Sex and the Ivy

When I Was 20

Filed under: All About Elle, Blogging, Dating/Relationships, Depression, Harvard, Mental Health — Elle January 11, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

My friends have a tendency to categorize my college experience as pre- and post-Patrick (or pre- and post-domestication-of-formerly-unruly-sex-blogger), but I think the split really occurs not when I met the current roomie, but two Christmases ago. I’m referring to those infamous nude photos, whose surfacing and aftermath have been neatly summarized in a recent piece in a Canadian paper. It felt strange to comment on the incident for the article, given how much time has passed and how young I was then (not that I’m much older now). But though many things have changed since, I don’t know if I’d handle it any differently today, which is probably why I seemed “remarkably blase” in the interview. I think I did the best I could at the time.

In the winter of 2007, I was single and living alone in Currier House, still blogging primarily on Sex and the Ivy, and seriously considering writing a memoir (which has long been shelved in favor of my senior thesis). At 20 years old, I was completely unprepared to deal with such a deep invasion of privacy, though I wonder if that’s the sort of thing one is ever prepared to handle gracefully. It wasn’t about the fact that I was naked on the Internet nor was it about the sociopathic ex who I’d long written off. I was never ashamed of my body or of people seeing it, but rather, I felt victimized because I had been exposed without consent and doubly victimized by those who wrote salaciously about the incident. The initial IvyGate post was how most of my classmates found out about the photos, and the subsequent coverage on Fleshbot, Bostonist, who knows where else, informed the world beyond Cambridge.

In the weeks after, I encountered little sympathy and plenty of mockery. It was easy for strangers online to say that I was “asking for it” when they weren’t in my shoes, freaking the fuck out (quite literally, in the form of panic attacks), and very much certain that I didn’t ask for this shit. However, I was mostly appalled by the way I was treated by other Harvard students, who had no moral qualms about Googling the photos and sending them to one another. It wasn’t the first or last time I felt totally alienated, isolated, and violated by the campus at large, but it was easily the worst time because I was going at it alone. Unlike romantic troubles or an uncalled-for rude encounter, this was a situation that literally no one in my life could understand or empathize with.

So how did I get over it? By leaving Harvard. I made the best of finals and submitted multiple late papers thanks to a note from my therapist. I got a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication I never ended up taking. I went to Switzerland for nine days with two girlfriends, hiked uphill in snow to reach the peak of the world’s longest sled run, and had a lot of sex with someone who was not a sociopath. Thankfully, I emerged from my depressive haze without the least bit of generalized hatred toward men, since I met Patrick, a.k.a. “the Guy”, shortly thereafter. In the subsequent months of my junior year, I transitioned slowly away from my old blog and into this one. Mid-semester, sleuthing e-stalkers unmasked and defamed “the Guy”, pretty much cementing my belief that I could never return to writing openly about my own sex life. I also moved, for all intents and purposes, into Patrick’s then-apartment and never once looked back at the option of living on campus. By the time I got Ad Boarded for not turning in two final papers, I was just completely done with Harvard. Everyone was telling me to finish the damn papers — which were completely doable — and I was thinking, “What’s so bad about having to take a year off, anyway? I freaking hate this place.” When I left Harvard at the end of May, I had already long checked out emotionally. I hadn’t even slept in Currier for months and only showed up to move-out in order to shove things into boxes. Two months later, I turned 21 halfway around the world from Cambridge. I went back to Boston a few weeks later and moved in with Patrick, with whom I lived during my year off. Harvard has never felt like home again, not even after I returned as a student this fall.

