I know many of you clicked on this article to find out how to change your own lives. Maybe that means reducing stress, getting more sleep in, or just finding a little more to be happy about every day. I can’t make any promises that by doing what I did your problems will be solved, but I can guarantee that it can only improve any healthy habits you are already trying to build.
Before I can begin this journey of life-changing proportions, I have to give some background. I came into college a carefree eighteen-year-old with a zest for life, and if you haven’t already picked up on it an incredible love for cheeseburgers. I had never considered myself someone who was depressed or even stressed out. I was always organized and often had work done before it was even due. I set goals, followed my to-do list, and liked to think I accomplished most everything I set my mind to with very little struggle along the way. Now this may be thanks to good genes, good luck, or a little bit of both, but I was seeming to get along well.
By my sophomore year of college, I had experienced my first heartbreak and the divorce of my parents among many other less monumental challenges, but added setbacks none the less. The girl with no worries and a smile painted on her face almost 24/7 was replaced with someone who had anxiety about even the smallest of things and could barely bring herself to do anything but shower every few days. For the next year and a half, I experienced the worst depressive state of my life. I self-medicated and self-harmed and even attempted suicide more than once. I kept myself drunk or high, and whenever I wasn’t, I found a reason to be. In the moments when I suddenly felt the dark cloud around me lifting, anxiety and depression swallowed me whole again the next second. It was as if someone else had taken over my body and my thoughts. I had become someone else completely and the thought of never being happy again or feeling like myself quite frankly scared the shit out of me.
After trying therapy and medication, a route that didn’t work for me, I was shook as to what could pull me out of the hole I had grown so used to. I decided to take a class at USC called Stress Management hoping that some of my anxiety could be cured with a lecture one day a week. After learning about simple breathing techniques that could undo negative subconscious thoughts, the benefits of raw foods, and meditation, I can’t tell you how much my world changed. After that semester, I suddenly had an addiction to anything health and happiness related — books, documentaries, classes, YouTube videos.
That newfound “addiction” manifested to its fullest when I decided to become vegan and start taking weekly yoga classes. I gave up my love for cheeseburgers in exchange for my bigger love for cows and an anti-cruelty lifestyle. If you know a vegan or are one yourself then you know that these people seem like they may be on drugs to put it simply. I assure you that is not the case (well, not for me at least). The only thing I am high on is life, and it’s because I have never felt so healthy, so happy, and so in tune with the world around me. To avoid sounding like a complete “hippie” for lack of a better word, veganism and yoga were my cures. Literally vegetables and namaste people!
Like I said, I can’t promise that one thing I did is the end-all-be-all solution to your problems. But with depression, anxiety, and even suicide rising at its highest rates among college students, I can tell you from my own experience that making simple changes like eating better and relaxing can help anyone do a 180. The statistics are so scary. I was one of those statistics so I don’t doubt that maybe even you reading this are as well, but just like me, you can get happy.
Fast forward to my senior year, health and happiness is now the path I plan on pursuing by becoming an occupational therapist. I took huge risks along the way. I turned down job opportunities with major public relations agencies that offered me positions doing what I thought was my “dream job” and I took on a minor in my spring semester senior year with plans on pursuing a Master’s after undergrad. I, someone so anxious, verging on OCD, and suicidal during many points in my life, decided to start essentially from scratch five months before graduating. Now, I’m not saying that I am cured and that it’s the end of my story, but I am looking more like that smiling girl I once was everyday. I’ve never felt more on the right path or that I made the right decision to change my way of life.
To anyone who wants to get happy, whatever that may mean for you, know that you can do it!
Samantha Johnson is a senior majoring in communication. Her column, Sips Tea, runs every other week on Friday.