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 wasnâ€™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 â€“ 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 didnâ€™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 Iâ€™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.