There was a point in my early twenties, shortly after I’d finished college, when my therapy bill was the most expensive line item on my budget. At the time I was working at a small nonprofit. I had insurance, but my coverage didn’t include mental health. I didn’t own a car. Rode my bike everywhere. And had a roommate with whom I shared a sensible, but not-nice apartment. I laugh now at the irony of that bill. $125 a week when taking public transportation felt like a splurge.
So, why did I do it? And was it worth it?
Why? The decision was entirely emotionally driven. I felt a murky, evasive form of crappy all the time. Eventually I hit a breaking point and couldn’t stand it anymore.
Was it worth it? Yes. The process of feeling better was slow, and in its own way as murky as the depression and anxiety that had led me there in the first place. What I did not know then, that I can see with great clarity now, is that committing to work on my wellbeing was as critical a part of my education as any class I’d ever taken. There were no papers or tests, but I was on a deep and important learning curve (still am). The skills and knowledge that we gain in our traditional schooling are rendered useless if they reside in an emotional vessel that isn’t working well. My vessel was ineffective because I had never before considered my wellbeing education.
In the short term that $125/week helped to alleviate my aforementioned crappy feelings. (I only use ‘short’ in retrospect. At the time it felt like a very long process.) In the long term, it helped me build a wellbeing habit. If in school I built study habits, learned to read, write, and do math (among other things). In therapy I learned to reflect, to reframe, to focus, to communicate (among other things). All of these skills, in equal measure, have been important to have.
So my first question to you, how are you thinking about your wellbeing?
If you’re like me in pre-twenties, you aren’t thinking about it at all. In my twenties, it was triage mode. Now, I consider working on my emotional wellbeing to be an important part of my education. It is this mindset, that wellbeing is education, that I recommend to you. I wish I had had that insight sooner; it has changed how I think about my mental health, how I plan for it, and how I allocate money towards it.
This leads to my next question, how are you planning for your wellbeing and allocating money towards it?
College budgets are an important thing to make. There is housing and food to consider (musts). Books (obviously). Various school fees (annoying). An “extracurricular” category for clubs, activities and parties (everyone finds their own thing). Usually a new piece of technology, a mini-fridge and storage bins that can double as a shelf in a dorm room (nice-to-haves). These are all great things to be anticipating, but when it comes to getting financially prepared for college, it seems that we are more aware of the need to keep our beer cold than we are for mental health support.
The transition to college marks the end of adolescents and the beginning of adulthood. That’s a big deal academically, socially and emotionally. I’m not suggesting that everyone who goes to college needs to brace for an emotional breakdown. Many find a sense of happiness and fulfillment with ease. But whether we are facing challenges, humming along on cruise control or feeling totally enlightened, it is worthwhile to have a wellbeing habit. College is a great time to start that.
So if working on wellbeing is a part of your education, rather than an afterthought when you realize that you need to stay sane in order to get through your education, it becomes obvious to plan for it, to include it in your college budget and to even get excited about all that you might learn when you commit to it.
Therapy worked for me, but it isn’t the only “class” you can take in your wellbeing education. Other things that can help: journaling, meditation, practicing your religion, taking walks, yoga, breaking a sweat, poetry, art, girls/guys nights, support groups; to name a few. You also might find that you need medicine, either permanently or for a period of time to help your wellbeing. Understanding your medicine, deciding to use it, and doing that responsibly is another lesson from the school of wellbeing. Just as professors help to inform our formal education, it is important to find mental health and/or medical professionals to help guide our wellbeing education. This is most important if/when considering medication.
Sara duPont is the Founder of The Mindful Applicant. Through the development of social-emotional skills, students determine their “why” so that the college process becomes a transformation rather than a transaction. Check out their summer program - Brain Alive - to learn how you can develop your self-awareness while you write your common app essay this summer.