By Robin Thomas
Last Thursday The Harvard Crimson published a letter, written by an anonymous student, titled “I Am Fine.” You can read the whole article here, but here’s an excerpt:
“I feel like I should remember the first time I came close to committing suicide, as if it’s something along the lines of a first kiss…
“You’re not supposed to attend Harvard and get depressed. You’re supposed to attend Harvard and take advantages of opportunities…I was the exception. I was the one who was incapable of handling all the wonderful opportunities that Harvard presented me with…
“The reality of the situation, however, is that this is not the Harvard that many students must wake up to and battle every single day…On a campus where the need for assistance is too often perceived as a flaw, the student body has a tendency to rely on variations of ‘I’m fine.’ And, at a college where so many students already have far too much on their plate, it’s understandable that most don’t press the question further.”
Wow. Sound familiar?
It does to all the elite university students like you who have commented on and forwarded the letter, thanking the nameless author, saying, “Holy cow, I thought I was the only one feeling this way.”
What a goofy society we’ve made for ourselves. We’ve got all these people walking around feeling lonely and depressed, thinking they’re the only ones feeling lonely and depressed.
Let’s take you for instance, dear reader. What depression are you smothering with a smile? What problems and fears and struggles have you been bottling up, thinking you’re the only one experiencing them? What emotions have been tearing at your heart, having no other outlet, because you’re so certain that no one else could ever understand how you’re feeling?
Food for thought: there are few things more self-centered than thinking that you’re alone in your pain.
How egotistical, to think that you’re the one single person who has problems like yours. How stuck on yourself you must be, to think that there isn’t anyone around who could possibly comprehend and relate to your pain.
So you don’t know what you’ll be doing when you graduate. So you’re failing a class, or have no clue what your passion is. So you feel lonely because you don’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend, or because everyone else in your dorm likes to drink and you don’t. So you’re worried about money, or you have a terrible family life, or you feel so frustrated and hopeless with your screwed up self that your heart feels like lead and you don’t know how to face another day.
Do you honestly think you’re so special that you’re the only one feeling that way?
There are a lot of really smart and compassionate students at this school; do you really have so little respect for them that you won’t trust them not to negatively judge you for your imperfections?
It’s fine to hurt. But get over the delusion that you’re the only one hurting.
Even among the absurdly affluent and ambitious and seemingly perfect students here, there is someone who knows exactly what you’re going through. Odds are one of those someones lives in your dorm. And 100 percent of the people around you can relate to you in that they also know what hurting feels like. You don’t need to go to CAPS or the Bridge to find support; just knock on your next-door neighbor’s door.
Because, see, everyone knows what it means to feel broken, and stuck and disconnected. That’s because everyone knows what it means to be human. And like you, everyone is desperate for reminders that someone else is human too. And with every smile you keep plastered to your face, and with every “I’m fine” with which you lie, you’re denying someone else the relief that comes from that reminder.
If you’re afraid to tell someone something, I think it’s a pretty sure sign that you should tell them. There are few greater compliments you can pay another person than being completely emotionally honest with them. It tells them that you trust them to not disrespect you, to not think less of you, to not baby you and try to take responsibility for you.
When you trust someone to accept you as the imperfect human that you are, it’s the sincerest way of saying you accept them. In my book, that’s called love.
Nothing makes a columnist’s week like getting a message from a reader, even when the reader completely disagrees. E-mail Robin at [email protected].