This semester, I was diagnosed with depression.
Realistically, this is something I’ve been struggling with since high school, but it is something that I’ve always managed to push to the side and avoid thinking about. The difference this semester was that I wasn’t on staff at The Daily Pennsylvanian.
The DP, contrary to the implications of the previous paragraph, was easily the best experience of my Penn career. My closest friends are people that I worked with during many long nights in our windowless office, people who share my passion for journalism and making a change on Penn’s campus. The DP shaped my interests and helped me understand that I want a career at the intersection of computer science and journalism.
But the DP was also, in a way, a coping mechanism. All throughout my life, I’ve actively avoided having free time. In high school, I played two instruments, ran both track and cross country, held leadership roles on the newspaper, and took as many classes as I possibly could. In college, I joined one of the DP’s most demanding departments as a first-semester freshman, and then was elected to the editorial board three years in a row, which entailed taking on a 30-hour-per-week commitment in addition to my demanding engineering course load.
And this semester, I’ve had free time. Lots of it. In the beginning, I used my newfound free time to get into new TV shows, to spend time with friends who weren’t involved in the DP, and to explore Philadelphia. But over the past few months, I’ve spent an increasing amount of time struggling to motivate myself to do my school work, leaving gatherings with friends early because I simply didn’t have the energy to interact with people, and, in my worst moments, crying more than I had in the past three years combined. By April, these became near-daily occurrences.
Needless to say, this was not how I hoped to spend my last semester in college.
Although the DP helped me avoid my problems, it also provided me with the resources to start acknowledging them. When I needed help, I was able to confide in and lean on the best friends I’d made during my time on board. Their support has been immensely valuable in putting me on the right track to address my depression.
Being a part of the DP was one of the most rewarding parts of my time at Penn; however, it was also a way for me to ignore my problems. Being incredibly passionate about an activity and pouring all of my energy into it was in some ways a positive thing, but it became a problem when I began using my involvement to distract from dealing with my issues. Doing things you love should never come at the expense of your mental health.
I will certainly look back on my time at Penn, and especially my time working on the DP, as an overwhelmingly positive experience. Going forward, however, in addition to being extremely passionate about the work I’m doing, I will be sure to take time to care for myself and face my problems head-on.
ALEX GRAVES is an Engineering senior from Blue Bell, Pa., studying Digital Media Design. They were the Director of Web Development on the 134th board of The Daily Pennsylvanian. They also served as the Digital Director on the 133rd board and a Design Editor on the 132nd board.
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