This is all to say that even if I appeared “remarkably blase about the incident” in my interview for the aforementioned article, it was hardly an insignificant event in my life. I’ve said most, though not all, of the above before, and often, it feels like I’m repeating myself when I discuss this topic. Maybe that’s because I’m still grappling with what happened. The reaction to those photos simultaneously defined and epitomized my college experience, which often felt like a circus act performed before sadistic spectators. Someday, I’ll have to post the “reflective” essay I submitted to get readmitted to Harvard. It was more a condemnation of my classmates than it was an expression of remorse, and if the administration ever had doubts about how cruel Ivy League students can be … well, now they know. Back then, I was also very much of the mindset that the bloggers and reporters who wrote about the photos were simply doing their job: writing about the news. Only in the year afterward did I realize that having a sex blog hardly makes one newsworthy and that furthermore, gossip is not news. It would have saved my sanity had a few individuals simply thought twice about clicking “Post Entry”. In retrospect, I regret that I wasn’t more critical of the writers who exploited the source of my personal anguish for page views.

In a few short months, I’ll have a Harvard degree in addition to hundreds of unfavorable Google search results to show for all this trouble, yet I’ve never quite forgiven or forgotten the on- and off-line masses who judged, dissected, and mocked my younger self. In a coming-of-age film, the above drama might be characterized as the experience necessary for eventual personal growth or finding Mr. Right or whatever. Winding up with a bulldog-owning Yalie is kind of the perfect happy ending to the Ivy League version of Sex And The City. But outside of HBO world, no one needs to nearly get their life ruined in order to emerge triumphant. The reality is that people are often mean without justification, you may or may not learn from this stuff, and the guy you end up with in the aftermath is not necessarily the pay-off for putting up with bullshit. Though I survived my ordeal more or less intact, with a boyfriend and a puppy dog to boot, I have never regained my former faith in others’ inherent goodness. Which is good, because I was really just being naive. The crazy ex who posted those photos could have easily been written off as a psychotic exception to the generally sane population at large, but what happened in the aftermath demonstrated to me how thoughtless, judgmental, and unkind normal individuals can be and that this tends to be the rule, not the exception, and that Harvard kids with all their privilege are not exempt from moral failings despite being in a position where they should theoretically “know better”.

And that realization, not Patrick, is what really prompted some rather radical changes in my life. Harvard has a knack for fooling its students into becoming incredibly invested in their peers. The cult of the Ivy and all that. The belief that your success is mine and vice versa. Even at its rawest, my blog up until that point reflected a painful desire to be liked. I was well-aware that my subject matter was slightly edgy and my reputation slightly soiled, but hardly unsalvageable, nothing a book deal couldn’t fix. It wasn’t until the ugly aftermath of the photos that I started to question what I was trying to prove and who I was trying to prove it to. It was then that I stopped participating in superficial social interactions, ceased going to anonymous parties, and completely disengaged from communal college life. In other words, I no longer viewed my classmates as flawless individuals who I should be grateful to know.

Up until then, my go-to future plan had always been Move To New York, Write A Memoir, Become Carrie 2.0. Now that graduation is actually on the horizon, I don’t find any of the above particularly appealing. I will almost certainly stay in Boston, at least in the short-term, and perhaps I will still publish a book, but not because I feel the need to apologize for my sordid past by seeking redemption via commercial literary success. As for Carrie 2.0, I’d rather aspire to be Jessica Valenti. But the truth is that I don’t even have New Year’s resolutions, not to speak of a multi-year life plan. I don’t have any idea how 2010 will turn out, since I didn’t do corporate recruiting in the fall, haven’t looked for a job, failed to apply to grad schools or take the GRE, and have no real intention to think about post-graduation life until I actually graduate (or at least until I finish my thesis). Two years ago, this would’ve struck me as terribly complacent, perhaps even boring, but right now,it just feels liberating.


Filed under: All About Elle, Blogging, Depression, Harvard, Mental Health, Uncategorized — Elle July 17, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am. I am. I am.

- Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Right now, I want to disappear. I haven’t felt this in a long time, perhaps because in the past year, I more or less succeeded in doing precisely that. I traded in Sex and the Ivy for a far less personal tumblelog. I left school and then the country. When I returned, I moved to Beacon Hill and avoided campus, final clubs, and the Class of 2009. My already shrunken circle of friends shrank even more. Agents asked me if I still wanted to write a book, and I would say this really isn’t the right time, but it’s on my mind and I’ll get in touch on my own, thank you. I guess it was reassuring to know that I was, in fact, still relevant. But for once, that mattered less than the sliver of privacy I’d found. Public and private life finally seemed distinguishable, and I was happy. I am happy.

When Harvard kicked me out of school last spring, I felt like the Ad Board didn’t believe or care about my story. Sure, I never did well in college, and hell, I admit that I was a pretty mediocre honors student in high school, but there’s a reason why I went from getting abysmal grades to simply not passing a class. That doesn’t just happen on its own. The problem is, I don’t know how I could have expected anyone at the time to believe me when even I thought my story was unbelievable. It was so unbelievable, in fact, that I called it a “story”. I thought of it as a book, perhaps because I was trying to write one, but also because there wasn’t any possible way that it was actually happening in real life. Yet it was.

I started Sex and the Ivy in the beginning of my sophomore year. At first, it was exhilarating to feel inspired enough to write everyday. It was the biggest high I’d ever felt and I still sometimes fear I’ll never replicate it again. But what I initially considered an incredible creative phase soon turned into the worst period of my life up to that point. Because I believed in the best in people, I wrote naively and with abandon. I wrote about my fears and my uncertainties and my insecurities. I always wrote the truth. Most of the feedback was positive but some people were critical, not in a constructive way, but in a purposely hurtful, malicious way. Judgments were made about my character based on the presumed number of sexual partners I’d had. Strangers felt justified in calling me a “slut”. Their IP addresses suggested they were posting from a computer connected to the campus network. For a period of about six months, I went through a series of highs and lows. Most of my blogging was done when I was in a slightly manic state. The rest of the time, I slept a lot, missed class frequently, and tried to extricate myself from most social activities. Someone, a professional, suggested I might be struggling with a high-functioning form of bipolar disorder. I met with a psychiatrist, decided I wasn’t that crazy (at least not yet), and promptly went back into hibernation mode until the spring. By then, I was doing better and just wanted to finish the school year so I could spend summer in New York. None of what I’m writing here is new. I’ve said it all before, so many times before that it doesn’t feel real now to look back on it.

Sometimes when I spoke to my junior year therapist about this, I felt like she didn’t believe me either. I felt like no one believed me, or at least they couldn’t feel what I felt. Back then, I thought I was going crazy, not crazy enough to take pills, but enough to question whether this constant feeling of being watched and judged was merely a mental affliction. I almost wanted to ask Sara if she thought I was actually making this all up in my head. In retrospect, what I considered unconfirmed paranoia at the time was pretty much confirmed by my junior year. I just didn’t want to believe it. But then you hear enough people whisper your name (or something that vaguely sounds like it) whenever you’re in the vicinity. You catch enough people looking at you. You catch pointing. And sometimes, you overhear something that no one intended for you to hear. What you used to wonder about, you come to expect. But I never learned the full extent of it and I never will, which is why I thought for so long that I was crazy in a very literal sense.

I want to point out that I have never, ever been harassed in person. None of these people who gossip and say or think or write terrible things about me would ever have the courage to publicly stand by their words. Every time anyone has approached me, they’ve been gracious and kind and polite; and though I am grateful for this, it also terrifies me, because I can’t put an identifiable face on my attackers. And yes, I do feel attacked.

It may have been an unhinged ex-boyfriend who put nude photos of me online two Christmases ago, but their dissemination was a collaborative effort between IvyGate and my peers. I know for a fact that people who personally knew me — as well as others who didn’t –  were sending those photos around while I was in hysterics at the end of fall term and struggling to finish papers just so I could finish them, just so I could leave the school and the country and all this inexplicable malice behind. When Patrick and I started dating last spring, I didn’t tell anyone but my closest friends about him. I actually kept my relationship a secret from the majority of my acquaintances. And yet, someone who knew the both of us, someone who must’ve seen us in public together or something, outed him on JuicyCampus. When it got picked up on AutoAdmit, online vigilantes decided to take matters into their own hands and send indignant emails to Harvard professors and administrators demanding that Patrick be kicked out of his Ph.D program for a breach of ethics that never occurred. Thank god he was in a five-year relationship during the entire time he taught me or people might’ve actually not believed us.

