Sex and the Ivy

A History of Depression

Filed under: All About Elle, Depression — Elle November 5, 2006 @ 5:14 pm

Before I left Los Angeles for Cambridge over a year ago, my best friend told me that Harvard might finally be my chance to get help. I have struggled on-and-off with bouts of depression all my life, but I never deemed these occasional periods of discontent serious enough to warrant medical attention. I never thought my family needed to know how badly I needed help. I never believed that others should get involved. Besides, even though some days of my early adolescence were impossible to get through, I was for the most part okay. According to my transcript, I was better than okay. These intermittent rough patches were but momentary lapses in an otherwise flawless existence.

It wasn’t until recently that I finally sought help for an ailment a lifetime in the making. I was a decade late but I had to start somewhere. The Bureau of Study Counsel was as good a place as any. So a few weeks ago, I booked an appointment with the only name I knew there. He came with the recommendation of two friends.

At the time, I was doing wonderfully – at least on paper. I was taking five classes, working three internships, and comping two organizations while heavily involved in two others. It was overambitious, but I had the time and energy to do it all. I even went to office hours twice a week. I was on top of things. I was in control.

It was a much better start to the year than the disconnect that dominated my freshman fall. My lack of academic direction then was only exacerbated by a major heartbreak which left me unable to concentrate on anything remotely productive for the rest of the year. I spent the next nine months drinking, fucking, and partying as much as possible. Academics were just an excuse to be in college. Weekends were an excuse to forget the other five days.

But this summer, I changed. I dated a guy who was remarkably good at being a boyfriend. I started talking to my mother about everything. I became fascinated by finance, discovered a knack for PR, and started compiling writing opportunities. I was more focused, more stable, and more self-sufficient than I had been in over a year, than I had been possibly my whole life. In the days before I left California, I was never more confident in my newfound ability to keep it together. This year, I promised myself, I would not fall apart.

And at first, I didn’t. My personality remained the same — as fun-loving and outrageous as ever — but I acted with much more responsibility. Though I went out every Thursday through Saturday, I didn’t drink for the wrong reasons, entertain random hookups, or skip classes. My friends took notice of the new me almost immediately. The difference was palpable.

What didn’t change was my apparent predisposition for depression. For all the progress I had made, biology and learned response remained unaltered by a summer at home. The trigger came three weeks into school after a rough night followed by a rougher morning. The blog was exploding just as my personal life was imploding. For a tense 24-hour period, I was certain that there would be no end to the profound hopelessness that consumed me. It was then that this newly put-together Lena decided it was time to seek solutions to the problem that plagued her entire life.

I went to the Bureau of Study Counsel once before switching over to a therapist at Mental Health Services on the recommendation of my sophomore adviser. My problems are not academic and the concept of exam anxiety is laughable when compared to my life anxiety. I realize these biweekly therapy sessions can only do so much, but for me I think it might just be enough. All year, I have found myself unable to cry, too scared to succumb to emotion. On Friday morning, my voice cracked in front of my therapist and though I swallowed back my tears, I didn’t feel unsafe for the first time in a long while.

I am writing this entry now because I lost part of that safety yesterday morning when I woke up certain that a trigger had gone off. The entire day, I skimmed the surface of sanity, wondering when it would okay to let myself cry, whether I would ever be able to let my guard down and experience sadness without letting it consume me.

I explained to my blockmates that I couldn’t bring myself to write last night because I was afraid I’d break down in the process. Just as I expected, they said, “It’s okay to break down sometimes.” These girls, my best friends here, mean well but they cannot even begin to understand that for me, “breaking down” is a scary, intense, and crippling process. A good cry could lead to consequences I am not prepared to deal with. In the midst of all my commitments and responsibilities, I cannot afford to let myself fall apart. I don’t know how long it would take to put myself back together again.

