onja Wasden is a suicide survivor who joins the Student Loan Podcast so share her story to inspire you to know that you are not alone in managing your school and student loan stress.
Sonja shares tips on mastering the systems and techniques to manage your school and student loan stress. She manages her bipolar, OCD, and anxiety disorders while becoming an award winning author, mental health advocate and much more.
Sonja is one of today’s most insightful and inspirational speakers on mental health. Her book, An Impossible Life, which details her struggles with mental illness, was featured on CBS This Morning as a story of hope for those dealing with mental health challenges. CBS This Morning Correspondent, Dr. Tara Narula, said that Sonja’s story was “one of my most sacred and special I’ve ever done.”
She has traveled the country speaking with Fortune 500 companies, not-for-profit organizations, government officials, advocacy groups, and media outlets about the importance of mental health. Sonja has been an op-ed contributor in such publications as The Washington Post, The Hill, Ms. Magazine, Kevin M.D., NAMI, Thrive Global, and others. She is a member of Newsweek Expert Forum.
Sonja has been interviewed over 50 times on local and national news about the importance of raising mental health awareness. She has had the privilege of sharing her story and message of hope with millions of people. Sonja is passionate about helping individuals and organizations create open, inclusive, and educational conversations around mental health.
THIS EPISODE COVERS:
- How she went from suicide survivor to award winning author, mental health advocate and Fortune 500 keynote speaker;
- Why asking for help with your mental health is a sign of courage;
- The need for mental illness to be seen as just as important as physicall ilnesses;
- Steps to master stress and anxiety that you can experience while in school or while facing your student loans; and
- much, much, more…
CONNECT WITH SONJA WASDEN
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Sonja Wasden (00:00): Because we know a lot of your thoughts is just not true. And a lot of your thoughts are not reality. A lot of your feelings are not reality. You could be having many beautiful things happening, but be feeling very depressed and sad. So we need to recognize that and create some space. As we work through these things,
The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:24): Welcome to the student loan podcast.
Shamil Rodriguez (00:27): Here, you'll find practical advice on tackling student loan debt, paying down your higher education expenses
The Student Loan Podcast Intro (00:34): And inspiring stories about paying off student loans. We're your hosts, Daphné Vanessa And Shamil Rodriguez,
Daphné Vanessa (00:43): Please rate, review and subscribe to the student loan podcast by visiting the student loan podcast on apple podcast or wherever you find your podcasts.
Shamil Rodriguez (00:54): This is not professional advice. And we speak from our own personal views and opinions.
Daphné Vanessa (01:00): The student loan podcast is brought to you by start new, where you can serve your community and get rewarded with tuition and student loan payments to check out of start new is on your campus. Visit start new.com. Welcome everyone to another edition of the student loan podcast. We have Sonya Waston here on the student loan podcast here to talk to us about a different angle of student loans. So with that, Sonya, why don't you introduce yourself?
Sonja Wasden (01:31): Yeah, I am a suicide survivor. I have dealt with mental health challenges for over 35 years. I graduated from Brigham young university with, um, some student loans. And I wanna talk about how your mental health can affect you being able to pay off your student loans. And I think mental health is very important to talk to all the students.
Daphné Vanessa (02:01): Absolutely. And mental health is, you know, has come up in the background, but it's something that students have been going through for a long time. Share your mental health story and just sort of how that relates to student loans.
Sonja Wasden (02:14): Yeah. Um, when I was in college is when I started to get and notice some mental health challenges and college is, you know, one of the times that mental health challenges start to peak up or mental health illnesses start to plan, but it wasn't really talked about a lot back then. And also, I wasn't really sure what was happening to me and I didn't know really where to get help or what was happening, but I did see that I was struggling getting to classes, struggling to, you know, um, like do my homework and was isolating myself and it can just snowball effect. And so my mental health got to the point where I wasn't getting the help that I needed, that I ended up taking over a hundred antipsychotic pills and attempt to take my life that it was just,
Daphné Vanessa (03:12): Oh, my God.
Sonja Wasden (03:13): Yeah. That it was just over. And I don't want students to get to that point and life can become very overwhelming that, you know, relationships, their social life careers. And then you've got student loans on top of it and finances can really stress people out.
Daphné Vanessa (03:32): Yeah.
Sonja Wasden (03:32): And that is why I'm so excited to be on your podcast today because I think it's really important that students take control of their mental health.
