By Landon Prestwood
For the past 5 years, I’ve walked this campus like most Ole Miss students have. I’ve attended football games, spent countless hours in the Grove on game day, and probably skipped one too many classes… sorry, mom.
I come from a normal Mississippi family. For my whole life, I’ve been very extroverted. I’ve always loved talking to people and making new friends. Doctors used to tell my mom that if I wasn’t talking for 5 minutes, it was only because I was asleep.
But as I transitioned from a senior in high school to a freshman at Ole Miss, this all quickly changed. What came after freshman move-in day was something that I never expected. I found myself lost, confused, overwhelmed and down.
Though I walked into my freshman bio class with a smile on my face, I was struggling– struggling like I never had before. I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t join Greek life and I was shy. I became known as the quiet kid on my hall.
Little did my hallmates know, I was secretly dealing with something that I had never experienced before: crippling mental health issues.
I didn’t leave my house for weeks at a time. I had fallen victim to my mind–a mind in which depression, anxiety and a constant feeling of panic hovered over me every hour of every day.
Simple things that I used to take for granted had been snatched from me. I couldn’t eat, sleep, leave my dorm or even talk to people without an impending sense of doom and danger. For months, my bed is where I stayed.
I woke up daily thinking, “Why can’t I just be normal again?” and “Why is this happening to me?” There came a point where I could no longer see life past my bedroom window. I remember wondering if Ole Miss was the end of the road for me and if this was somehow where my life would end.
At the height of it all, I withdrew from Ole Miss as a scared and lonely freshman feeling defeated, all at the hands of my mental health.
But the path of my life suddenly changed with one single person.
At the time, she was a freshman psychology student who was also struggling to adapt to Ole Miss culture. Despite what she was dealing with in her own life, she talked to me when I had no one else to talk to. She checked on me every day. She came to my room when I couldn’t take care of myself.
And in an attempt to get me to eat, she would bring me McDonald’s and the occasional cookout tray.
An 18-year-old woman, even though she didn’t know it, was slowly granting me a glimpse of better days, when my mind would stop working against me, days when I could relearn how to be myself, and when I would soon be able to live outside the four walls of my bedroom again.
After two long years of struggle, through the motivation of my now best friend, I re-enrolled at Ole Miss. Even though my mental state was still fragile, I started taking care of myself again. I started eating better. I started talking to my family, and I even slowly started making new friends.
Small doses of joy that were once impossible were now somehow attainable, all because of a selfless 18-year-old. All because of a friend.
Right here in the Ole Miss community, there are thousands of college students just like Freshman Landon. They too are struggling mentally, but they aren’t as lucky as I have been to have overcome these obstacles. These students don’t have a single friend.
You and I could be that one friend someone needs. Something small, like checking in on someone you know or introducing yourself to someone new, could easily change that person’s life.
We all can help one another, all through the power of friendship. I’m a walking example of just that.
Today, I am a new person. I’m living to see my senior year, a milestone that 18-year-old me never thought possible. As I prepare to leave this chapter of my life behind, I hope that this campus will remember my story as one of perseverance and of hope- a reminder that no matter how bad things get, we always have each other.
Though I wish someone would have told me these things five years ago, I have developed valuable lessons and key takeaways from my roller coaster of a life here at Ole Miss.
Take care of yourself, even when it’s hard to do so. Be nice to people, even if they aren’t nice to you first. Accept people for who they are, even if you don’t understand them.
And most importantly, be a friend, because there’s always somebody who needs one.