This is a journey that will take many more morning sessions on the fourth floor of UHS. Despite the productive weeks that past without incident, there are moments that surface in between, that make living almost unbearable. There are times when I feel myself slipping, days like yesterday when I can hardly get out of bed and venturing beyond Mather might as well be a pipe dream. On these occasions, just getting by takes too much effort. On these occasions, mornings are lost to oversleeping, afternoons to sluggishness, and evenings to plots of mischief meant solely to distract from the nagging discomfort at the back of my head. I screen phone calls from my closest friends and leave text messages unanswered. Lifting my head to acknowledge my roommates is itself an exhausting task. On these occasions, I feel so utterly alone and yet there is nothing more I’d like than to be left alone. On these occasions, I am so incapable of tackling even simple conversation that life seems like an impossibly ambitious endeavor.

I don’t know if what I need is a pill. I don’t know if what I need is a conversation. What I do know is that the waiting game I’ve played for 19 years has been largely ineffective. I will never be happy if I keep deluding myself into believing that my problems can be fixed by chick flicks and ice cream. I am not feeling blue. I didn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed. I am not having a bad day. My whole life has been one long series of bad days. I am struggling with depression — a case less devastating than Plath’s, less medicated than Wurtzel’s, but every bit as intimidating and debilitating.

The truth is that I have never loved writing frivolous things. Sex blogs and dating columns are entertaining endeavors but what I have wanted most is to make a difference by putting into words what some people are unable or afraid to express for themselves. I read “The Bell Jar” at age 14 and felt like this woman, dead and buried decades ago, was the first person who ever understood me. I read “Prozac Nation” at 15 and I cried as much for Wurtzel as I did for myself. These are the women I admire and relate to, not Carrie Bradshaw. This blog may not be a literary masterpiece but I like to think that there are moments when I write something that resonates with others in a similar manner.

People believe because of this website that my sense of self is so overinflated that I am unable to see beyond bedroom mishaps and therapy of the retail variety. They believe I have the luxury of being vain and superficial, that courting fame is akin to a carefree existence, that stilettos and flings must make life damn charming. What they don’t understand is that I am trying so hard to keep it together, that I have only recently begun to seek help, that I consider my appointments at Mental Health Services to be monumental and possibly lifesaving. Sometimes, people surprise me with their own history of depression, and maybe I’m surprising you. Or maybe I’m not. I don’t wear a sign around my neck that says I am depressed, that informs others of a past eating disorder, that reveals my resentment toward my father … and even my mother. Unless people dig hard, it is easy to overlook the fact that I have my own problems and issues, that I am just as or even more susceptible to stress and pain as the next person, that life — though often portrayed as a constant party — is also difficult and challenging and just plain depressing sometimes.

37 Responses to “A History of Depression”

  1. indiana Says:

    thank you.

  2. a respectful Cornellian Says:

    Really. Thank you.
    Maybe I’ll get the bravery to get help soon too.

  3. Frances Says:

    I’ve found that it makes you a happier person to cry often, because nothing stays inside. That said, although I’ve never had that (for lack of a better word) fear of crying and can’t understand it, I respect it a lot and I’m happy that you’re trying to get other people to understand that there is help.

  4. Vera. Says:

    Lena, this made me cry…I am sitting in a library right now and trying to preven tears from falling on my computer and books. I never got a chance to know you well, nor did I try, but I am quite glad that somewhere out there, there exists a person who’s way more courageous than I will ever be… You will end up well, I just know it :)

  5. wtf Says:

    i’d agree that you are definitely courageous, and this blog entry seems like a bit of therapy in and of itself, but you’ve got to know that if you don’t take the time to put some things on hold now and deal with your depression, the consequences are only going to get worse. i say this as someone who experienced a lot of what you are feeling, second semester last year. you’ve got to make your personal health and sanity before school, jobs, extracurriculars, and even other people. otherwise you’ll get farther and farther away from the person that can enjoy any of that. good luck.

  6. AMZB Says:

    Eh, call me a pessimist, but I don’t think it gets any better. Good job on remaining functional, though–that’s impressive!

  7. jeane Says:

    i have depression too. i thought i could handle it now that i’m on medication, but it’s gotten to the point where i can’t function normally unless i am on medication.

    i didn’t take my pill for 5 days in a row because i didn’t want to oversleep, and ended up exploding on my family this weekend. i ended up taking twice the amount intended plus a benadryl to put me to sleep, and slept in my car that night in my driveway.

    mental breakdowns are the worse. sometimes it is good to cry, but that feeling is just unbearable and consumes me.

    i hate being depressed. i wish i could see a counselor. i wish i could get more medication because i just ran out yesterday.

    good luck with everything.

