Pictured: Miranda Hall. Photo by Anastasia Condolon
Mental illness is never a path someone would choose.
But for five Pepperdine students, it’s an avenue that has led them on a winding journey as they wrestle with their diagnoses, healing and faith.
These three may never fully converge, but all five students have come to terms with their diagnosis and found meaning and mending.
“I don’t think we as people are meant to know all the answers, and that’s OK,” junior Alicia Yu said. “At the same time, God has given me a lot of peace through it all, and I think that because of that, I can still say, ‘Yes, I struggle a lot with my mental health, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love me,’ or that I’m pushed to the back.”
This kind of wrestling is apparent across all five students from their initial feelings surrounding their diagnoses, their healing processes and how faith intersects with their everyday lives.
Riddled with overwhelming perfectionism and struggling with time management, senior Miranda Hall said she felt anxiety when completing assignments and struggled to stay engaged in class.
Hall took to the internet to find answers about her academic disengagement and found an article about teens with perfectionist tendencies getting late Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses. It resonated with her. Although she was sure she had ADD, the psychiatrist disagreed when she went for her first diagnosis at age 15.
“That was really disappointing because I had put everything on to that diagnosis,” Hall said. “I was like, ‘This is what I need, this will fix my life.’”
After making it through her junior year by the skin of her teeth, Hall pleaded with her mother to get another test. It was only three weeks into seeing a psychologist that she was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD.
“It was one of the best moments in my life, getting that diagnosis,” Hall said. “It was just really great to have an explanation for why I struggled in classes, so much the way that I did, and that it wasn’t anything wrong with me, and I wasn’t lazy.”
Before eighth grade, first-year Johnathan Flint believed he did not fit into the stereotypes of a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, like maintaining a clean room and having hyper-organization. The snowball of tendencies and intrusive thoughts began when he reached high school.
“I would be like, ‘If I don’t pick up this piece of trash, if I don’t step on this crack, if I don’t feel good, if I don’t rewrite on the paper, then I’ll do terrible at the next race, then I’ll fail this test, I will lose all my friends,’” Flint said.
Flint’s OCD escalated when he began driving his sophomore year; he was now able to turn around his vehicle if a tendency struck. He recalled a time that year where he sat in his car for 30 minutes trying to decide whether to step on a crack he missed or to go home. He mentally wrestled with himself and even turned around while on his way home.
Flint said a psychiatrist diagnosed him with OCD in 2018 and put him on medication. Sometimes, Flint’s tendencies signal that his success is not dependent on his work but on completing his rituals. His tendencies fluctuate — appearing when his life is “really good” and dissipating when he has “nothing to lose.”
Junior Everett Boudrieau said he felt isolated without consistent human contact while at home in Colorado last semester. He began seeing a therapist over Zoom in September 2020. The therapist said he had symptoms of anxiety or depression and consequently diagnosed him with Adjustment Disorder and mild anxiety.
“I just wasn’t even myself last semester because I was thinking completely irrationally and experiencing emotions I’d never [experienced],” Boudrieau said.
In what his therapist deemed “the thought loop from hell,” Boudrieau fell into a constant “spiral” of thinking about unanswered existential questions. Boudrieau recalled the beginning of the spiral — a weeklong panic attack — that left him in a damaging mental space.
“I would get into this cycle where I couldn’t hear anybody,” Boudrieau said. “I was completely in my head, which is just so scary because then you’re just not in the moment at all. That’s what I was being taught, that I was supposed to do all throughout sophomore year — be present, be in the moment — but it kind of sucked that I was losing the understanding [of] what that even meant anymore.”
Junior Lauren Drake said a psychiatrist diagnosed her with Bipolar Disorder that includes forms of depression and anxiety in October 2019. She said her Bipolar diagnosis was scary, yet affirming, and provided clarity.
“I feel like there’s a preconceived notion of what Bipolar Disorder is,” Drake said, “and I feel like I’ve learned now that it’s very much a spectrum.”
Drake said she had mild anxiety in high school, but it became amplified after the 2018 shooting at Borderline that claimed the life of her roommate Alaina Housley. After returning to her home in Washington in early November 2018 following the Woolsey Fire evacuation, Drake received counseling multiple times a week to process the grief and trauma she experienced.
While faced with Bipolar Disorder, Drake said her emotions are heightened when she goes into “depressive episodes.” When her mood is regulated, she is able to complete all tasks, but a bad day may include a lack of motivation.
“I was feeling really lonely and it was a lot of crying all the time and feeling empty and pushing people away and feeling really low and self-deprecating,” Drake said. “I haven’t been at the point of feeling suicidal since 2018.”
Yu said a neuropsychologist diagnosed her with Major Depressive Disorder and Specified Anxiety Disorder with panic attacks during her sophomore year of high school and inattentive ADHD this year, which she described as “freeing.” Yu said her Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is undiagnosed, but every professional claimed it was evident.
“I’m really comfortable with knowing that these are things that I deal with,” Yu said. “It’s just another thing about me.”
During online school, Yu’s mental illness has looked different than years prior. Her depression has caused feelings of gloominess and being withdrawn, her anxiety extends from needing security to having physical panic attacks and her PTSD occurs when loud and sudden noises trigger her.
Faith and mental illness
Yu began to turn to Christ in eighth grade, a year she described as difficult for herself and her best friend.
“A lot of my faith has been rooted in my mental health journey,” Yu said. “At the same time, I struggled a lot with wondering how my faith fits in dealing with the aftermath of Borderline.”
Unlike Yu, Drake’s Christian faith dissipated after the loss, and she has been unable to reconnect with God.
