Being Black in a World of Darkness

To say this semester has been rough on my mental health would be the understatement of the century. I feel a constant wave of exhaustion and a minute drive to do anything these days. I work primarily out of obligation or because that’s always what I’ve had to do, not out of a legitimate desire for something more. All of the days blend, and I’m lucky to feel honest joy for more than what feels like a mere moment. And yet I still need to keep working because… why exactly? If most students can relate to even a fraction of the sentiments I’ve laid out, why are we not given more support or a break? These are questions I’m still looking for an answer to, and I don’t think I’ll see a promising one for a while. 

I’ll cut to the chase here: I believe Oberlin has fundamentally been failing me this semester in particular. Even if you were to cut out all of the extracurriculars and jobs I do that are technically optional, this is still the least supported I have felt by far during my time here. I see virtue signaling all the time with ‘mental health’ as nothing more than a phrase without meaning behind it. Professionals and various offices send out emails telling us to ‘get the help you need,’ linking me to resources I have already seen time and time again. Rather than actually lower the workload or expectations for struggling students, they instead place the hard labor onto me. It’s up to me to trauma-dump on professors or bosses just for the chance at an extension or exemption. It’s up to me to take up more of my time and rack up Zoom fatigue by contacting the counseling center, whom I already stay in contact with regularly. It’s up to me to be proactive while Oberlin faculty and the school at large get to act as if students are supported adequately. Instead of the school planning a break, it’s up to me to take a moment in my already limited schedule to alleviate inevitable burnout. 

Most of those issues don’t even tie into the extra things on my plate this semester; thus far, I’ve only been talking at the basic student level. First of all, I was diagnosed with depression this semester and began seeing a counselor regularly and started taking antidepressants. As a person with depression, I wonder if any people with legitimate concern for mental health or experience with depression helped plan this semester. It does not seem like it since very few professors are adjusting schedules or workloads considering the state of the world’s. They merely cite their problems with planning the syllabus or give some other excuse. I already go on walks, journal, go to counseling, take naps, write poetry, take antidepressants, and partake in most self-care rituals. I do not need more ways to minimize the burnout and pain that is only exacerbated by classwork; I need a break. To continually see the disconnect between how Oberlin believes it is helping students versus how I feel as a student is a tonal whiplash. I am not a prop, and neither is my mental illness. 

That does not even play into how other life factors only add to the stress and pain I continuously experience. Being Black during a time in American history where two white men without the best interests of those who look like me are running for president is traumatizing. I can barely manage to take in any news for more than bits at a time now because it is legitimately hard to stomach. 

Regardless of the upcoming election’s outcome, I can already foresee my mental health further deteriorating as America’s fate grows grimmer and grimmer. And yet, I still need to get up every day and act like everything is fine. The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has been a sight to see, but that is a constant factor weighing down upon me at most moments of the day. I can only imagine how Black first-years who have not dealt with the counseling center, college stressors, or uncertainty during an election year since 2016 feel. I can only hope for Black women and femmes on campus who must endure the intersectional oppression of racism and misogyny and then continue to function regardless. I haven’t even mentioned how COVID-19 and the natural isolation that comes with following ObieSafe guidelines only exacerbates everything I previously said. 

I don’t even know what I want to improve or hope for because I have very little faith in any of the issues above getting any better. I’m simply drained and demoralized to the utmost degree by this point. With the bit of time I have left to vent, I’ll offer a simple piece of advice to any students — Black students mostly — who felt this piece resonated with them. It’s okay not to be okay and to feel hopeless. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed right now; there’s more than enough valid reasons to feel this way. Take some time to focus on yourself and to make sure you get a break whenever you need it. No one else will help us so, as usual, we have each other, if nothing else.