Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by David Parker, International Vice President for Division 2. It contains an emotional topic that may be triggering to some readers.
One in three.
It could be the classmate you share notes with, that sits to the left of you in one of your classes. Perhaps it’s your quiet neighbor on your right. Or, maybe it’s even you.
I’m talking about the one in three college students who say they have felt so depressed during the school year “that it was difficult to function.” Startling statistics such as these remind me of my dear friend Nathan and his struggle in high school with mental illness.
When Nathan was 16 years old, he was fully convinced that he would never make it to his 17th birthday. He simply would not have it. After years of struggling with self-harm, he plotted an attempt to take his own life as a way to end his unforgiving thoughts of hopelessness.
Fortunately, a close and concerned friend was able to contact Nathan’s family before it was too late. The tale of this night has had a lasting impact on himself and me, but his story has remained in the dark. It is time for light to be shown on it.
This story is for everyone who knows there are things at stake that others don’t know about. For those living not just for themselves, but for others. And for redefining “overcoming” something so that it means handling it moment by moment.
The truth? It wasn’t Nathan who planned to take his life that night. It was, in fact, me. This is my story.
Chapter One: Harnessing your struggles, and transforming what drags you into what pulls you
Believe it or not, my time in high school was marked by absences, poor grades, and pervasive depression. I struggled to keep up with my work, and my grades landed me in the bottom half of my class for almost all of my time there. Here, I was not just convinced I wasn’t smart, but that I was a terrible student as well.
My grades limited me to my local community college. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, this would actually be the best thing to ever happen to me. Treating this as a fresh start, I was wholly determined to prove not just others wrong about my academic abilities, but myself as well.
This became my driving motivation, something I had not possessed for as long as I could remember. That semester, I was honored to be placed on my school’s President’s List for my performance and, even better, to be invited to join something on campus called Phi Theta Kappa.
There was a key transformation here, almost a paradigm shift. I harnessed my personal struggle by leaving my comfort zone and striving to always prove myself wrong. Incrementally, I saw myself grow. Against all internal inclinations not to, I pushed myself to join that honor society, show up to that meeting, talk to that officer, apply for that position, try for president. All against the voice in my head that said not to.
It is difficult, but you can find the window of opportunity to take the burden that convinces you to stay in bed and turn it into something that pulls you out of bed every morning.
Chapter Two: Find your loving community — you might be with them right now
I am so grateful to be part of the PTK family. It is honestly unlike one I have ever had. Within this family, I blossomed and found myself surrounded with people I honestly thought were better than me. I have built friendships with spectacular people and made connections with future (and current) world changers, a natural consequence of which has also been seeing myself built up.
My confidence has flourished in the few years I have been a member — you would not recognize me from the formerly shy, insecure version of me from years past. This is all due to the amazing people I have been fortunate to be around.
It’s important to find your community. You may find your ties by blood with your family and kin. Maybe your community bonds over an interest in the same hobbies. Or, maybe it’s an allegiance to four hallmarks of scholarship, leadership, service, and fellowship.
Regardless, surround yourself with those who inspire you and companions who believe in you.
Chapter Three: If you can’t be your own champion, be the champion for others
If it weren’t for my chapter family, I would not be writing this article. I truly owe so much to them. Being an International Officer, I often get asked two questions: Why did I run, and why did I win. I can answer without hesitation: It is because my chapter saw things in my that I did not. They were my champions. They believed in me more than I did in myself.
Running for International Office was when this epiphany hit me and when I began to see the true power in being someone else’s champion. Personally, that has become the mission I now hold as an officer and, frankly, as a person. I encourage you to empower others and be their champion as well.
Even if you feel like you can’t be the champion for yourself, be the champion for someone else. Truthfully, you might already be acting as one.
Chapter Four: Winning wasn’t the cure; this is a continuous journey for us all
Becoming an International Officer has been the biggest honor to ever happen to me. I am so incredibly inspired by the experience and humbled to serve PTK.
Winning wasn’t the cure — this continues to be an ongoing struggle. I am here to speak to those who think they can’t, just simply can’t, whether it’s applying for the scholarship, running for that officer position, or even finding the will to get out of bed.
Push yourself to take one small step forward, moment by moment. Find the place where your burdens transform into something that lifts your spirits. Furthermore, if you cannot do it for yourself, do it for someone else and let their kindled flame light up your own path.
Yes, this is a continuous, arduous journey, but WE can champion through this together.