Live Through This

Happy Places

A guide to escaping, when you really, really, really need to.

As of May 9th, 2012, I officially finished my first year of college. As of May 10th, 2012, I no longer felt the crushing weight of depression. As of writing those two sentences, I realize I never quite know how to delve into serious topics, but rather waddle around them like a penguin who suppresses her emotions.

There are many ways to feel sad, or unhappy, or melancholy, or utterly depressed. They are all valid and should never be ignored. The “depression” I believe I felt may be totally unique to me, or you may completely identify. I want to tell you how I felt, but I hope my advice can be applied across the spectrum of sadness, frustration, and the all-around feeling of pure butt.

The college I go to is located in Southern California, and there is a heavy emphasis on Greek life. Freshman year, I lived in a traditional dorm, on a coed floor separated into stretches of boys’ or girls’ rooms. I had a roommate I had never met before, who stayed up late into the night on Skype or on the phone. None of this I minded. Or, really, I complained about all of it to avoid what was really unsettling me.

I have to come to realize that dorm life was not for me. It was damaging to me, mentally and emotionally. Having people to hang out with all the time, right outside my door, was like a siren song. I can’t avoid trying to hang out with people, EVEN WHEN I WANT TO BE ALONE. And I, personally, need to be alone. A lot. To decompress, recharge, regroup—whatever the right word is, I need it. I also love to cook and bake and go to the grocery store and run errands—all of which are not that easy when you live in a dorm room.

Plus, I had to use a public stall every time I peed. A very dehumanizing process.

All of this, plus the stress of school and trying to work, along with an ongoing struggle with insomnia, led to what I believe was a case of depression. Full disclosure: I never saw anyone about this, so it is not a professional diagnosis. But having lived with this sack of blood and bones for 18 years, I knew something was very, very wrong. Even if I hadn’t gotten to know my body pretty well by then, I’d consider sleeping every day until three then using heavy doses of stimulants to get through daily activities to be, frankly, not good.

When I first observed this change in my mood and behavior, I thought about seeking help. And I should have done so. Let me just say: if you are feeling depressed and think you might want to talk to someone about it—go for it! There is no shame in seeing a therapist. It does not make you narcissistic. It does not make you whiny. It does not mean you are weak. It does not make you “ugh, one of THOSE people,” or someone who shouldn’t take time and medicine away from some hypothetical person who might “need it more.” You don’t need to “get over it” because it’s “really not that bad.” (I thought all of these things.) Seeking help shows the kind of strength, self-sufficiency (you know that taking care of yourself means knowing when you need help), and courage that I could never seem to muster, even though I wanted to so badly. I’m not saying that you’re weak if you avoid therapy; I am saying that my reasons for avoiding it (“I don’t want to detract from people with ‘real’ problems”; “I don’t want to make a scene over ‘nothing’”) were stupid. My brain probably came up with those excuses because I just wasn’t ready to get professional help to deal with my (real) problems. I think a lot of people are in this position—you know there’s a problem, but you’re not ready to deal with it yet. So, while the tricks I’m about to teach you are really for people with the kinds of sadness and anxiety that everyone feels from time to time, not the kind that really needs medication to keep in check—it’s also good to have some tools to help you until you, personally, are ready to talk to someone about what’s going on.

One more caveat: none of this is a replacement for some of the other things that are crucial to every living being’s ability to get through stressful times. Those things being other people (friends/family), eating well, exercise, finding what gives you joy and doing that thing. Please find a way to include all of these things in your life. Especially if you are someone prone to sadness. These things help keep you above the murky waters.

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, there is one more thing I’d like to add to your anti-bummer arsenal: the “happy places.” Plural because you need both mental AND corporeal (I learned that word from Harry Potter!) happy places where you can retreat when things are just too much.

Guidelines for a good happy place:

Physical:

This can be tricky, depending on the type of person you are. For me, being around people is at once very exciting and very draining. Therefore I knew I had to find somewhere to retreat to that would be empty most of the time. On my campus stands a place called the “Little Chapel of Silence.” It’s a one-room church with about 12 pews and a tiny altar. There are a couple of beautiful stained-glass windows on either side and a magnificent carved-wood ceiling I could stare at for hours. I frequented it at night, around midnight or 1 AM, when I couldn’t sleep, so I always had it to myself.