Daphné Vanessa (03:40): For sure. And I think I read somewhere that about 53% of student loan borrowers have, uh, some sort of mental health issue like depression. Um, have you seen that just in your expertise? Is it that prevalent in the student loan borrower slash college student world?
Sonja Wasden (04:00): Oh yeah. Or, um, studies even show even some places higher.
Daphné Vanessa (04:06): Wow.
Sonja Wasden (04:06): Yeah. Yeah. It is super prevalent. And especially right now in today's environment,
Daphné Vanessa (04:12): mm-hmm
Sonja Wasden (04:13): and where the world is.
Daphné Vanessa (04:15): Yep.
Sonja Wasden (04:15): Um, you know, college students, mental health is, you know, it's a crisis.
Daphné Vanessa (04:22): Yeah, no, I completely agree. This is something that is like a hard topic to talk about because it impacts so many people personally, and for yourself, you've managed a variety of, of mental health challenges. Sh do you mind sharing some of those?
Sonja Wasden (04:42): Yeah. Um, so I have the bipolar obsessive compulsive and anxiety disorder. And one thing I want the college students to recognize is mine is a biological illness, but there is environmental, mental health challenges too. And so you could have either, but the symptoms are the same. And the,
Daphné Vanessa (05:01): What's the difference between the two? Sorry, sorry to interrupt.
Sonja Wasden (05:04): Go ahead. Yeah. Biological mental illness is that it's biological. It runs through families. You got it in your DNA, you know, it's it, it's an biological illness that it's inherited where you can still develop mental ho challenges, even if it's not biological or in your family, through environmental, like stresses of paying off your student loans or a bad relationships or a traumatic event, or, you know, a whole host of things.
Sonja Wasden (05:38): And so, but the symptoms are the same and they're just as serious that you need to pay attention because you can get to the point of I'm gonna give up or having suicide ideation or life is not worth living and being hopeless.
Daphné Vanessa (05:54): What do you say to some of the people who give the argument that suicide is a choice and similar to euthanasia should be respected as a choice? What's your response to that?
Sonja Wasden (06:11): Well, first of all, um, I don't think it's a choice. I think somebody as a suicide survivor,
Daphné Vanessa (06:19): mm-hmm,
Sonja Wasden (06:20): when you get to that point, it silences all the love, all your friends, all your loved ones that you have a bright future, the pain becomes so great that you can't see through it. And so your mind is sick. So, you know, would you say to a cancer patient who, um, is dying, oh, you, you chose that, see, this is where we need to realize physical illnesses and mental illnesses should be equal.
Speaker 1 (06:54): But for some reason, because they're invisible, you can't see them, you know, they're not taken as serious. Right. You know, and, or a diabetic who their sugar rises. Right. They need insulin. They can't, you know, they they're, they have diabetes there. It's not working properly. Well, your mind is not working properly. It is sick. So you need to get help. And, you know, it's funny that you say that there's a lot of stigma around, um, suicide where people don't feel comfortable speaking up and saying, Hey, I'm having some suicidal thoughts. Right. And, and, you know, we need to do that. We need to save lives. Mm powerful. And the piece that you mentioned on invisible disabilities is something that we've heard a lot from our students, especially during examination time period, where they may be dealing with, you know, an invisible disability that impacts their ability to perform academically, but they don't feel comfortable speaking up precisely because of what you said, the stigma, you know, the, how they'll be judged by society.
Speaker 1 (08:06): Have you seen that a lot in your work as well? Yeah. So, um, you know, thankfully I will say one good note is that, um, this generation is speaking up more, but it's still not enough. Mm-hmm
Speaker 1 (09:05): Oh, I'm not as smart or I'm not as capable. Okay. If you broke your arm, would you go see the doctor or would you be like, oh no, I can't go see the doctor. I broke my arm. They're gonna think I'm weak. I, you know, it it's, like I said, these invisible illnesses need to come forward and realize it's just an illness. And I also just wanna put out there to all the students listening that the most powerful thing you can do is use your voice. And when you speak up and have the courage and be brave about your own personal mental health struggles, other students will feel more comfortable talking about it. And I think it was like 45% of people said they'd be more apt to get help if there was more conversations. Yes. Yes. And I love that. You said that. Do you speak about some of that in your book?
Speaker 1 (09:55): I know you have a book called the impossible life. Um, do you speak about some of those, like the ability to speak up in your book? So my book, an impossible life, which is the Eric 2022 grand prize winner is my personal journey through mental health challenges and how I overcame them. Hmm. And so what I would say is I encourage people to go out and buy my book on Amazon, but this is the thing. I also want you to write a little message inside of it and pass it on to one of your school friends, somebody who is struggling, a family member, a brother, a sister, an aunt, and ask them, say, write a message. You're not alone. There is hope. And pass it on to someone else. It's not about book cells. It's about getting my story out there to inspire, to let you know you're not alone.
