The transition between high school and college is notorious for being a confusing and overwhelming period for those just beginning their adult lives. That same transition can be especially stressful for those who choose to continue their education away from their families in a brand new town.
For 19-year-old Victoria Vastine, that was exactly the case, with some added complications. Vastine, a 2017 graduate of Northwest High School, decided to become a Buckeye and attend Ohio State University in Columbus.
Majoring in speech and hearing sciences, Vastine was off to a strong start, having been valedictorian of her class. However, Victoria noticed the social aspect of living in a new place was becoming overwhelming, and she started to feel less and less like the joyful, easy-going person she once was. The depression she felt began to affect her school work, and it was then that Vastine realized she needed to talk to someone about what she was going through.
”When I moved to Columbus, I was trying so hard to make friends, and I couldn’t. I was having trouble at school, I was being diagnosed as ADHD, and they thought I was bipolar. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. I was severely depressed, and sometimes just getting out of bed was difficult,” Vastine says. “I knew something was wrong with me, and I kept asking for help. I even went to the counseling center on campus and was turned away, deemed not serious enough for their help. Eventually, my mom helped me find a therapist off-campus. It was actually that therapist that suggested I go see a doctor. It was her help that let us narrow it down and begin to suspect I may have a brain tumor.”
At her first doctor’s appointment, Vastine was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Whenher blood work came back, doctors had additional concern, and she was referred to an endocrinologist. A second round of blood work showed similar results. After an MRI was performed, it was revealed that Vastine had Cushing’s disease and had a benign brain tumor on her pituitary gland that was secreting too much cortisol, also known as the “stress hormone.” Vastine learned that the tumor and the secretion of cortisol were directly causing all of the symptoms she had been experiencing in the past several months. After meeting with her surgeon — and preparing herself for an upcoming brain surgery to remove the tumor — Vastine was also told the tumor had probably been around since she was 11 or 12 years old.
For Vastine, things finally began to make sense. The mental health issues she had been experiencing now had somewhat of an explanation, as well as some of the anxiety and weight control issues that had plagued her throughout her teen years.
“It always seemed like I had a harder time than my peers in high school, I felt like I had to push myself, but I got it eventually. I would study whenever I had time. Sometimes that meant quizzing myself at band competitions,” Vastine says. “This past semester, my first semester in college, it had gotten even harder. I wasn’t finding joy in things I loved to do, like play the piano, and I was getting very easily agitated by my loved ones who I normally have a great relationship with. When I finally found out that, yes, I did in fact have a benign tumor that was causing me to feel so out of whack, and found out that it was something that could potentially be resolved through surgery, it was a strange sense of relief.”
Despite her struggles, Victoria made the OSU Dean’s list, and has made some new friends.
Thursday, Vastine will undergo a procedure to remove the tumor, which has an 88 percent chance of alleviating her more serious symptoms. Moving forward, Victoria is looking forward to resuming life as a college freshman and getting to enjoy the little things again, like playing the piano or grabbing pizza with her friends on a Friday night. Vastine hopes to continue her studies to attend graduate school to become a speech therapist.
After the difficult year she’s had, Victoria was also inspired to pursue a minor in disability studies.
“I’ve been working with disabilities a lot this semester, trying to get better accommodations for myself for test taking, and acquiring a note taker. I now know a lot more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and have a better perspective and understanding on how difficult it can be to get assistance.”
Thanks to her own persistence, endless support from her friends and family, and her faith, Vastine is keeping her head held high and soon expects to be “dancing in the operating room,” she says, eager to start feeling like herself again.
Victoria’s advice for anyone who finds themselves struggling with their own mental health is to reach out to friends, family or a mental health professional and let them know how dthey’re feeling. “Just talk about it, be proactive, believe in something higher and try not to get discouraged if you aren’t taken seriously at first,” Vastine says.
Reach Ivy Potter at 740-353-3101 ext. 1932