It was refreshing to be completely alone, with just my iPod or just my thoughts. I always gave myself a time limit (“I will stay here for AT LEAST 20 minutes”) that I increased over time, to force myself to glean the benefits I get from spending some time with just Shelby.

If it seems daunting to be completely alone with your thoughts, start small. Find a place that is filled with people but where you will not be bothered, such as a quiet floor of a library, or small coffee shop. Personally, I’m very pale and cannot sit outside for long periods of time. However, if the outdoors refresh you, find a nice park bench or tucked-away fountain where you can watch people come and go, but feel no pressure to insert yourself into any activity.

I believe the most important factor is that your happy place is YOURS—don’t invite a friend to the coffee shop or library or beautiful little garden during YOUR time. I’ve had some great talks with people in my Little Chapel, and I’ve loved letting them in on my quiet place. But the time spent with someone else didn’t act as a substitute for my own alone time. When I needed to be alone, I made sure I was.

My sanctuary.

Page

1 2

43 Comments

  • Bene August 6th, 2012 11:15 PM

    Thank you, this article was exactly what I needed someone to tell me right now <3

  • i-like-autumn August 6th, 2012 11:21 PM

    Sometimes y’all post an article at just the right time… this has helped a lot.

    Autumn (i-like-autumn.tumblr.com)

    • Filia-Zissy August 7th, 2012 8:09 AM

      I totally agree with you – it’s always just in time…

      I checked out your tumblr and totally freaked out (well to be honest there was just a huge smile on my face) because that gif of Ben and because you like Harry Potter and I follow you right now.

      Autumn is great.

      Filia
      ordinarypeopleadorable.tumblr.com

    • HollinsCollins August 7th, 2012 11:30 AM

      I just checked out your tumblr, too and OHMYGOSH THAT GIF IS AMAZING. You have just won two people over with it <3

    • all-art-is-quite-useless August 12th, 2012 7:40 PM

      That gif is FANTASTIC, you’ve won over a third person with it!

  • la fee clochette August 6th, 2012 11:22 PM

    me too :)

  • Cerise August 6th, 2012 11:24 PM

    Thank you! I do love dorm life, but sometimes I just get so overwhelmed with the people everywhere, and it’s like I can’t breathe or think. It’s so important to get my own space sometimes, mental and physical.

    • Cerise August 6th, 2012 11:25 PM

      Also, the Little Chapel of Silence sounds awesome.

  • BritishFish August 6th, 2012 11:25 PM

    “You may start sweating, fidgeting, and feeling like there’s a headless chicken running ’round and ’round your skull. It’s the feeling of panicky desperation, and if not dealt with it leads you to do things you’ll regret, just to relieve some of the pressure. My few bouts of self-abuse, I’ve come to realize, were preceded by just this feeling. The feeling like I would scream or cry at anyone who spoke to me—but forcing a smile and making a joke instead. The feeling of being cornered or utterly deserted in a room full of people. Basically, feeling trapped.”

    There couldn’t be a more perfect way to express how I feel. Thank you.

    • thebrownette August 7th, 2012 1:26 PM

      ikr? I get he same way sometimes, and I just have to try hard to remind myself I’m okay :)

  • La Fille August 6th, 2012 11:33 PM

    I haven’t felt this yet, as I’m not in college, and I couldn’t imagine the feeling, but I know I will feel overwhelmed by so many people, because college is a very public place.

    This is a really useful article. I’m saving the advice for when I go to college and experience the feelings the writer of the article has felt.

  • haileesmoon August 7th, 2012 12:22 AM

    Thank you for writing this! I’m actually going to the school where The Little Chapel of Silence is located and it’s going to be my first year there. I’m really scared because even though it’s a great school, it wasn’t really where I wanted to go. I’m trying to convince myself that things will get better in time somewhere beyond these next four years but all this worrying just gives me really bad anxiety. Thanks for writing this though. It makes me feel a lot better.

