By Laura Klatt, NAMI-UW Ambassador
Hey all! I’d like to apologize for my radio silence. The reason therefore? I’ve been in treatment out West in Denver, Colorado since late February. I struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, OCD, depression, and panic disorder. I’d like to dedicate this post to the experience(s) I’ve had over the course of my UW career with treatment, medical leaves of absence, mental health, and putting your own well-being first.
I’ve had to take a medical leave of absence every year for the past three years...for at least one semester of each academic calendar, sometimes two. It’s been a challenging pattern: I usually arrive in the fall ready to go, with a support team of therapist, psychiatrist, and general practitioner in place (not to mention support groups- HEY WiChat!)...and then I deteriorate over the course of the semester to the point at which I physically and mentally cannot. I just cannot….cannot take care of myself, cannot feed myself, cannot maintain relationships, cannot control my panic attacks, cannot keep up with extracurricular commitments, cannot do anything but panic, write A-level papers, and panic some more. How in the world I manage to function academically in the face of serious physical and mental debilitation is a stunning enigma. However, my concentration and memory were suffering as my body and the rest of my mind lost stamina, and eventually, the forecast for my academic record was beginning to teeter on precarious footing...nothing had happened yet, but I was definitely in the danger zone, which pushed me into some safety danger zones as well.
Medical and mental health treatment has saved my life several times over the past eight years. I felt a ton of shame and a mountain of shock the first time I was asked to leave UW-Madison during my freshman year. I had left high school for periods in the past, but that was different. College was supposed to be the promised land- the answer to my illness, the cure, the safety zone. College was not supposed to be the place where I got sicker and where my mental health became more unstable. I was supposed to thrive, not die! I was supposed to love my life, not want to kill myself! Needless to say, I was confused. But my confusion had no bearing on the situation- reality was as reality was, and rehabilitation was necessary. The next two times I left, including this last one, were less of a shock. My life had become, as I said before, a pattern of arrive, decline, withdraw, seek treatment. But my mental space was different each time. I’m writing this post not to glorify my illness or prove how “good” I was at being sick, but to show that growth can happen even in the most unexpected and unideal of circumstances.
I have learned so much more from my life experiences than I have in the lecture halls and discussion classrooms of UW-Madison. Just being a human, having a very human experience, has taught me about compassion, resilience, love, connection, and confronting fear. Most of all, it has taught me that putting emphasis on one’s physical and mental wellbeing is far from selfish. I learned that I cannot help others, I cannot connect with others, I cannot be involved in anything that matters or makes a difference, unless I take care of myself first. And that’s what I’ve been learning to do these past years. That’s what I’m learning to do now!
Bottom line: taking time off to heal is not a failure. Taking time off REPEATEDLY is not a failure. Healing is a blessing. Taking time to heal is a success, a truly mature and responsible action. There is no selfishness here, only proper self-love and self-care.