Letter to a Student

Twinkle lights are a great distraction this time of year! At least for me. I LOVE me some twinkle lights. Also, this was me in college, when I was not so happy. You can see that twinkle lights helped with that very much.

Dear Student,

I don’t know you personally, but I heard you were having a hard time. And I guess I’ve been thinking about you because you sound so much like Anne-Marie-in-College. I heard that you’re reading this blog, and I want to write a letter to you. And, I suppose, to everyone who feels like you do and I did.

I have to say this first: I’m so proud of you for being honest about how you’ve been feeling lately. I understand that you have some experience with feeling down (“low moods” as a professional might call them). I know that whenever I start to feel really low, I get scared that “it” is happening all over again. You know what I mean, I bet. That I won’t be able to stop the “I’m a Failure at Life” thoughts and feelings, will totally lose control of my life and will end up stuck in a psych ER, aka Hell on Earth. Knowing that I have felt all of this before has really done just one thing for me: it has taught me to believe that it will stop. Ending up in the psych ER twice in one two weeks my senior year in college sort of took the mystery out of the whole thing. I never want to do it again, but if I have to, it won’t kill me. As long as I’m still here, I’m fighting.

I usually have to work really hard on making it stop spiraling down, down, down, by doing just what it sounds like you’re doing. Asking for help, talking to people, spending time with good friends. When I was in college, my close friends were willing to sleep in my room when I needed to not be alone. The one friend who said “no” wrote me an amazing note (I still have it) about getting real help from non-friend professionals who could help me better, and could I please do so before I worried them all to death already?

My favorite thing that happens when I talk to people about the thoughts that just will not stop is that suddenly, with those thoughts on the outside, they seem just a little less likely to be true. The professionals will say that it is true that I feel afraid but not true that every person I pass on the street, in the train, sit next to in a classroom, meet at work is judging me or guessing that I’m a total fraud. Loved ones will say that it’s really not visible; “crazy” is not written on my forehead. I usually just look tired. Who doesn’t look tired sometimes? True, these conversations don’t stop the fear that my life will somehow stop as everyone suddenly sees that I’ve been faking smarts or talent or whatever, but it starts to sound plausible that maybe, just maybe, strangers cannot see what feels totally obvious to me, that maybe I am just having a bad week/month/year. Maybe I’m not a total fraud. Hey, if these people are willing to have the same conversation with me over and over, I must be doing something right. Every time I get these thoughts on the outside by telling someone, I begin to see the possibility that they are not going to be my overwhelming reality forever.

Since you’re already being incredibly brave and have been talking to people who want to help, I really just have one piece of advice. It’s not a small thing, even though it is simple. Start an entirely new schedule that centers around going to sleep and getting up at the same times each night and each morning. Doctors yammered on about sleep at me for years, and I didn’t listen. Then, I had to be at work by 8:00 am, and I just couldn’t stay awake past 10:00 anymore. 10:00 pm and 6:00 am became my wakeup times. Now, it’s more like 11:00 and 7:00, but whatever works for your schedule. Sleeping too much and too little, napping, all of these things seem to make the basics even harder–getting up, being on time, eating. Taking vitamins. Taking meds. Whatever needs to happen for life to go on. I would write it in stone, if I could! Regular sleep has done more for me than any medication, any doctor, anything. If I could give you anything, it would be some sort of sleep gift card. Oh, and don’t take naps. I have a hard time following this rule. But my psychiatrist seems to think that naps are totally evil because they make it impossible to tell if getting up and going to sleep, the two hardest, most basic things, are going well. I guess my point is that going to bed and getting up in the morning serve as both a test and a barrier. If I’m doing these things regularly and getting good sleep, I know that things are ok, no matter what my mood is like. I also have more energy to deal with the more icky moods. If I am trying to go to sleep and get up on time and it’s not happening, that tells me that something is up, not right, a little off. It’s a good sign that I should take extra good care of myself, and it happens before I do anything that can’t be fixed, like stop showing up for work. If I note to myself that hey, I had a lot of trouble falling asleep, I must be feeling super anxious, then I am less likely to ignore the anxious thoughts until they have completely taken over made me stop eating and curl up in a tiny ball saying no no I won’t leave my house I won’t! It’s the first step down in my spiral. It’s the easiest place to stop the spiral.

I hope that this letter helps you, if only as a message in a bottle saying yeah, I’ve been there and it sucks. And it ends. And after the spiral ends, life definitely sucks less. And here’s where the cliche comes in: it gets better. It just does. Especially if you remember that it’s happened before and you survived. The lows aren’t as deep and they don’t last as along. You get used to them and sometimes see them coming. You forgive yourself when they come. I hope that one day you can see yourself the way I have finally learned to see myself: not as a crazy person, just as me. I’d really prefer it if being me meant being perfect. But, I wasn’t built with perfection in mind. Oh, well! I’m just me. Even when I wrinkle my nose up at that thought, I stay close to the people who seem to like it. They help me remember that just being me is the best I can do.

It sounds like you’re working about as hard as anyone can possible work. If you can, ease up on yourself. If you can’t do that, I highly recommend friends and bad movies as a good distraction. My best friend once took me on a “date” to see Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, and that was one fantastic distraction. I’m pretty sure we weren’t supposed to be laughing so much during the “serious” parts, but it felt really good to laugh. In sum: laugh and get some sleep. If you can do those two things, in any order, you’re on your way.

Your friend,



  1. Student said:

    Your letter has touched me to the core, and I thank you for taking the time to write to me. Your husband has helped me in ways he doesn’t know, and now you have also. Sometimes it takes the concern and effort of near strangers to truly get the message through, in a way. I have had a happy 2 year period with no medication where I thought I had grown wise and untouchable by negative emotions, but I let myself slip: I forgot that I could make it stop. Your advice about regular sleep was something I thought I knew I needed to do, but actually reading that I need to do it inspired me to set not only a wake-up alarm, but a bedtime alarm also. While writing this, I already feel more hopeful, and I have you and Nathan to thank for that.
    I hope you get through your own difficult time with as much ease as possible, switching medication can be hard. I’m sure when the time comes you will be a fantastic mother, and working with children is a great way to get your baby fix (I used to work with children too- their happiness and simplicity is theraputic for me :D). If you ever need a ‘somewhat stranger’ to talk, I extend the offer back to you.
    with gratitude

    December 1, 2011
    • Anne-Marie said:

      Thank you for your kind words, Rachael! If you are ever in New Haven, we should visit Nathan at Starbucks, (where he will be grading papers for the rest of our lives). Also, if you use twitter, every Tuesday night I try and join in with a chat that follows “#mhsm” (mental health social media) with a bunch of really, really nice people I never have to see in person who have lots of wisdom and support to share. The topic changes each week. (If you’ve never followed a Twitter chat before, it’s easy. Type “#mhsm” into search, hit enter, and make sure if you want to reply, you include “#mhsm” in your message.)

      You seem totally lovely, and I’m glad I could help. More than I can say. It’s amazing how a drama-free period can get us to take things for granted, isn’t it? I had such a great summer, and now I’m like “Wait! We were done with this! Noooooo!”

      I hear that you have a blog, too, and if you want to, feel free to link up!

      December 2, 2011

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