Your first years at UT may be hard, but you can make it. I did.

Viviana Rocha

When people look at me, they see a girl who has it all: A nurse who graduated summa cum laude pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, a super involved older sister and a supportive friend. What they don’t see is everything I went through to get to this point.

When I entered the freshman class of UT-Austin in 2012, I thought I was the best and the brightest. It turns out everyone there was the best and the brightest, and suddenly, I was mediocre. Tie this in with an unhealthy relationship, a lack of friendship and a few other factors, it was the perfect brew for the deterioration of my mental health.

Have you ever seen one of those depression checklists? You think, “No, that would never be me. What do I have to be depressed about?” I saw one of those and checked off almost every single item. 

Even then, I think I was in denial. Everyone struggles in college, right? It wasn’t just me who couldn’t muster up the energy to go to class or shower sometimes, who had issues with concentration and memory, who would eat her feelings, who felt alone. That’s the struggle, isn’t it? 

It took me a while to figure out what I was feeling wasn’t the norm, especially in contrast to so many people I knew who were thriving in this new environment. Outwardly, I put on a happy face and went about my life as best as I could, so no one ever suspected the emptiness I felt inside.

The thing about poor mental health is that you can’t keep it contained. You may think you have it in this little ball that you hold in your pocket, but it’s more like a vine that intertwines itself through every fiber of your being. 

As my mental health worsened, so did my grades, my relationships and my overall quality of life. I can be transparent and say that I had multiple sub-2.0 GPA semesters, with my worst one clocking in at a whopping 1.2. Not only did I feel miserable, it was compounded by the idea that I was letting everyone else down.

I wish I had the answer for anyone going through this to say, “This is it! This is the answer!” The truth is that everyone has their own struggles and their own ways of coping, whether that requires therapy, medication or alternative remedies. 

In 2015, something clicked for me. I changed my major, made some friends and started focusing on myself. I ended the unhealthy relationship, which allowed me to be introspective and learn what it is to love myself. I made a self-care plan and targeted ways that I could improve every aspect of my life, which may sound like a daunting task, but was really eye-opening. I also finally told my mom and close friends how much I was struggling. 

The response was bittersweet because I felt alone for so long, but there were always people in my corner rooting for me who were sad to know I suffered for in silence. 

The journey to a healthy mind didn’t happen from one day to the next. The truth is that it’s an ongoing process, and I still suffer time to time. 

What’s changed is that I have the tools to combat my depression now and know to utilize them. It’s sad that I look back on my time at UT as an experience that was not the one I had dreamed of, but I’m grateful for my time there. 

I still never made it back above a 3.0 GPA as a Longhorn, but with hard work, I got into nursing school at UT Health San Antonio and graduated summa cum laude in 2017. That degree and everything that came with it felt like redemption because I was finally the good student I knew I could be while balancing a happy family, social life and work. The only difference was the health of my mental state. 

I just started my Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in the hopes of becoming a family nurse practitioner, and fingers crossed, I hope to maintain the balanced life I’ve worked so hard on. This is all to say that sometimes we see people’s highlights and compare them to our behind-the-scenes. I want anyone who is suffering to reach out to someone because you most are most definitely not alone.

Rocha graduated from UT-Austin in 2015 with a degree in sociology.