College IRL: It’s not Instagram

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Emily Linderman

If you looked at the Instagram profiles of my peers, you’d probably see perfectly curated pictures of friends laughing, going out to parties and relaxing on luxurious vacations. You would see friends and influencers alike popping champagne, going on fairy-tale-like dates and wearing the latest trends topped with expertly applied makeup.

On my personal profile, you’ll see pictures of my internship this summer, concerts and trips with my friends. But what you won’t see are pictures from this academic year, my senior year.

This is my last semester at Lehigh. Shouldn’t my Instagram be filled with photos of me celebrating the near-end of my college career? I should be planning an epic spring break trip next month, right? I’m a second-semester senior, and yet, I’m working harder than I ever have before at Lehigh.

There was a time when I thought I would graduate a semester early, and then there was a time when I wasn’t sure I would graduate at all.

I’ve taken quite a few incompletes, spending my breaks finishing course work. I’ve failed a couple of classes. I spent this past semester on academic probation and I wasn’t sure I’d be awarded my financial aid. I wasn’t even sure I’d be back here for my final semester.

But I’m not a bad student. I’m not lazy. In fact, fall of 2018 was my best semester ever. So what happened? Why am I sharing my failures, my biggest shame?

I was sick.

It took me a long time to come to terms with that.

According to Active Minds, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and educates students about mental health, 39 percent of college students will experience a significant mental health issue throughout their college career.

I am one of those college students who experiences just that.

I have anxiety, depression and migraines. I was diagnosed with depression when I was 16 years old, and I’ve been on antidepressants since I was 17 years old. When I got to college, depression paired up with anxiety. I have had migraines since I was 6, but I only started seeing a neurologist in December after 15 years of not being taken seriously for my pain.

Junior year was the hardest year of my life, but if you only knew me through my social media profiles, you would only see smiles and friends and jokes.

What you don’t see is the crying about schoolwork when I couldn’t get out of bed because my head hurt so badly and I just needed to be in total darkness and silence for 18 hours. You wouldn’t see the fights I’ve had with the same friends featured all over my profile. You might not see that some of the jokes I make on Twitter are also a form of coping.

Instagram is not real life.

You cannot know a person by their social media profiles. You cannot know a person by their performance in a class. People are so much more than what they show the world, or even to an individual.

The moments I share on Instagram are, of course, a part of who I am, but they’re just a snapshot of a whole person. Alternatively, someone’s mental illness is not their whole person either.

We have made great strides as a generation toward ending the stigma surround mental health, but I still have spent too long feeling ashamed of something I cannot control, something that is not my fault. I felt like I couldn’t succeed at Lehigh, at college, because of my mental health issues. That’s not fair, and no one should feel that anymore.

As I get ready to leave Lehigh, I am trying to show more of who I am. There are 43.8 million adults who will experience mental illness in a given year. I am talking about mental health, my experiences, both for them and for me.

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