I should preface by saying that this isn’t a cry for help. Nor is it an otherwise lackluster student’s lament. Instead it is a realization that the summer sun is fleeting, and in its wake is a perpetual cycle of work, school, work, school, work, and school some more.
Maybe I’m just tired of it. Maybe I’m sick of the constant monotony. Or maybe I’m just I’m both sick and tired of the lie of academia that as students, we are not supposed to struggle or complain. We are supposed to sit in the large classes, recognized only by our number, and enjoy the luxury of a university education that is reserved only for a select few. We are told marks are only important insofar as we make them so; the same could be said of social experiences. All of the opportunities, all of the activities, and all of the groups – they are but a small portion of the privilege that is a “student’s life”.
And yet, I cannot help but feel something is very wrong in this current climate of academic culture. Despite the apparent pleasures, there is an underbelly that is rarely discussed. Behind the picture-perfect posterchild students and the stratospherically high GPAs is an environment that stigmatizes the smallest imperfection. Schadenfreude has replaced empathy. Hyper competitiveness pits student against student. Weaknesses are exploited, successes are lauded above all else, and the failures of others are a source of constant celebration.
Now don’t get me wrong. A new age of natural selection in academia is all fine and dandy, but where does it leave the students who are trampled by competition? Where do those with arguably unstable personalities find themselves?
Alone. Forlorn. And waltzing around with ideas reserved for the end of times. Or at least I was.
To some, there is a thing called ancient history – events that happened so long ago they are worth being forgot. But sometimes, it’s hard to forget. Some memories are triggered by the slightest provocation, hidden by thousands of daily jokes and smiles.
Even though my eyes were closed, I recall everything from that night just like it was my first kiss. The way the water from the showerhead masked my cries. The amount of time I could hold my breath for. The lingering whispers of doubt. The cold metal against my skin.
To this day, I remember when I told my parents about the first time I planned to take my own life. With a pained look on his face, my father wearily sighed. To no avail, I tried to get the attention of my mother who simply gazed off into the distance. Although I couldn’t read her lips, it seemed she was silently mouthing, “My son, my son.” At the same time she was shaking her head, stuck in an infinite loop between now and forever. I helplessly stared at them – my parents, my caregivers – while my father waffled about to find the right words. He stuttered once. Twice.
Despite having lived in my house for years, it felt foreign. As I sat there with hands that grappled against air that seemed to be suffocating me, my house was not my home. It was small. It was closed. And I was trapped here.
My father stuttered a third time.
Was it my fault? Was I just incorrigibly inept? I wasn’t sure, and at the time, I took that as a confirmation that I was. The grades. The disappointment. All of it was my undoing, a testament of my limitations. Others could balance school and athletics. Some even worked. And here I was struggling with just academics. In my head, I was less than pathetic.
I remember my mother’s botched attempt at reassurance, the feeling of overarching meaningless, and the days I never wished to face, days I couldn’t believe had happened. But above all else, I remember the stern voice of my father who spent five minutes in a quiet search for overarching wisdom. “I promise,” he whispered, “It gets better. It always does.”
After it all, I like to pretend that I am stronger. I could even say that I am wiser too. But I’m not. For a while, I let my depression get the better of me and I consequently became a victim of my own suffering.
Yet in due course, I realized that my father was right. Even though the following days were filled with uneasy footsteps that echoed a song of regret, I remember that it – the pain, the heartache, and the unquestionable distress – eventually stopped. When it did, I experienced the spicy taste of peppers, my first true love, a passion for writing, the beauty of a Polish cathedral, the soothing call of an Imam in Turkey, the confusion of an abstract painting, the exhilaration of cliff diving, the salty kiss of an ocean, the unbridled carnal urgency of sex, and a whole blur of other memories that bring both joy and happiness to me now. In short, I experienced life like I never thought I would again.
I tell this story not in desire for therapy. I’ve dealt with my own demons already. Instead, I write with the hopes that I can inspire you – whoever you are and wherever you live – to believe that you are not alone. Now I certainly do not think I can ever truly understand what you’re going through, and I will not presume to make a blanket statement about what is best for you. I will not tell you that the sun will rise tomorrow. Nor will I tell you that it will set today. In the end, I will not pretend to know you.
But while it is perhaps foolish to hope that these words will reach anyone, and it is probably even more so to assume that they could help in any way, I want you to know that no matter what has happened and no matter how you feel, you are fantastic. You are unique. And I love everything about you.