I suppose the fact that I’m still blogging is a testament to my emotional strength or to my stupidity. To be honest, I’m terrified of returning to school this fall because I’m running out of the former. I’m tired of being strong and I’m tired of having to just put up with it and I’m worried that what’s happened thus far is the beginning, not the end. In retrospect, I’m surprised my 19-year-old self lasted as long as she did. I’m turning 22 next month and I’m getting too old for this. I used to get so many sexist or downright misogynistic comments that I became numb to them. I hit delete, delete, delete and moved on to the next entry. And now? When I read something terrible that a stranger has to say about me,  I stop and think about it. I think about them and the person they might be. I think about myself and what I’ve done to deserve this kind of scrutiny. I think about how a website could provoke concerted efforts by other human beings to make my life miserable.

Maybe blogging about my personal life means I’m “asking for it” but if my only crime is writing openly and honestly about sex and not having the decency to feel ashamed of myself, then yes, I suppose I asked for it. I realize now, two years late, that I was incredibly naive for expecting better out of people, out of humanity, as dramatic as that sounds. When I was 19, I didn’t think anyone understood me. Not my mother, who didn’t know about my blog. Not my therapist, who nodded at the right times and knew my secret resentments. Not my friends, who were often the ones I resented. And now I know there’s at least one person in the world who understands me, pretty completely, and I’m still miserable, just because a stranger decided to be shockingly inhumane tonight. How did I do it at 19? How can I ever write that candidly again if even a mere comment (or in this case, 15 of them in a span of minutes) conjures up all the unpleasant memories I’ve pushed to the recesses of my mind? I have never once regretted writing Sex and the Ivy, but it’s not until now that I’ve acknowledged the full extent of what I lost because of it. I spent most of college disassociating myself from my peers, physically running away (to New York, to Philadelphia, abroad), and questioning my own sanity. And sure, I was defiant, and more importantly, I was in the right. But what good is being right when you’re an unhappy, suspicious person? Now that I know the alternative, I could care less about my writing or what others see in it or what they see in me. I’d rather be happy than defiant on principle.

None of these people who have done me wrong will get their comeuppance. There’s no such thing as god or karma and even if there were, I’m not looking for justice. I’m looking for happiness, and thus far, I’ve only found it in a private life. I could wait endlessly for divine retribution, or I could try to be happy knowing what I know about human nature and what people are capable of. I could try to be happy the one way I know how. I could try to disappear.

Honesty & Rage: Part I

Filed under: Blogging, Life, Mental Health — Elle November 7, 2007 @ 4:56 am

So about the whole well-adjusted approach to junior year thing? Yeah, not so much.

I’m beginning to realize that I still have a ton of unresolved anger from the last 365 days and I’m not quite sure how (or if) I should let go of it. So I’m just going to be honest about what is pissing me off, even though nowadays, I’m really vague and impersonal here (obviously, a reason for this, but fuck that). There are two major issues and I’m going to talk about one tonight, leaving the other for another PMS-y evening.

So Sex and the Ivy fucked up my sophomore experience in a lot of ways, but mostly, it came down to the fact that I had little to no privacy even when I was off-line. People were (and still are!) incredibly intrusive, sometimes in extremely disrespectful ways, and I basically broke down from the initial shock of being recognized and approached while going about my daily life at Harvard. I know that it seems like I asked for the attention, putting up a public blog and all, but ask my friends and any reporter who’s ever interviewed me: I already kept an online diary previously and this was just another journal; it wasn’t supposed to blow up the way it did. And though anyone who knows me will agree that I’m totally dramatic, no one will say that I exaggerated the consequences of the website. I definitely wasn’t driven to therapy because it was trendy. I needed it to cope!

