College is this magical time where you’re supposed to find yourself. I don’t doubt that. We read books and watch movies of attractive co-eds finding their passion, getting involved in work, changing the world. Hell, it’s portrayed as this period of enlightenment with some corny, uplifting soundtrack in the background. But that wasn’t the case for me. For me “finding myself” was about stripping my identity down to the very core and rebuilding it from the bottom up. It wasn’t pretty it and definitely wasn’t one of those coming-of-age tales you hear about. It was ugly. It was hard to admit and it’s not over.
I felt so wrong and so out of place. It confused everyone I am close to. If you were to describe the stereotypical kid who’s destined to fit in, that would be me. Obnoxious? Sure. But maybe that’s what made asking for help so difficult.
I’m having trouble writing this down. Not because it’s hard, not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m not completely sure what happened. I’ve been reading and rereading posts on this site of brave students sharing suicide attempts, cutting, anxiety, and depression. I can relate to these authors. My problems were never formally defined. The words depression, abnormal eating, and bipolar were thrown around. But I’ve never felt like I fully fit any of those diagnoses.
When I talk about it with people close to me I say I was having a tough time. But in no way do I feel like that is sufficient in explaining my problems. Most of the time saying that makes me feel even worse. Who the hell am I to be having a tough time? Look at where I am. Look at the enormous privilege I have. Look at every opportunity in front of me. There is nothing traumatic in my life. I have two parents who show nothing but endless love and support. I had a wonderful childhood. I have my health and an able body. I have my mind, my personality, and my heart. I have a bright future ahead of me. So why can’t I get out of bed?
A year ago, things important to me became trivial. The student I was in high school evaporated. Study groups and library time turned to into time sitting in my room alone. That active kid was gone. Long runs and group sports became too much. I avoided the things in my life, wishing instead to just disappear. Inevitably, at the end of the week, all the stuff I didn’t do caught up with me. Instead of being excited by the challenge and attacking my work, job, meetings, my life here, I didn’t do anything. That wasn’t me. Something was off. I blamed the workload and the Middlebury environment. I blamed professors. I blamed my peers. I blamed myself.
It was fall at Middlebury and gorgeous outside. I felt hideous inside. The juxtaposition was overwhelming. Blame turned to guilt and I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. I felt defeated before I even stepped out of bed. But I got up anyway. If you don’t know me, you would have had no idea. I put on quite a show. I was bubbly and outgoing. I smiled and danced and laughed. I did what I thought was expected of me. I think that made it worse because it wasn’t real. I would lay down at the end of the day emotionally exhausted and try to counter the thoughts telling me I was miserable.
I’m a year removed and things are different. My life is far from perfect, no matter how many people tell me how lucky I am. I am secure in myself. I am aware of my self worth and what I offer to the community. I know I am a positive contributor to Middlebury.
Like every human being I still have tough days. One of my favorite quotes is from Coach Gary Gains in Friday Night Lights, “Next play, we’re thinking about the next play.” Shit happens whether we like it or not. Sometimes we can control it, sometimes we can’t, but we can never go back and re-do it. The only thing to do is recognize how you’re feeling and move forward. Moving forward can be done in so many ways. From a painting, to meeting and talking with a person you trust, to taking some extended time to yourself. Moving forward is going to require you to do what works for you.
The brave submissions on this website are inspirational. I’m sharing my story because I know there are other students on this campus who can relate to this project and my story. I am also submitting anonymously. I do not want to put a name or gender or any other descriptions to an experience that happens to so many people. If something similar has happened to you, then please feel free to insert yourself at any point in this story and know you/we are not alone. If you have not experienced something like this, I encourage you to make yourself aware that there is so much more than what we see on the surface of a person. We do have the power to change the way we view mental illness and abnormality. We all have the capacity to be kind. Let’s do it.