  • krissyt August 7th, 2012 2:59 AM

    as a fan of your more satirical pieces (through hello giggles and twitter and stuff), I am really glad to see this side of your writing! as a college junior I can not only appreciate this retrospectively (making ~*peace~* with my experiences) but also to the fact that all of the Rookie readers will be able to have this. Whether they go through it or not, this is super relevant and great to read before/during college (and school in general) (but, really though, COLLEGE as it is such a different and explorative experience and time in your life). yay shelby

  • regina55 August 7th, 2012 4:38 AM

    I really enjoy the articles on rookie, (which I’ve only just discovered). This for various reasons- some topics are universal- all women- and some give great insights for my work with young women. I bookmarked an article called Eating, a Manifesto and spread it around. And here I’m reading: “With class and work and laundry and even sitting in the dining hall because— although it’s awful—you need food”…….. On first read this sounds like an invitation to anorexia………..
    Please tell me you meant the dining hall is awful…………

    • thebrownette August 7th, 2012 1:25 PM

      I’m pretty sure she meant the food was bad! rookie is SO not pro-ana :D

    • Shelby Fero August 7th, 2012 1:27 PM

      please don’t tell me I actually have to clarify this point. the dining hall food is terrible.

  • MEMI August 7th, 2012 5:06 AM

    I think I’ve waited for this kind of writhing so long.
    it’s healing and powerful because it was based on your own experience.
    Thank you for sharing.
    I have to say that ‘Rookie’ is one of my happy places where i can take a good care of me.

  • ivoire August 7th, 2012 6:05 AM

    I think mental is a real hard one for me. I bring up a nice memory and it usually leads on to another and another until it ends badly. I have been feeling awful recently. But the thought of talking to someone would seem stupid.

  • August 7th, 2012 7:39 AM

    This is a great article, just what I needed right now. Thanks
    on a completly unrelated side note I submitted an article to Rookie on Sunday, about how long will it take for me to get a response?

    • Anaheed August 7th, 2012 11:25 AM

      It will take a long time — I’m the only person reading through them, and the road trip set me WAY behind. Sorry!

      • August 7th, 2012 4:57 PM

        That’s cool, thanks for being honest with me. I hate when people say oh I’ll do it soon and then it takes them like two months..

      • bedazzledbandannas August 8th, 2012 2:00 PM

        sorry to add another unrelated comment on this article (which I loved, by the way! it was touchingly honest and also came at a great time, because I’m starting boarding school in a few weeks) but does this mean that you always eventually reply to submissions, if only to say ‘no thanks’? just because I submitted something quite a while ago (as in a couple of months ago) and never heard back, which I interpreted as Rookie’s way of saying ‘thanks but no thanks’. is that true?
        (not that I’m feeling resentful! at this point I love Rookie so much that I have already made the necessary excuses for why I never heard back. so you are literally covered even if you say you just couldn’t be bothered.)

        • Anaheed August 8th, 2012 2:34 PM

          You should have gotten an autoreply — did it not come?

        • bedazzledbandannas August 8th, 2012 3:40 PM

          no, it didn’t actually – and I had thought at the time that that was a little odd so I double-checked that the email had sent, and then double-checked the address (which I had copy-pasted directly from the Rookie page in the first place), and everything seemed like it had worked.

  • Gulddina August 7th, 2012 8:29 AM

    I love that rookie dares to bring up subjects that are taboo and aren’t being discussed. With that said I feel like it wasn’t done “the right”. I guess it’s because that this takes up a lot of my time, but I feel like a piece should be written that explains what depression, anxiety and other psychological problem is (without becoming a 9th grade biology textbook). And also makes a point of being able to take yourself seriously and being able to determine when something is off without becoming hysterical about it.

    • thebrownette August 7th, 2012 1:27 PM

      Same! It’s incredible. Rookie has made me so much stronger in my opinions :)

    • Shelby Fero August 7th, 2012 1:29 PM

      that would make a great article, but it’s not the point of THIS article. we can’t do everything at once but we’ll get there, I promise

      • Gulddina August 7th, 2012 3:51 PM

        I know you’re only human and there is only so much time one can stay awake fueled by caffeine.

        I guess it’s because it struck a chord with me personally/wanting to write about depression myself, but being afraid to bare my soul to the entire interwebs :)

  • Bloom August 7th, 2012 12:58 PM

    I really needed this right now, thank you. as always~ rookie is the literal best.