Speaker 1 (10:47): I told the unvarnished truth, and I want to see how many people can one copy a book touch until it's just shredded and has to be thrown away. Wow. And what is your suicide journey, sort of you, you touched on having bipolar OCD, anxiety, but what got you to the point of considering suicide? Um, and one thing I wanna say about this really quick before I go into that, anyone who is struggling with mental health challenges or suicide ideation, you will not always feel this way. I know you think it won't end, but just as when you're having joyful moments, those don't always last. Either your emotions are always changing, so have courage to get help and move through it because you will get through it. It won't always feel this way. So I think that's really important to know, because my suicide attempt, I felt hopeless. I felt worthless. Like I told you, the pain silenced everything. But luckily the ER doctors thought my life was worth saving. And that was five years ago that I attempted suicide. And I'm telling you today, I have a beautiful life that you can have mental health struggles and have a beautiful life. You can get through it. Amazing.
Speaker 1 (12:12): Um, and did, what, why did everything seem so dark though? Was it the exp like what got you to that point, I guess is what I'm, what I'm trying to understand. Okay. So, um, with mental health challenges, um, I would call them alarm bells. They're saying, Hey, pay attention to me. You need to pay attention to your mental health mm-hmm
Speaker 1 (13:17): You need professional care. And I just wasn't getting the help that I needed. And so, and also the stigma, I was hiding my mental illness for over 20 years. Obviously I'm not hiding it anymore. Look, I'm talking to you about it now. I'm a big advocate. And so I think that's also important is not to hide, but be authentic, be your authentic self, use your voice and have courage, which I didn't have. I wish I could tell you I did, but I didn't. I was bought into the stigma. I was scared. I was not courageous. And that is all those things. Those episodes, the depression, it just was a decline. And so if anybody listening to this, if you don't get help, if you don't speak up, you mental health will continue to decline. And I don't want you to get to that point of where I was at.
Speaker 1 (14:09): I, yeah, I love that. And for, I there's just so much in this space and really strong opinions, I think on all of the different sides, it's, it's a sensitive topic, right? Because it's so personal to, to a lot of people. Um, but I've heard opposing views just very strongly on both sides where some people are strong advocates where like this is a required drug thing. And then other people say, you know, you don't wanna be depressed. Don't think depressing thoughts. Like where are you on the scale of that? You know, I would think it's more accurate to say that you need to work on both, but I think it's unrealistic to say, oh, don't just beta be, be depressed. Oh, don't just have depressing thoughts. Mm-hmm
Speaker 1 (15:18): When you're working with doctors on medicine, don't just take whatever they're giving you. If you try a medicine, look at the side effects, look how it's making you feel and realize, okay, is it making me feel better? And it, maybe it is, but maybe the side effects are just not what you can live with. So take your control back in your medicine and with your doctors, go see more than one doctor go see more than one therapist, use your personal power to make choices and study it out, to find what is best for you. And as far as depressing thoughts, I like to call them sticky thoughts. And so what I would say to you and what I have learned through therapy is whatever thoughts you're having. I'm not enough. I'm worthless, depression, sad. Don't push them away, but don't engage with them either. So when you have a depression thought or you have a sticky thought of, I am worthless, I am not good.
Speaker 1 (16:14): Say, oh, I'm having a sticky thought, oh, I see you. You're welcome to be here. And then turn your attention right back to studying, talking to friends. And if it comes again, say, oh, I see you sticky thought, you're welcome to be here. And then go right back to what you're doing. And what they have found is that lessen the thoughts by not pushing them away and not by don't have a conversation with it. Just acknowledge this there and welcome it. Embrace it to be there. Or if you're sad, say instead of saying, I am sad, say, oh, I have sadness going through me. Don't make your identity. I am sad. No, you are more than your sadness, but it's more, I am having sadness go through me. So almost being a third person in your life experience to observe emotions and thoughts as what they are, instead of letting it define you.
