Pressure of Perfection: Overcoming Self-Harm and Stress

By Matt Goodman |

Iheadshot gargf you told the average college student that a 3.5 grade point average wasn’t good enough, they would probably call you insane.

One of the biggest pressures that some students face, however, is the pressure to succeed that they place on themselves. For Madison Holleran, a beautiful, intelligent, talented cross country and track and field athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, that stress was too much. At the age of 19, Holleran jumped to her death after experiencing overwhelming stress over her 3.5 GPA in her first semester of college.

I was deeply affected after hearing this story, having dealt with suicidal thoughts related to stress throughout high school and college. Recently, many at Flagler College, including myself, lost a dear friend in a similarly tragic manner. Many people will look at his passing and find it hard to believe or hard to understand, but I can relate all too well.

After the stressful fall semester of my sophomore year, I saw my 3.1 GPA while sitting in an airport on my way home for winter break. I was completely ashamed. It’s not that it was a bad GPA in the scheme of things or that it was bad compared to other students, but it wasn’t good for me. It wasn’t up to my expectations. I was terrified to tell my parents. I stopped eating as much. I stayed up all night and rarely slept. I couldn’t function. I wanted to die.

I returned from winter break exhausted. At a time that was supposed to be relaxing and spent with family, I was worrying and lying in bed. My cross country coach noticed how out of shape I was. When I revealed my frustrations with myself and my suicidal thoughts, he immediately signed me up with the counseling center. I was, once again, embarrassed. I hid it from my friends, family members and teammates. I lied about where I was going and made up excuses about why I couldn’t hang out. It’s amazing that something I was so afraid of turned out to be an incredible safe haven.

For me, it was that first step in telling someone that I was having issues. It could be classified as depression or just being depressed. Either way, suicidal thoughts don’t always just disappear. It’s not something to be ashamed of or feel like you are alone in dealing with either.

According to a recent Institute of Mental Health study, more than six percent of college students reported seriously considering suicide, with one percent of students reporting a suicide attempt in the previous year.

It concerns me that more people don’t utilize counseling services or don’t tell their friends. I see the stress of college get to my friends all the time. Sometimes I wonder if what they’re experiencing is overwhelming them or if they need the support I got at the counseling center. I wonder if Madison Holleran or my friend told anyone what they were thinking about doing.

People aren’t always as observant. I realized when I had these thoughts that I needed to tell someone. Talking about it helps. Colleges and parents need to be more proactive about letting their students and children know that getting help is the healthy thing to do. It shouldn’t be embarrassing to try to get help, but for a while it was extremely embarrassing to me.

The embarrassment often led me to lie about how I was feeling. It didn’t solve anything. Even when I was in counseling, I would tell them I had stopped harming myself or that I had stopped having terrible thoughts, but until I was completely honest, I never got any better.

Pressure can be a great motivator, but it can also be destructive if you don’t appreciate your own capabilities and limitations. The most important thing I learned in counseling is that I need to be honest with myself about the issues I’m experiencing and that I need to accept and even love myself for everything that I am.

Some people have 4.0 GPAs, but nobody is a 4.0 person. We have to accept that about ourselves and seek help when it’s needed.

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