“I am not my emotions”

In the spring of my freshman year is the first time I remember being depressed, though I wouldn’t have called it that then. I had just finished rehearsal for a play and I needed to take a nap. I slept for several hours in the middle of the afternoon. When I woke up, I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed. Nothing was interesting or exciting for me. I wasn’t hungry for dinner and I didn’t want to talk to other people—I felt like I didn’t have any friends who would listen. I knew my mom wouldn’t understand because she would get freaked out and try to send me to a hospital, as she did for my brother. I thought about the summer and how everything would be ok if I just held out for another couple of months. I had plans to study Swahili in Tanzania with Princeton in Dar es Salaam that I’d be preparing for months. In that moment, though, I didn’t want to study Swahili and Africa seemed so far away. The thought of the summer approaching made me claustrophobic. So I put my head under the covers went back to bed.

That sucked. But more than that, I was angry at myself for this lack of energy. My older brother’s words intended as advice when I was picking classes rung in my ears, “Benj, everything is interesting if you just look at in the right way.” Nothing was interesting to me, though. “Why is nothing interesting to me? What’s wrong with me?” My thoughts circled around.

Since that spring, I’ve dealt with depression in some form for the last three and half years. I went to two therapists at CPS (counseling and psychological services) and two in the town of Princeton. I thought of leaving school several times. In terrible moods—some that last for many days—Princeton was a cold and lonely place. People were busy rushing around doing impressive things and I couldn’t get out of bed. While everyone discussed some reading about the fluidity of racial identity in Brazil or Karl Marx’s historical materialism, I couldn’t follow because I didn’t have the energy to keep up with the work. Moreover, I couldn’t talk to friends about what was on my mind. I couldn’t let them know how I just wanted to yell, “I’m not feeling ok. ok!” At Princeton people don’t talk about their struggle or their unhappiness. If they did, their friends would look past them playing with their hair or fidgeting their fingers and thinking about that essay they should be writing. Or their friends would judge them for being emotional, “everybody has work, just deal with it,” they would say. Or they would judge themselves (as I did) for being weak and unable to deal with it on their own or for their tiredness, lack of noteworthy accomplishments, for their directionless lives. So I kept quiet and pretended to be happy while the pain and insecurity pooled inside my head, around my body and threatened to drown me in it.

I graduated three weeks ago. I actually made it through! Woah. But I still have moods. Still feel unsure, alone, confused, and energyless quite often. But fortunately I’ve come to deal with it a bit differently and when I talk about it I don’t even have to yell.