Just so you kind of get where I’m coming from, a sampling of what I had to deal with last year:

* Identities of guys being revealed by total strangers who had Facebook-searched them to death.

* Having my personal information repeatedly posted on Being approached at Lamont. Lacking library-related privacy in general.

* Routinely introducing myself as “Lena” to people who responded with “I know.”

* Getting trash-talked by people who did not know me in front of people who did know me. (Um, hello. I do go to this school. What makes you think I don’t find out about this shit?)

* Being accosted by a drunken idiot at Red Party who followed me and yelled in my face “SEX AND THE IVY. TRUE OR FALSE?” about six times while I tried to escape a post-party mob.

* Being accosted by drunken Yalies at Harvard-Yale.

* Come to think of it, being accosted at parties in general. More or less, every time I went out and was in the presence of alcohol/drunk people.

* Having an actual stalker. (This was basically the low-light of the year.)

* In addition to being called a whore, slut, disgrace to Harvard/Asian/all women; having my family attacked. Like when people make accusations against my father for sexual abuse, because that is clearly the only explanation for my idiosyncrasies.

The fact that I had such a terrible experiences with people disrespecting my privacy means that I became extra paranoid and protective about it. Even now, I still occasionally flip out over privacy issues, though usually no longer my own. As a general rule, I don’t ever use real names on the page, unless the person is a public figure a la Julia or Rachel. I try to treat others’ reputation with as much delicacy as possible, which is why I never “out” anyone, not even the guys who turn out to be assholes deserving of public condemnation. So when I have overzealous readers come up to me and declare that they’ve figured out via random pieces of information that Aidan’s real name is _____ _____, I kind of flip the fuck out. Now granted, Aidan specifically was a lot easier to figure out by virtue of my lack of care in the early blogs, but he’s not the only person whose identity has been compromised. It pisses me off, because I don’t think that who these guys are in real life is that significant. It has no bearing on how people should view my writing or my representation of the relationship. Plus, revealing some identities would actually ruin lives, and it’s ridiculous that there are people curious or malicious enough to dig that deep.

Recently, I was interviewed by a person who I was POSITIVE had an agenda in revealing someone I was previously involved with. It seriously takes something huge to get me riled up nowadays, and this incident left me completely pissed because it wasn’t just my own name on the line. In retrospect, I think I really misjudged the situation, and I probably overreacted (though my friends definitely agreed with me at the time). But I couldn’t help it. We couldn’t help. I’ve been so used to having my privacy routinely disrespected that I automatically assumed the worst.

Along the same lines, I am immediately disinterested in people who are interested in my blog. My social circle has closed in dramatically over the past year because I don’t trust most people, their intentions, or their preconception of me. Considering the number of people I have met from just getting approached, you’d think that I’d be BFFs with a third of the school. The reality is that Rody and a couple sophomores are the only people who have ever made the jump from readers to friends and they happened very early on last fall before the minor breakdown, etc.

This year, I’m totally fine discussing my website and usually gracious about questions, but depending on my mood, I can be more or less receptive to being approached in public. I can understand why someone might want to strike up a convo about my website, but if they don’t know me (or know a good friend of mine who did an introduction), the appropriate forum is email, not coming up to me while I’m grinding with someone on a Saturday night. That’s just really awkward. For both of us.

An example, from this weekend while I was at a party:

Random Guy: “Hey, you’re Lena Chen!”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”

Random Guy: “You had that discussion with that conservative lady, right?”

[me thinking: if by "conservative lady" you mean my friend Janie Fredell, sure!]

Random Guy: “Well, I want you to know that I’m all for your side!”

Me: “That’s … great.”

