Recently, I received an anonymous e-mail from a student about his feelings of isolation and loneliness. He agreed to let me share information from his letter, thanking me for speaking out about these issues. However, he should not thank me, for I and many other students have dealt with similar feelings, and I think one of the best things that can be done is to break the silence that tends to fall around these issues.
Freshman year, I discovered the infamous “Stanford duck syndrome,” where on the surface everyone looks calm but underneath is paddling like mad to stay afloat. I would soon discover that I, too, was a duck.
Last year, in a blog post, a grad student wrote, “I look around at everyone—well-dressed, put together and on top of their game, and I feel inferior. How is it that for everyone else, this stuff is effortless, but for me it’s such an intense struggle? The secret truth is, everyone is struggling.”
Like many others, there have been times in this college whirlwind when I have wondered how the admission office thought I was on par with my peers. There have been times when I have felt academically inadequate, emotionally exhausted or socially out of place. At first, I felt alone in these feelings, but during “Branner Spills,” an open forum where dorm-mates would answer any question, it became clear that even members of my staff had at times felt this way, too, and shared similar fears. Their honesty and vulnerability stuck with me.
The anonymous student wrote, “I think I can be fun sometimes, and I sure know a lot of people, but I don’t have any real friends…I want someone to feel comfortable enough around me, or to think that I’m fun enough, that they don’t feel weird about randomly getting in touch…I feel socially awkward and out-of-place and community-less.”
In many ways, we are all ducks, but the good news is that ducks fly together (“Mighty Ducks” reference FTW). The best thing we can do as a community is to be honest about our feelings and share our triumphs and struggles. In order to cure the “duck syndrome,” when someone asks you how you are doing, if you feel comfortable, tell him or her the truth. Additionally, it is important to prioritize your life and make time for the things you truly enjoy doing. It is all too easy to get caught in the grind.
It is also important to recognize when to seek help. When the problem becomes concerning, or even to be proactive about your health, tap into the spectrum of resources available. An open and eager ear is there for you from any resident assistant, community assistant, peer health educator, residence dean, Bridge peer counselor or Counseling and Psychological Services professional. These are phenomenal resources, used by many, that can dramatically enhance your Stanford experience. We are also fortunate to be supported by an administration that values these issues and that I encourage to continue to improve and expand these services.
For those of you who are transitioning to your first year on the Farm and may not be sure where you fit in, you are not alone. For those of you who are struggling to balance dissertations or clinical rounds, and perhaps a family of your own, you are not alone. For those of you who are not yet comfortable sharing a part of your personal identity, you are not alone. For those of you who are completely unsure of what the next step is after graduation, you are definitely not alone. For those of you who are going through a situation that I may not have mentioned here, please know that you too are not alone.
Whether you simply read this op-ed and put it down, or whether these words spring you to action to call or text your friends and acquaintances to let them know you are there for them and care about them, I hope you remember that we are not alone. We are one community that shares many similar fears, hopes and aspirations.
Angelina Cardona ‘11
A few resources for reference:
Bridge Peer Counseling: 650-723-3392
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 650-723-3785
Office of Religious Life: 650- 723-1762
Vaden Health Center: 650-498-2336