“I was like, ‘I’m done. I don’t, I can’t reconcile this,’” Drake said.
Drake said her absence from God will not be permanent, but she is taking her time before attempting to find answers to her many questions.
“I’m not there yet, but I think that’s OK,” Drake said. “It’s not because I’m angry…but I’m hurt. I have so many questions that I am not ready to tackle yet.”
In a similar turn of events, Boudrieau threw in the towel on Christianity after thinking through a cycle of unanswered questions about God’s existence in October.
“That’s what happens when you’re in your head all the time, and you’re just only getting more confused because you want answers,” Boudrieau said. “You search in the Bible for answers, and they’re going to give you parables.”
In January, Boudrieau moved back to the Malibu area and said his mental health and connection with God has immensely improved. He said he prays daily and surrounds himself with the church and community.
Much like Boudrieau, Hall questioned why God made her this way and why she was withheld from her diagnosis for so long, but she then saw the value in His timing and garnered a greater appreciation for it.
“I went through years of what I would describe as hell because of [my undiagnosed ADHD],” Hall said. “That was really difficult for me. Since then, I’ve been able to see how having that experience of going through extreme hardship in school and life has given me so much greater appreciation for what I have now and my ability to focus now, my ability to learn.”
Flint said his OCD and faith have become intertwined and chalks up his desire to not fulfill his OCD tendencies to his strong relationship with God.
“[My OCD has] become a lot better to deal with, and I like to think that’s because of the process that I went through to work with [my faith],” Flint said.
He recalled God’s first commandment to not have any gods other than Him and viewed his OCD as a religious idol. In contrast, he also believed God may have pushed him to do the tendencies and wanted to avoid angering Him.
Stacy Lee Gobir, Health, Wellness, and Resilience Education program coordinator and Student Wellness Advisory Board supervisor, said she has spoken with many students who are upset in their faith journey because their mental illnesses have gotten in the way.
“I think that’s the beauty of faith — that it allows us the range of emotions,” Lee Gobir said. “God wants to meet you where you’re at and wants to hear exactly what you are going through.”
Whether faith provides hope or is a roadblock, staff counselors Sparkle Greenhaw and Gloria Walters said there is a varying level of faith among students who pursue counseling.
“As a Christian and as a counselor, I see each individual person as a creation from God and hope that they will find the hope and support that they need in Him,” Greenhaw said.
Greenhaw said she believes everyone is on their own journey and does not use black-and-white labels to complicate where people are at on those paths.
Healing and recovery
Lee Gobir, Greenhaw and Walters all agree they have been able to understand and adapt to the role their mental illnesses play in their professional lives as well as in the students they mentor.
“In order to begin healing, you have to address how you really feel about whatever is going on in your life and to name it,” Lee Gobir said.
Following her ADHD diagnosis, Hall’s psychologist referred her to a psychiatrist, who put her on a full dose of medication before her first day of senior year — a day she said she would “never forget.”
“It was the most out-of-this-world experience going to school and being able to sit in my classes,” Hall said. “I didn’t know that my inability to pay attention had been so heavily, it was so much of a result of my ADD, and not just me being lazy or distracted. After that day, I had so much hope.”
Flint said he began medicating for about a year but was able to cease taking it. Even though he is managing his tendencies, he doubts they will ever fully disappear. After seeking a few counseling sessions, Flint’s psychiatrist taught him coping and diverging strategies.
“[OCD] hasn’t hindered my life,” Flint said. “If the urges aren’t going to go away, I might as well figure out a way to at least make them not as bad.”
With a great amount of consistent support since November 2018 from counselors, family and the Pepperdine community, Drake has come to terms with her mental illness.
“[Bipolar Disorder] is a part of me, and it’s definitely a part of who I am,” Drake said. “But at the same time, it doesn’t define me by any means, and I’m more than that.”
Throughout her battles with her mental illnesses, Yu said she has gained more of an understanding for people going through different situations.
“It’s helped me to understand that there are other things like everyone goes through, things that we don’t see,” Yu said. “A lot of times when we go through conflicts with other people, it’s really easy to think about our perspective and not really think, ‘Maybe they acted out because of something else going on in their life.’”
After being in solitude for months, Boudrieau said he can openly talk about his mental illness struggles. He attributes this growth to his community and now feels more “in tune” with his senses.
“I may have all these experiences because it’s so much different than being in your head,” Boudrieau said. “When you get so scared of being in your own head it’s like, I don’t ever want to be in my head anymore — I just want to go outside; I want to do a bunch of things.”
Boudrieau has taken up cooking, upgrading from reheating frozen food to defrosting meats and planning out meals. Cooking, Boudrieau said, activates all five senses.
“When you’re really at the bottom, you start to feel like there’s nothing; there’s no purpose for anything, and you just have to try and find like one or two things that just at least gets you feeling something within your own body,” Boudrieau said. “What I’ve realized is how special it is to be able to try different foods because there’s so many different types of foods.”
Greenhaw said she wants people to be understanding of their current situations and attempt to stay connected with others.
“[Keep] finding ways to remind ourselves that we are alive and present and how to be in the moment and how to continue to celebrate things as they come along,” Greenhaw said.
Walters believes people can heal from mental illness if they seek consistent treatment and put trust in their faith to guide them through the healing process.
“When you put in the work, it actually, there’s a thing that happens as a result of the suffering that comes from mental illness that makes you stronger and it makes you more compassionate,” Walters said, “and all of these things that people don’t always know because they feel like it’s just a problem that needs to be fixed.”
Mental Health Resources
• Crisis line — 310-506-4210
• Suicide hotline — 800-273-8255
Email Ali Levens: Ali.firstname.lastname@example.org