Random Guy could’ve meant one of two things: 1) he’s all for sex, or 2) he’s all for me having sex. Both of those things are extremely awkward. I don’t need to know either of those things. Thus, the second he left, I turned to my friend (who I had been grinding prior to this awkward exchange) and said: “Got recognized. Night’s over. Time to go!”

Which is a pretty good reflection of how my entire sophomore social experience worked. Got recognized, declared the night over, and went home. See how this whole blog thing might have been a little intrusive upon my college experience?

What Sarah Saw

Filed under: Depression, Mental Health, Sarah, Therapy — Elle January 10, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

Everyone needs to have their defenses broken down sometimes. It’s the only way to figure out what you’re really after, why you’re not happy, and whether you’re running down the path of life in the wrong direction with the wrong company. The problem is that we have defenses for a reason and most of us aren’t comfortable living unprotected. For me, therapy is a safe space where I can be vulnerable, own up to my insecurities, and admit my faults. My hour with Sarah is the only time when I feel normal at Harvard.

I’ve been seeing Sarah since late October. To be honest, I made a snap judgment the second she shook my hand at our pre-screening. I didn’t think we’d click. And at first, we didn’t. Our first meetings consisted of talking on my part and nodding on hers. There wasn’t anything particularly insightful I gleaned from the biweekly sessions. But recently, I’ve realized that what she says about my personality and inclinations makes sense. Maybe it’s because she’s making more accurate assessments with time. Maybe it’s because I’m more willing to listen.

If I were Sarah, I wouldn’t like myself very much. There is absolutely nothing to pity about my situation. No one died. My grades are fine. It’s not even like I can complain that much about my love life. I just can’t get my emotions under control when crisis strikes, boo-fucking-hoo. In my initial sessions with her, I pretty much gave a list of hang-ups and expected her to form an accurate diagnosis. Typical Friday morning inquiries would go something like: “So Sarah, what do you get if you combine an eating disorder, predisposition for addiction, impulsive behavior, alcohol dependency, promiscuity, and unhappy childhood with an overachieving, extroverted Type A personality?” I went in with the attitude that I was overachieving at life — whatever my problems were had to be chemically induced. I wasn’t particularly helpful, just demanding. Pills? Electroshock? Lobotomy? I was game for anything — just fix me in time for recruitng.

Obviously, I’m a handful. I’m no different when it comes to Sarah but that’s okay. With her, I unload all my baggage and I don’t feel guilty about it. My friends don’t have time to deal with my depression, but my therapist? It’s her job. So I let my pals finish their problem sets and let Sarah listen to my problems. Mental Health Services is highly underutilized, and therapy is highly underrated. Not unlike promiscuity, it is at once taboo and trendy. Thus, it’s easy to discount its real value. But even for me — someone whose writing depends on introspection — I find myself making revelations every time I go in.

The morning after I hurled something at Aidan’s head, Sarah asked me about my father. In the midst of my most recent heartbreak, I had never thought to ponder my first. My dad was the first man to disappoint me: divorce, neglect, irresponsibility … I could go on for days about what my father didn’t do and what he screwed up at.

“I know he loves me because he’s my father. And I love him,” I told Sarah. “But he was a man who just wasn’t very good at fatherhood.”

I started talking abeout my family dynamics and was in the middle of ranting when she cut me off to ask the obvious question of what this meant for my romantic interactions. Sarah wanted to know what I was looking for in my relationships with men. Though mid-tirade just moments earlier, I suddenly found myself at a loss for words. It was the first time since I started therapy that there was silence in the office. Several seconds after my prose broke off, I finally managed to speak.

“I just want to be loved.”

I said it quite simply and half-shrugged, shaking my head, my eyes welling up. It was a moment of clarity, and I was almost shocked. I didn’t expect to make any revelations — certainly not one as seemingly simple as this one. It was the closest I ever came to crying with Sarah.

Two nights later, I finished in my dorm room what I started in her office and cried in front of Aidan. It was appropriate. He was the only person other than Sarah that I’d been as honest with this fall. At the moment, I couldn’t stop sobbing and I thought that it was because he hurt me. In retrospect, it was 19 years in the making.