  • thebrownette August 7th, 2012 1:23 PM

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS ARTICLE. I think i was probably in a similar situation my freshman year of HS, and although I’m good now, everyone has down days where they just aren’t happy, ya kno? and regina55, I really think she was saying that the food wasn’t too great!

  • modaboutyouu August 7th, 2012 2:23 PM

    thank you so much, Rookie! Another great article and this one I might just print out and tape to my desk to remind myself just what I need in times of serious stress.

  • Emily August 7th, 2012 6:06 PM

    This article has stressed me out soooo much, like I’m only just under the level i’ll call ‘barf city’ when I was only previously in the ‘all food looks gross’ republic.

    I mean how is it possible to be so freaked about college that for two weeks seeing ice-cream is just like, “Bleurgh, noooo!”

    I mean the previous college article made me think like, “Yeah boiii I got dis!!111″ but this one is feeding my anxieties.

    WHICH PROLLY MEANS I NEED COUNSELING!
    So I guess it worked?…

    • Shelby Fero August 7th, 2012 6:38 PM

      You’ll be ok! I promise. This is supposed to help you destress, not add to it! Everything in life is what you make it – about 90% of the time. But stuff might suck beyond control the other 10%. that’s what this is for! You’ll have a lot of fun, I promise – I did!

  • LeavesThatAreGreen August 7th, 2012 8:28 PM

    Thank you.

  • Ben August 7th, 2012 8:54 PM

    my happy place is high up in trees. I also take naps when I feel sad. My mental happy place is probably hawaii :) I don’t really want to go to college and can’t even imagine myself in it.

  • junebug August 7th, 2012 10:19 PM

    My physical happy place is going to this sculpture garden in the middle of my town by myself. I usually go to town with friends, but I love walking around, getting pizza and maybe a smoothie alone. It gives me this time to think, I guess. My mental happy place is to recite ‘Prufrock’ quietly–I really recommend memorizing a poem you love to help yourself out of tough mental spots, it’s the greatest.

  • Lucille August 8th, 2012 5:29 AM

    I just needed something like this!

  • missmadness August 8th, 2012 9:29 AM

    Thank you for writing this–I loathed my year and a half spent in a dorm, and people always try to make me feel guilty about it, using the classics like “once in a lifetime” and “best years of your life”. Whatevs, I can have the best years where ever I damn well please.

  • HeartPlant August 8th, 2012 6:43 PM

    This was such a good piece! I do this quite a lot actually, I live in York so I pop to the Minster & head for the little Zouche chapel. You’re only allowed in to pray so the tourists don’t bother you. I find it such a comfort to spend time by myself — I can’t cope with 24/7 socialising! So lovely to spend time with myself & make that a priority, it makes me feel like I’m of worth.

  • che August 9th, 2012 2:46 PM

    I felt compelled to comment on this article-story I came across just to say this. Though no two individuals are alike, humans do tend to share similar psychological attributes.

    When I was around your age, and for a period of about 4-5 years I felt pretty much like you, though for entirely different reasons. I never went for help to anyone other than my close friends. Of course, there is so much anyone can do to help (I mean, not professionals or even) but for the most part is a lot of effort from oneself.

    Now after 10 years (and quite some effort) things are quite the opposite.

    My point is that as you get older you evaluate things better and things that used to get you down, simply won’t. I have to stress that I am not implying that people should not seek help, as you point out. We should. It might have saved me a few years of grief. But mood can improve with age.

  • superkat August 24th, 2012 10:53 PM

    this put everything into perspective for me, it made me feel so much better. thank you, you rock!

  • 3LL3NH September 11th, 2012 4:32 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it has great insight and started me thinking. I’m usually fine, but sometimes I fall apart, and it is an insanely crappy experience. I’ve been considering seeking help for a while… thank you for saying it’s okay, it might even be right.

  • reckless-serenade September 11th, 2012 6:09 PM

    thankyou, this article was pretty perfect for where i am right now. several months ago i was stupid enough to share my special place with a boy i believed to love. of course, the relationship ended and now you’ve helped me realise i need to search for a new place i can where i can just go by myself and think, without the constant reminder of a failed relationship! thanks again