Speaker 1 (17:16): Yes. I call it creating distance, creating space between your emotions, between your thoughts, cuz we know a lot of your thoughts is just not true. And a lot of your thoughts are not reality. A lot of your feelings are not reality. You could be having many beautiful things happening, but be feeling very depressed and sad. So we need to recognize that and create some space as we work through these things. Right, right. The distance. Very interesting. Um, I think this is such a difficult topic. So kudos for, for getting here. Um, what are some strategies like I'm in college? What should I be doing if I'm experiencing these thoughts during the school year or let's say it's summer, right? So I'm getting prepared to go to the college of my dreams or maybe I didn't get into the college of my dreams and I'm just going to any college or I didn't get into college and I'm I'm working or in trade school.
Speaker 1 (18:24): How do I navigate thoughts in that environment? Um, like I said before using the sticky thought technique, but also I think it's so critical when I ask students, when I say the words, mental health challenges, what are thoughts and feelings that come to your mind? They're like set back worse thing ever. I would ask you to reframe it and let's tell the truth about mental health challenges. They are a part of everyone's life journey. You have a beautiful future ahead of you, but you will continue to have mental health challenges. It's just a part of life's journey. So instead of taking them and being worse than ever, and a setback, open your arms and allow them to teach you something new and you will come out stronger. So what I would say to you is if you didn't get into that college, maybe that wasn't the college for you.
Speaker 1 (19:25): If you're in college and you're having some depression say this is a great time for me to gain strength and skills around strategies, doing school and mental health challenges. Then when I have jobs, I can get skills. And when I do have mental health challenges or stress and anxieties and depression, I will be more equipped to do my job and have a career. So you need to go to your counseling center, get help you maybe need medicine. Maybe you don't. But one of the most important things is to reframe this and say, what can I learn from this? How can I come out stronger? This is not a setback. This is a growing opportunity to make me stronger, more successful for my future. My future will be better. Cause like when you're a kid and you learn how to ride a bike, you fall down, you fall down, you get all bruised mental health challenges are the same way.
Speaker 1 (20:25): You're gonna try to do your mental health challenges and you're gonna fall, fall, fall, and get bruised and a little beat up. But get back on that bike, go get skills, go get help. And you will come out stronger and more equipped to do your life because your life is a bright future. So if I have mental health challenges and I'm doing it, anyone can do it. I love that. And I love the reference of getting back on the bike. You know, you are worthy, your life means something and don't let experiences feelings stop you from thinking that there's, there's a lot of power in that statement. Yeah. I love what you just said. There's a lot of power in what you just said right there too. Aw.
Speaker 1 (21:23): You have an award-winning book. I mean, you've gone to prisons around the country, Oprah Winfrey participate. Like talk to talk to me about that. That sounds cool. Okay. And you know what I wanna say too is, so imagine everyone listening six years ago, I thought my life was worthless and I attempted to take it. Now, six years later, I'm a keynote speaker to fortune 500 companies. I even go to hospitals, doctors, psychiatrists. I go to non-for-profit organizations. I go, I have mental health book, clubs and prisons, miss Oprah Winfrey attended one. My, I have wrote my memoir. It's an award-winning book. I have published articles in the Washington post, miss magazine, CBS this morning, the Tamran hall show have featured me. Newsweek asked me to be a part of their Newsweek expert form. So I tell you this to let you know, you can have mental health challenges and a great life.
Speaker 1 (22:24): Two trues can be true at the same time. And I tell you anyone listening, believing yourself a little more, have a little more faith, dream, a little bigger because as somebody would be telling me that I'd be even talking to you on this podcast today six years ago, right? As I was about to take my life or all these things, I just told you, I wouldn't have believed them. I would be, it is impossible. I am worthless. My mental health challenges are too big. And what I wanna also say my mental health challenges hasn't changed from 30 years ago to today. All that has changed is my ability to handle them, my skillset, to handle them. And I am stronger and I became stronger through all those failures of failing and trying and failing and trying to learn how to manage them. So I wish I could go back and tell myself, have a little more faith.
Speaker 1 (23:24): Sonya, have a little more courage. So I'm telling you listening, take that step forward, take that faith, that little step you will accomplish more than you even think you can. I love that. And you know, sometimes you do feel like it is the end. Um, and we've had students say like, I didn't get into, you know, my, my dream college, you know, like my life is over and it's like, well, it's not. And they're like, no, no, no. It really is. Because the only successful people go to Harvard, Yale, et cetera. And it's like, well, no,
Speaker 1 (24:35): So what I would say is don't look around at your friends, you have your own purpose, you have your own personal journey. So if you didn't get into that college that wasn't for you. And because if it was you, would've got in. So the college you are going to are meant to go to, you may not see it today, but down the road, you may look back and go, oh wow, had I not gone to that college? Had I not had that professor? I wouldn't be where I am now. And I would even say where you were supposed to be. So these Maum statements of my life is over. Cuz I didn't get into that college. I would ask you, try not to use those, try to open up your mind and your view a little bit and let the universe surprise you a little bit of where your life is headed.