  8. ...just thought you should know Says:

    …as I was reading over this, it brought back the traumatizing memory of my high school years when i would get home from school every day and put some punk rock music on as loud as it would go, and then just …”curl[sic] up into a ball and cry[sic] uncontrollably”.

    I hear you. I see someone twice a week at the BSC too. But let me know if you would recommend yours. Take care and GB.

  9. Roxy Says:

    I still haven’t cried. I tear up with my therapist, but I still won’t do it. I can’t for the same reasons. I don’t know what the consequences will bring, so I will continue to hide behind my outgoing, arrogant and partying self. When really I am afraid of social interactions getting deeper, have very little self-confidence and don’t care that much about partying.

    You can’t change 19 years of Elle overnight. You’ve spent 19 years conditioning yourself to be the person you are. Be patient with therapy. Things will get better.
    Hey… i actually shed a tear… but ONLY one.

  10. M Says:

    I was in your shoes two years ago. Stuff building up after 18 or19 years wears people down, especially when it interferes with other things. But there is always help. Hopefully mental health services will help you more than it did me my freshman year (the therapist I saw was terrible); I wish you the best of luck. Stay strong Elle. Although I’m a state away, and a complete stranger, you have support in my heart and in my mind.

  11. allison Says:

    you are indeed a brave person. it’s also good to know that other people are going through similar personal hells; you are not alone. my own personal hell has been supressed off and on over the years by wonderful pills. i am one of those stubborn control freaks who refuses to admit that the psyche is fragile just as the physical body is. i said to the dr, drug me, and now every time i go through stressful times i just take paxil. keeps the panic attacks at bay, and prevents me from slipping into “i’m not getting out of bed for three days” mode. i think i’m probably just putting off the inevitable break-down. but i admire you, and how you can actually confront your problems and take the time to overcome (or at least improve on) them. perhaps your honesty and courage will inspire me to admit my need for therapy (although i doubt it because i’m so antisocial and hate talking to people about stuff like that). so anyway. just another way to live vicariously…

  12. Rody Says:

    it’s amazing how well people can hold themselves together on the outside while feeling so torn up inside.

  13. Nobody Says:

    Too long, didn’t read.

    Who cares anyway? People read this site to see pictures of you naked and read thrilling stories of blowjobs.

  14. allison Says:

    to “Nobody”
    you’re an asshole. (and as a classicist, i’m offended on behalf of Homer. you’re not the first person to hide behind a clever fake name.)
    and hey, this blogger is a real person, not just a vapid sex object. surprise! if you want porn, navigate elsewhere.

  15. Kat Says:


    Its nice to see how honest you are and you don’t seem to be scared of any reaction when it comes to this deep issue. I applaud your bravery!

    From my experience, mental health and living life in the balance is a process. You might not see imitate results, don’t worry about this, keep chucking away at it.

    You might want to consider not only your mental health, yet rather look at your physical and spiritual health. These are major influencers!


  16. Sarah Says:

    Don’t get discouraged, it usually gets worse before it gets better. And then gets a lot, lot worse, because the dull greyness of depression meant you didn’t feel all that awfullness building up inside. But medication and therapy in combo- and doing what you can for yourself, because you’re far, far more important than the shit that Harvard wants you to do- are good things. Like-minded people are also good. Harvard makes everyone a little crazy if they weren’t already, so they shouldn’t be too hard to find. Good luck!

