“You need a hammock.” This was the simple advice given to me by my dearest friends and personal therapists after a particularly difficult day in the first semester of my freshman year at Boston College. As a person in desperate need of comforting and encouraging words in this moment, I was not exactly thrilled to hear this seemingly non sequitur. But you see, these friends passionately believed that relaxing in a hammock was the solution to all problems – and boy, did I have problems.
Until coming to college, I never quite realized how happy I was in high school. Not many people I know can claim that they loved high school, that it was the best four years of their life, or that they even found it to be a particularly enjoyable time, myself included. However, I knew that I was happy then because of the sharp contrast I felt throughout my anxiety-filled first semester and beyond at Boston College.
They say college is the time to be yourself, but I had never felt less like myself than I did in those first long months. I have always been an introverted person, but here I felt utterly invisible, insecure, and unloved for the first time in my life. Failing to meet the social expectations of acclimating well to a new environment, accumulating the perfect friend group, and living the ‘college dream’ in the first few months felt like just that – a failure. Because of this, I continuously insisted that I was “fine”, when I was really anything but. Although I appeared alone most of the time, anxiety and depression were always by my side, often interfering with any attempts I made to better myself.
Looking back, I cannot place blame on anyone for how I felt during this time – not the people I met at BC, my family, God, or even myself, as much as I tried to. I slowly came to realize it wasn’t anyone’s fault; I also came to learn that I was not alone. In fact, sadly, my situation wasn’t unique at all. It was brought to my attention that an astonishing 41.6% of college students suffer from anxiety and 36.4% from depression.
This is a problem that cannot be ignored, and thankfully, there are some people who are refusing to ignore it. My two aforementioned friends, Jane Clark, a junior at Stony Brook University, and Emily Knox, a junior at Stonehill College wanted to help people like me and so many others that have suffered from depression, especially those on college campuses. They believed so strongly in their idea that hammocks help relieve stress and calm anxiety that they decided to launch their own small business, Hammock for Happiness, just months after our discussion. In this business, which bears the slogan, “Don’t panic, here’s a hammock”, they personally tie dye and customize canvas hammocks and sell them on their website, with the intention of donating a percentage of their profit to campus health services. In the meantime, they are working to spread awareness of mental illness on college campuses and spreading a little bit of happiness too with their bright and colorful hammocks.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy cure for mental illness. A pill may grant a quick fix, distractions can take the pain away for a few moments, and a hammock will bring you serenity in the face of anxiety. However, the only way to truly overcome our demons it is with time, will, and a strong support system. What’s important is that we continue to spread both awareness of the crippling affects of mental illness on college campuses and continue to spread kindness to one another, for you may not realize just who around you is suffering.
More than a year after my symptoms began, most of them have now significantly reduced, if not withered away completely. I now hang my Hammock for Happiness as a tapestry above my bed to acknowledge how far I have come and to serve as a reminder that there are always people out there who care. On days when I am feeling down, I take it down and just hang out. Turns out it’s a pretty good way to relieve stress after all.
I am proud to say that I am without a doubt a better, stronger, and happier person than I was a year ago today thanks to people who have stood by me for years, wonderful new friends and new experiences at Boston College, and of course, a hammock.
I encourage anyone struggling from depression or anxiety to keep fighting and, most importantly, talk to someone – anyone, even me – because although talking about it isn’t easy, not talking about it is dangerous.
All photos courtesy of the author.
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