So recently I found myself in a tragic, embarrassing situation that may as well be straight from a viral college tweet. I mean, take the infamous “I am worried” email sent to a professor and multiply the awkwardness by twenty to get something near the level of cringe of my situation.
I emailed my professor and meant to say “I am worried I don’t understand some material on our next test” BUT I ACCIDENTALLY SENT THIS HELPME pic.twitter.com/iPrv5KwQD8
— Arson Carson (@CBMSt1) November 1, 2017
Let me explain: Picture a neurotic student at the onset of mid-semester depression with enough angst and loathing to fill every non-ergonomic slidey chair of MVR G71. This was me. It was quiz day in Biochem, which is otherwise known as that day every week when we study 80 slides worth of stupidly specific knowledge only to be tested on five of those things in a timed, true/false format. These are details you don’t need but I feel the need to share. Anyway, stress was high. But apathy was higher. And I decided of all times in my 20 years of living to make concrete the very hopeless thoughts that were distracting me from learning. Lecture had just started, but I said screw it, I don’t care how weird this feels, and typed some pessimistic remarks that in hindsight, could have been written in any other document than my lecture notes. But I barely had time to think, let alone undo my decision, because my attention was promptly pulled away by the riptide of lecture.
Fast forward to that evening: I got a text from a friendly classmate asking for the notes, because she wasn’t there that day. Without hesitation, I sent her a pdf of my lecture notes and proceeded to carry out my day until, as any keen reader will likely anticipate, I had a sudden realization. The world was spinning. I pulled up my notes again. My gaze fell upon the written cries of help intermingled seamlessly into the list of bullets covering enzymatic reactions, and I was horrified. The email was sent. There was no going back. My poor classmate had no idea what she was getting into.
It reminded me of the time my mom found my fourth grade diary with the words “I hate mom” sprawled onto a page, words that I regretted instantly but felt safe writing knowing they’d remain hidden in my diary, until they weren’t, leaving me so ashamed that I forgot to be mad at my mom for going through my diary in the first place. I was exposed for writing my feelings then, and I felt exposed for writing them now. And as one out of two billion people at this school who suffer from imposter syndrome, I felt like a fraud: a seemingly good student puppeteered by a sad, tiny child on stilts. Any facade of composure I once had as a student would now be revealed as deep unhappiness and anger toward school. I did not ask for this kind of vulnerability. Yet it happened, all because of me!
What would an unsuspecting peer think after coming across this kind of unsolicited hatred for school that was accidentally dropped like stale crumbs into some lecture notes? What would you think?
My shame turned into anger and regret. I was angry for trusting in the world to help me shelter my thoughts. I was angry at myself for choosing the worst time to be vulnerable. And I was angry at life for making a fool out of me by taking advantage of the one time I actually wrote down my thoughts, especially after trying to help another student. And sure, it was completely my fault, but blaming the world for my demise was exactly how an irritable, angsty person would react, so of course I wanted to think the universe hated me.
Don’t worry, though. That mentality didn’t last long, as I made myself a grilled cheese and felt the anger dissipate soon after. (You’re not you when you’re hungry.) Suddenly, this was the funniest thing I have ever done to myself, and I was laughing at how ridiculous it was to accidentally send deeply personal feelings to someone who really just wanted to catch up on lecture notes. Honestly, even though it’s tragic, it’s pretty hilarious from an outsiders perspective. And as I laughed, I realized that nothing bad would come from this sort of vulnerability. Being angry at myself for writing my real feelings really goes to show how hard I’ve been trained to act perfectly composed, when I’m really not. The room is usually on fire, and I’m not ashamed to admit that.
Just so you know, I emailed her back with an apology for the slip-up and reassurance that I was mentally okay, and she responded with validation and support. She could relate to how I was feeling that morning, and I’m sure plenty of other people can, too. You see, life sucks sometimes, and I’m not going to glaze over that by following it with “but…” No. Life does suck sometimes, and lots of people feel the same way. Many of us are feeling truly awful, period. I won’t even go so far as to say, “but things will get better once the semester is over,” or “but it could be worse,” or “but at least my prelim is over!” because as much as positivity can be motivating sometimes, these statements dismiss and invalidate the negative feelings that most times aren’t chosen to be felt. They just are. And saying “at least” might make you feel worse for still feeling bad after saying it. That’s why it’s okay to admit you’re feeling sad without following it up with a minimizer. The more you validate your own sadness the more others who are in the same boat can relate.
In all honesty, it makes sense that a lot of us are depressed (clinically or situationally). We are in an environment that breeds stress, disappointment, and inadequacy with every bell curved prelim or club rejection. Yet no one wants to admit or reveal their depressive feelings for fear of appearing weak or ungrateful. And it’s a real missed opportunity, since sharing these feelings can have the profound effect of nullifying the environmental impact of college on our mental health. Sharing feelings can serve to humanize you among your peers but also be the first step in getting professional help; after all, there are people who are trained to listen and help you better understand yourself. If being vulnerable was more of a norm, maybe I wouldn’t have felt so embarrassed about my feelings of depression.
Here’s a really weird analogy about college that somehow encapsulates the deception, long-term stress, and fellowship that results from shared suffering. It makes sense to me, but then again my mind is a wild place, so I advise you to stop reading now.
I feel like an egg who was coaxed into joining all the other happy eggs in this big, lovely incubator, where we would grow and mature and hatch into an elite class of alpha chickens. Yet the longer we basked in the warmth of this shiny, prestigious incubator, the more we realized that we were not actually going to hatch but instead, stew. In fact, this incubator was designed to produce so much heat that by the time we realized were cooking, it was too late. We came thinking we’d be the cool chickens of society. But in reality, we’re all just hard-boiled eggs paying for our own demise.
(I’m so sorry you had to read that.)
The good news is that eggs get sold by the dozen. We aren’t going through this alone. And the more we talk about our feelings and train ourselves to be vulnerable without feeling “exposed” as normal people with problems, the less bad we’ll feel about them. Don’t forget, we are in a stress-inducing environment systematically primed to incubate negative feelings. If you let some of those negative thoughts slip in your lecture notes, so be it. Think about what made you have those thoughts and assess what steps need to be taken to feel better. Most importantly, if you have any suspection that your mental health is spiraling or your thoughts are becoming suicidal, put yourself above all else and seek help.
If you actually want to know what I wrote in those lecture notes, give me a holler. I think it deserves its own article.
Thanks to Lily Xie for the AMAZING cartoon!
Students may consult with counselors from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-255-5155. Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program (FSAP) at 607-255-2673. An Ithaca-based Crisisline is available at 607-272-1616. For additional resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page