  17. Pharmaceutical Says:

    Who really now is engaged in the control of health? To mine it neglected the large pharmaceutical companies and the medical centers. There should be a centralized management WBR LeoP

  18. meep Says:

    I had the same reaction to reading the bell jar at the same age. It’s frightening to realize that you have so much in common with someone who was so obviously not living in reality. I admire your courage in getting help and your openess. Though crying can make things worse in the moment, I find that it leaves me much less burdened later on - it eliminates the build-up, at least to a point.

    allison - I too find it very uncomfortable to talk to anyone about any of my mental illness-related things, I find therapy to be different, at least if yo have a decent therapist. It is their job to listen, and i know they will not be shocked, so it is easier and less uncomfortable.

    good luck … take care of yourself

  19. James Kronefield Says:

    My girlfriend often gets depressed. I’ve found that it’s of tremendous help for her when we talk about the things that bother her and when she feels she has my support. So I think it’s a lot easier to overcome your depression when you know there is someone close to you and you can cry on his shoulder.

  20. lb Says:

    I just started reading your blog and I absolutely love it. I just moved across country to go to school and am facing a tremendously difficult bout of depression. It has left me in bed the entire weekend basically. I came across this post and it really gave me hope in a sense that I can find something at my univ to help me.
    Thank you
    Your words hit home tonight :-)

  21. Nate Says:

    I have had a very similar story. But ask yourself this question–what do you want out of life? And how do you want to be viewed?

    Life will only get better if you believe it. But first ask why you should believe it, what’s the point?

  22. anon Says:

    i know exactly what you write because I have felt the exact same way so often in my life. I’ve stayed in bed for days, refused to pick up phone calls, and I’ve hit the bottom of bottoms. It’s like something small will trigger it. Sadly, I think that we can never get rid of this affliction. We can manage it but it will always be there with us.
    I may be wrong. I hope I am.
    Stay strong. You’re not alone.

  23. Kim Says:

    If resonance was what you wanted, I must be tuning fork. I stumbled upon your blog while researching for a sociology project, and I’m glad I did. Reading this brough a lot of things back, some things I haven’t thought of in a while. Thank you for sharing it with me; I’ll be back.

  24. Gadamer Says:

    It gets better. The clouds break, the plane shudders but it survives the turbulent passage, food tastes better, you tend to remember beauty, and you find your regrets are few and carefully chosen.

    Confronting your fears, truly engaging with a therapist, and just plain old fashioned growing up will make all the difference. The sad part is you can’t get an advance payment, even a small one, on the progress you’ll make over the next few years. And, at the pace these things go at, you may not notice things changing at all. But trust me — as someone who emerged from a shambles of an adolescence where I felt condemned to misery, I finally made it to a place in my mid-twenties where I am healthy, wealthy, and wise … and, most surprisingly of all, extremely grateful that I am not (as I once so desperately wished) exactly like everyone else.


  25. John Edmonds Says:

    In the UK at least, Depression is now the third biggest reason to visit a GP and yet, outside of the medical field, very few people understand what Depression is all about.

    Please forgive the ’sales pitch’ but you might just be interested in a brand new DVD just released by my company called EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT DEPRESSION and presented by UK Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Darryl Britto, who made the DVD especially for Depression patients and those training in the medical field. He discusses the myths about Depression, as well as its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, the various treatment including antidepressants, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and Social Intervention, and then goes on to discuss prognosis (outcomes of treatment.) MORE INFO AT:

    Cheers, John Edmonds, CEO, TimeTrappers

  26. Sex and the Ivy » Putting It All Into Perspective Says:

    [...] A History of Depression [...]

  27. kp Says:

    earlier this year, at the start of my senior year, i read your blog to entertain the side of me that’s unashamedly sexual (but, for reasons of heartbreaketc., also celibate).

    my senior year’s now coming to a close (i’m heading off to an ivy this august) and today…the day i showed my best friend, my class, my counselor that i could not take another day…this entry touched the more visible part of me. the part of me that’s been depressed for as long as i can remember. and gave me a little hope.

    thank you so much.
    really, thank you.

  28. lc Says:

    I’m a high school sophomore. I’ve never read your blog before, but I feel as if I’d take on college similarly as you have… Part of it is because my family isn’t particularly supportive of getting help, largely because of the stigma they think it has…
    Maybe I’ll choose to get help when I get to college, too.
    I enjoyed reading your entry. :)

  29. SB Says:

    My first meeting with a counselor was my freshman year of college at the counseling center. She recommended me to a therapist with mental health.