I am so far from perfect in a place where perfection is the minimal expectation. Yet I get the feeling that very few people ever meet that self-imposed standard and that perfection is a poor substitute for happiness. I don’t think I will ever quite be good enough, but for the first time since just about ever, academic performance and professional success are not what matters.

It was in therapy that I finally realized neither made me happy. It was in therapy that the void in my life stopped being something I thought Harvard could fill. And it was Sarah who stripped me down to the most vulnerable I’d ever been. It was her who saw that at the core of this ambitious young woman was really a girl who just wanted to be loved.

There Has To Be A Better Way

Filed under: Depression, Drinking, Health, Mental Health — Elle December 15, 2006 @ 3:55 am

New rule: No alcohol, period. Rita, the UHS psychiatrist in charge of deciding my fate (well, my prescription), was not pleased with my weekend visit to Stillman. “How can we accurately assess your condition if you’re using mood-altering substances?”

I didn’t have a good answer for her. “It was the only way I thought I could get through the night,” I explained. She told me I needed better ways to cope. I didn’t disagree but it’s not like she had a better suggestion for working through it.

Rita told me two weeks ago that I should limit myself to “one weak drink” per night. This time, she means it. This time, I need to take her seriously. No one seems to be able to pinpoint exactly what I am, and it’s crucial that I don’t fuck up a diagnosis with substance abuse. After I have a session with my therapist Sarah tomorrow morning, the two are going to “powwow” (actual quote) and determine if I should be a) medicated or b) institutionalized. Hopefully, I escape unscathed and without a recommendation for a dosage of anything but love.

Initially when I started therapy, all I really wanted was a prescription, a quick fix that would keep me productive, prevent me from slipping during all the wrong times. But now? Pills are the last thing I want. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being on medications; I’d do it in a second if I really believed I needed it. But I’m not so certain anymore. Sure, there are days when I can feel myself losing it, but I almost always recover so I can’t tell if I’m battling depression or angst. Sure, I can be happy without reason at one instance and completely wind down the next, but does that make me bipolar? My symptoms are so imprecise that I bristled at Rita’s suggestion that I begin taking a low dosage of antidepressants. Even she can’t say conclusively what it is I am. And further, I don’t know how these things are prescribed — at the request of the patient or the judgment of the doctor? How much does my own desire for medication influence her decision to give it to me?

“The thing is, I’m a writer,” I told her. And immediately, she understood. Beyond the qualms I have about my vague diagnosis, I’m scared that the pills needed to dull the aches of my heart will be dulling my creativity as well. Sometimes, I feel desperate enough that I’d throw in the towel when it comes to writing if it means getting through another day. It shouldn’t be like that. There has to be a better way. I asked Rita why it was so hard to stay okay, why the normality that other people took for granted was something I had to fight for on a daily basis. To others, it seems like I’m doing just fine but I’m really treading water, barely keeping above the surface, and constantly scared of sinking. This isn’t fair. It shouldn’t be this hard. I’m not even asking to be happy; I just don’t want to be sad.

Today at Urban Outfitters, I bought one of these memo pads (displayed below). Part of cognitive behaviorial therapy involves changing the way I interpret situations. But I ditched the UHS-xeroxed mood charts Sarah gave me after just two days. Following a terrible Harvard-Yale Game (which I left after a mere 20 minutes), I filled out the chart for the first time and immediately decided it was stupid. I don’t have any desire to rationalize my radical thoughts or to create more balanced interpretations of events. I’d much rather talk about how shitty I feel all the time and this kitschy notepad lets me do just that. I know, I know - -I’m self-defeating. But I can’t help the fact that I would sometimes much rather wallow in this sorrow than really work on getting better. The effort seems futile, because I simply don’t know what it’s like to be just normal. Of everything I’ve experienced in life, “normal” has been last on the list.

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