Monster: A Narration of Mental Health Discrimination at Fordham

Freshman details just how helpful the administration is not
Pria Islam

Depression

I sat for minutes, for hours, for days, frozen in time, paralyzed. The world had pulled a lens over my eyes, muting my vision. It was dull. The cruelest part is not that I could not move, but that I saw the universe moving on without me…

Your brain is the epicenter of every function that your body performs. From your motor skills to thought processes, it is what makes you what you are. Your arm controls your movement to the extent that you can hold and lift things. If you break your arm, you lose that ability. In this way, if your brain is sick, then you lose the ability to function.

When I entered Fordham University in August 2012, I had already been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I was attending therapy and taking a range of medications to control the issue and was doing fairly well at that time. However, my schedule got extremely hectic, and I had to balance a few pre-med courses, working two jobs, dealing with my family and therapy while commuting to school. Since I was so busy, I initially thought I could go to therapy biweekly instead of weekly. That was fine for a while. I was extremely productive and an active participant (although some might call it obnoxious!) in all of my classes and was keeping up with all my responsibilities. However, depression can be unpredictable and sometimes after a good period, you can be hit with an episode and everything comes spiraling down.

By mid-October I was overworked and my grades slowly started slipping. Once you receive your first disappointment, that one bad grade to trigger you, your emotional barrier breaks like a brittle sheet of ice.

What triggered my collapse was none other than Hurricane Sandy. In late October, after the storm had ripped through the unprepared city and Con-Edison’s Transformer exploded across the street from my 23 story apartment building, the damage done was incredible. My apartment was completely uninhabitable and that is when I received the call from Fordham and was offered temporary housing.

I thought this would make my life much easier. Without the commute, I’d be able to use the university’s facilities and actually have time to socialize! This came with a steep price. Due to the damage done in the city, I did not have access to any of my medication for weeks. Anyone with a basic knowledge of antidepressants knows how dangerous this is. I went into severe withdrawal and even when I could get my medication, I didn’t. I was losing the ability to function completely. The damage was done.

The rest of the pieces fell into place; I stopped studying, I took a leave from both my jobs, I stopped going to class, I stopped going outside. I would wake up every morning and tell myself, “Get the fuck up, you have things to do!” but my body refused to move. Like a case of horrific sleep paralysis, I was glued to my bed, unable to move, an invisible force literally weighing me down. I finally got some medication in mid December but it’s not a miracle pill that works in a day. The most I could do was keep in touch with my professors and let them know that I wasn’t okay, sparing them the bitter details. I thought I had done as much as I could. But then I received my letter of expulsion.

I was being expelled for not being “up to academic standards.” Without warning, I was out. I knew my absenteeism was a problem, but I had been talking to people in the administration throughout the entire semester, doing what any responsible student could do in the situation. I sent in an appeal letter. Surely once I explained to them that I was severely depressed and recovering from withdrawal, they would let me back in, or at the very least, a medically excused for the first term.

My psychiatrist sent over the proper documentation and I was called in for an interview. It was a civil affair, even to the extent that the Dean appeared to be vaguely sympathetic. However, discussing the event with my psychiatrist, he was outraged on the injustice that had been presented to me: “The lack of progression is appalling! Even the government validates mental illnesses!” Some may criticize Fordham for being a strict Jesuit school, but that is no excuse for this injustice. If someone had broken their leg, medical amnesty would have immediately been granted.

In my appeals meeting, the Dean said to me, “I don’t want to make it feel like we are punishing you for your depression.” At the time, I did not say anything. I didn’t realize that the only reason he had made that statement is because that is exactly what Fordham is doing to me. After the meeting, I received a letter stating that I was under academic suspension. The letter was somewhat generic with a few edits to “tailor” my specific case. As the most condescending letter I have ever received, I was told that I will be on “academic probation” should I choose to return and must meet with a dean every other week to talk about “time management and study skills.” I was told that once I demonstrated “that the deficiencies that caused your suspension have been addressed and remedied,” I could apply for readmission. Academic probation to discuss study skills? I don’t lack study skills, I was suffering from withdrawal. The issue is not time management, time does not even exist for a depressed person. I have proven now with medical documentation that I am fit for school. The “deficiency” that caused my suspension wasn’t starting a fire or doing anything criminal- it was that I was sick.

Please be aware that the grades that you have earned for the fall 2012 semester will remain on your academic transcript.

That would make my first term academic average a zero. I am a pre-med student, it is almost impossible to recover from that kind of damage. I shouldn’t have to; it makes no sense that I was not excused for being ill. It is mental discrimination. The message of that letter was, in short, “You’ve been suspended, and if you did not want that, you should’ve thought of that before being depressed!” I’ll be sure to keep that in mind when my next depressive episode tells me to go die.

I have been battling this illness by trying my best to engage in normal interactions with people and focus on my studies so I can succeed as a human being. With a simple letter, all of that was taken away, along with the months of progress that I had made. It is ironic and cruel, and even funny to an extent when you think about it. I am depressed, but also trying to perform in an environment that can help me grow mentally and bring me happiness. I am being shut out from what can help me and told that I have been punished and may come back if I fix this problem. Can one speed up recovery just because one said so? In a way, I have been locked out from an institution that can help me recover. I’ve been told that I am sick, but am not offered treatment in the hospital and am told I should come back when I am healthier.

The fact of the matter is that depression is not an excuse for my behavior. If I had broken my arm, and could not physically take an exam, I would not be penalized because I would be physically crippled. Depression is mentally crippling. It turns intelligent, hard working people into zombies and I couldn’t physically bring myself to get up, let alone take an exam. Walking a few steps is a huge struggle when you have no self will.

I am not here to compare illnesses by telling anyone that is physically or mentally ill that their illness isn’t valid, or does not match up to mine. The impact an illness has solely depends on that person, for that is the only thing they have felt. For a child, a scab may be the most painful thing they have felt in their life or perhaps a case of chicken pox. You cannot tell them their illness isn’t important or valid, for it is the most pain they have felt in their life. In this way, you cannot compare illnesses such as kidney failure or cancer. Both can be fatal, but have different methods of shutting down the body and getting there.

Using physical illness to understand mental illness only works to a certain extent. Depression affects you physically, but ultimately it is a problem of the mind. You cannot will it away.

I am here to say that I have been discriminated against because I am misfortunate enough to have an invisible illness. No, my arm isn’t broken, but I am mentally disfigured. I don’t just lack the ability to be happy: depression is an inability to function. When you break your arm, your arm doesn’t work, what happens when your brain is sick? Everything is affected. Every body function, eating, even moving. You are not an empty shell with no soul; you exist and you don’t want to. Your awareness of your disability is worse than simply being disabled.

In a society that is progressing so rapidly, the amount of social injustice that still exists is disgusting. Fordham University, you have taken away my academic future as well as my trust, and have shown me plainly that I am in fact, a monster.

Depression does not discriminate against race, class or intelligence. It doesn’t matter if you’re strong willed or intelligent. Depression grows in your head and crushes you from the inside. My education is important to me. I know am sick and I know that I am recovering; I am well aware of my capabilities. I am determined to conquer this invisible illness and be successful, regardless of what a misguided administration can ever say to me.

2 thoughts

  1. Reblogged this on Emily Elizabeth Pierce and commented:
    I hope you are doing better. I suffer from major depression and understand all too well how you feel. I also am a student at Fordham University and am going through the discrimination that you faced or type of discrimination you faced. I hope that you stood up to Fordham. No student should face a punishment because of a mental illness or any disease. Please feel free to contact me at PierceEmily@icloud.com . I would like to connect.

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