    I graduated three years later. Two years out I am working my ass of full-time at a job I absolutely love. I have a boyfriend of 3.5 years whom I love and who loves me. Two years ago, I moved to where he was, just to be with him.

    … But it all still lingers sometimes. And I don’t really think that it ever fully goes away. Surround yourself with things you love. Surround yourself with people you love. And be strong. Try and be strong.

    But if you can’t. Curl up in a ball. Cry. Take a blade and slit your wrists. It feels GOOD.

    And then, please, seek help.

  30. Valley Girl Says:

    Thank you so much for posting about your experience with depression. I, too, have struggled with it almost my entire life, and still continue to even though I’ve sought treatment.

    I always feel like I’m waiting—waiting to beat this and really start living life and viewing it as a gift rather than a burden.

    Treatment for sure isn’t the silver bullet; I’ve tried two different medications, have been in and out of group therapy (which only made me more depressed) and can’t get through one-on-one therapy without crying uncontrollably the entire time.

    But medication helps a little, and the days aren’t as dark as they once were. I hope you seek help and find what works for you.

  31. Erica Says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. After going through my own episode of “drinking, fucking, and partying as much as possible” I finally came out the other side of the tunnel. A year later I’m seeing a therapist (sporadically) and am well medicated, but I know that I’m a better person because of it all. I know you are also.

    Best of luck in all that you do.

  32. A particularly blue Blue Jay Says:

    I admire your bravery. I have been in the same boat as you for the past four years, and have been unable to attend school because of this depression. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only one struggling.

    I wish you the best.

  33. prodigy Says:

    You are just succeptible… to falls in love… they break you appart… that is all. You need to handle things more better and get grip…I mean.. it looks like you already have a grip…but you need to know that if you are going to mix up love with academics is going to make you very vulnerable.. but you will come out probably stronger. Your shrink probably told you to stress less, take less work and pick and stop being random about hook ups…


    man… you are not a basket case.. you are just going through a very rough period of your life… or you were.. take a number and by the way… people go through worst…. you are blessed that you are in a position in which you can seek readily available help. In anycase, I promise you that this will all go away once you get married… you seek attention that only a man can provide and give you strenght to do what you want to do. If that is ok then everything follows…

    so you just slipped up once, you will grow and learn… whatever.. this ain’t shit… you are just stressinga bout overcommitments and overaspirations…


  34. Nick @ NYU Says:

    <3… i sought help for my anxiety and felt the same way

  35. Lorie Says:

    You said

    I will never be happy if I keep deluding myself into believing that my problems can be fixed by chick flicks and ice cream..

    Lena, I know how you feel I feel the same way my junior year in high school and in college. I had about 3 serious mental breakdowns. To the point to were I didn’t even know who I was.

    The truth is that my life has completely change in the last three years. I realize that there is something worth fighting for. Forget people and their lies and betrayals. My son and daughter are my strength today. I live for them and their pure innocence. Their beautiful big brown eyes. Being a mom has completely shifted my need to put my self in depression mode. The vicious cycle that just wants to tear your mind and body apart. The need to harm yourself stops when you realize that somebody needs you more than anything.

    Of course I am not telling you that you should have a child. I am just letting you know that If I could over come my depression am sure you can figure out what will make you stop hurting yourself. I realized who I was and what I wanted in my life. I decided that I would not let another man hurt me like my first true love. I am never going to give a man the right to hurt me physically or emotional again. Either the person loves or and protects me or I toss him like first. My decisions are clear and am determine to continue to look for my happiness. I need to know that happiness exist out in this world.

    I just hope that you can find something to fill that empty hole you have. I think that life is worth living if you believe that there is something special out there for you whatever it might be. I think I found mine.

    Good luck,

  36. Kate Says:

    Thank you. I’m a Wellesley student, and I enjoyed your coverage of the Jeremy Pham incident and decided to look around- thank you. I have spent the last six of my 21 and a half years on medication and in therapy, and what does not seem to leave is the isolation. Good luck to you, you are doing the right thing, and your children will thank you.

  37. Tia Says:

    Your book history reads like mine. More power to you with the outward expression. It’s tough out there, but boy do we weather the storm.

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