Speaker 1 (25:31): I so agree. There's a little bit of faith that almost has to happen with the universe. And I didn't have that faith. When I was in, when I got accepted to college, I actually did get accepted to my dream college. My number one choice was NYU and I got in and I was enrolled, but the financial aid package was only 50%. So my parents would've had to pay for the other 50%, which they said fine. We either do that. Or we pay for law school and I did the math quickly and I realized that them paying for law school would be more so
Speaker 1 (26:26): John's for free, by the way. Thank you St John's
Speaker 1 (27:24): Yeah. And that's why, and I, you know, I love your story because you're an example of what you know, and I'm gonna use that when I go talk to other students. Cause I love your story. Even though you got into your dream college. Yeah. You made a different choice. It wasn't, you know, your path. Right. And so I think we, and I love you opened yourself up right. To the right path for you. Yes. You studied it out. Yes. You made choices, but yeah. You opened yourself up to make those and study getting stuck and saying, no, I have to go to NYU. I have to go to NYU. So, you know, I love that. We need to just open ourselves up, take a deep breath. Yeah. There's a beautiful life ahead. You're gonna get where you need to go. Yep. And so true. Like it's there's, this can go on and on and on.
Speaker 1 (28:12): Like I see it in the startup space. We see it in schools. We see it everywhere. But like, like you said, comparison, speaking of comparison, one thought, what do you think that things like those lists like 30, under 30, 35 under 35, 40 under 40. I don't know if there's 50, under 50, whatever. All of these age bound list students are getting anxiety over those lists. It's creating people used to talk about the midyear midlife crisis. Now there's the quarterlife crisis. 25 year olds because of these lists alleged. Okay. I'm gonna tell you, my husband did get on a list. Nice. 40, no, 40 under 40 drag. It doesn't matter, but it doesn't matter. It's the last it's it's done nothing for his career. Really? No, it's a little, we get in our head 40, under 40, 30, under 30. Yeah. This is what I would ask you.
Speaker 1 (29:10): Cause I looked, my husband and I have talked about it was the cost worth it. Okay. Because look, when you get in a rush to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish, accomplish, or trying to get on a list, are you enjoying your journey or are you gonna get to the end of your life and go, oh wow. It's super stressed out and super rushed.
Speaker 1 (30:05): You know what? Life's an adventure take your time. I'm 51 years old. If I could go back, I would literally take it slower. I would enjoy it more. You have plenty of time. There is plenty of time to accomplish all that you want to accomplish. You know, if you get on those lists, great do it. I, they're not bad. It's not a bad goal. I'm just saying, look at your own personal journey and say, is this causing me stress? Is this robbing me of happiness? Right? Then the price is too high to get on those lists. Right. If it's not and you're humming along great go for those lists. It's not a bad thing, but I don't think it's a must. Right. Right. And I think what you're saying more broadly is just like, it's okay to have a goal as long as it's not, as long as you're not letting it define your self worth.
Speaker 1 (31:00): And I, I feel like that's tell, correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like that's sort of the bigger point that you're making is that these lists any sort of achievement, the school that you wanna get into, it's okay to have big goals, like right. That's it inspires you, but don't let it take away your worth. And that's where it becomes like closer to a mental health issue that needs to be addressed. Oh exactly. I think it's in critical to have goals go for your dreams. I just told you dream a little bigger, but as you dream a little bigger, your best is enough. Mm-hmm
Speaker 1 (31:57): And when the door closes, it's not for you. And it's, it's not a bad thing to try for. 'em I have tried for many things that doors closed, closed, closed. I didn't get them, but I'm glad I tried for them. Cause if you didn't try for 'em, the door's closed. Right. So if you never went for it, well, it's already a four o'clock, you know, conclusion. You're not gonna get it. Yeah. And I, I love that. I think let's all try to just give ourselves a little grace, I think is really where it is. Like we're all holding ourselves, such a high standard that, you know, it, it would help in combination if needed, you know, with professional help to just give yourself some grace. It's okay. You are enough. Um, I love that you are worthy. I don't know why that's just really hitting me.
Speaker 1 (32:46): Yeah. And I love what you said. Show yourself a little grace. So I think listeners should you are worthy. Show yourself a little grace. I love what you said there. Yeah.
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