going and not give up; I am in position to help others who suffer in their own ways. One of my favorite stories is that of the man who fell in a hole and could not escape on his own. Finally, someone comes by and to help him jumps into the hole. The first man says “why would you do that? Now we are both down here.” The second man says “Ah, but I’ve been in this hole before and I know the way out.” This is why I am Cincinnati Smart.