Widgets Magazine


I’m, Like, Totally Profound: Everyone Else’s Lives Suck, Too

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 robthom@stanford.edu.

  • Ariel

    Hey, I think I get what you’re trying to do, and I appreciate that you’re taking an active role in getting the dialogue started, but I really have to disagree with your approach. Do you really think that a depressed person is going to be inspired by having you tell them that they’re self-centered? Maybe my experience was unusual, but I often heard “Everyone else your age is struggling just like you” uttered in the same breath as “so you do not need special care or attention.” My opinion is that people contemplating suicide, or who are under life-altering levels of distress DO need special care and attention.

    Believing that it isn’t normal to have attempted suicide is not a delusion, and it’s not something that you skip CAPS and knock on your neighbor’s door for. Speaking of which, maybe Stanford has unusually receptive people who love chatting with you about your problems, but much of the rest of the world is not like that. There are often very real negative consequences to disclosing your mental health status, clinical or otherwise.

    Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely believe that anyone struggling with their mental health should find allies wherever possible. Struggling when no one in the world knows your struggling is positively dangerous. And perhaps some people will feel comforted to know that they are not alone. But for some people, realizing that they are experiencing something unusual is what encourages them to seek help. Food for thought.

  • steve

    I have to disagree with the above commenter. There are plenty of people in this world who’d love to hear you out. And even then there are tons of people who would love to hang with you w/o hearing your problems (this is probably the best solution -> lingering on one’s problems is usually unproductive thinking that leads to more depression). Not to mention CAPS is terrible (cannot speak for bridge) and artificial; it’s the university’s insurance problem so their ass doesn’t get sued when a poor kid kicks the bucket.

    There’s always someone in life who has the same problems and even more likely more shit goin’ on, and for better or worse, it’s a really reassuring feeling to think about. “I am down here in the dumps, that guy/gal is even further in the dump.”

  • Really?

    I never realized how egotistical of an act it is to act like you are the only one depressed. Oh wait, that’s because it isn’t. That’s how depression works.

    I understand your point, but the delivery was, in my opinion, in poor taste. Is it really that hard to believe people are afraid to talk about things that are very painful to them? And there’s no need to belittle the writer. They never implied what they were saying was profound.They were telling their story. According to the comments, it seemed the writer made quite a few people feel better or to come to a realization that they are not alone.

    Your article could have had a much more positive impact, maybe even as great of an impact as the article you criticize, if you had used a different tone. Look at your title. You are making fun of depressed people. Regardless of how trivial you think their depression really is, you have to realize it is a mental disorder.

    I agree with what you are saying, but not how you are saying it.

  • Really

    Excuse my grammatical mistake above, referring to the writer as they instead of s/he.

  • Shannon

    Ariel is spot-on. Regardless of your intention, this piece may be doing more harm than good. It is very easy for someone with a legitimate mental health concern to read this and get the message “suck it up because everyone is suffering just as much as you and they can handle it just fine.” I understand that your argument is more nuanced than that. But you can’t control how closely people read your work or what they take away from it when you don’t make that explicit. The headline alone could hurt someone. And yes, that is your responsibility.

  • ’12

    the very nature of depression is that it makes you afraid to open up. it is a serious mental disorder that could lead to self harm and suicide, and it it most certainly NOT the person’s own fault. the accusatory tone of your article was extremely offensive. please educate yourself more on clinical depression.

  • comment

    This author clearly knows nothing about depression, and what he has written is more likely than not to cause people who have depression to feel considerably worse and be more likely to commit suicide.

  • Ariel

    Just one note on CAPS in response to steve: I’m really glad I didn’t listen to all of the people telling me CAPS is terrible. I realize that not everyone has a good experience there, but I think it’s worth a shot since it’s free. Going to CAPS actually helped me immensely.

  • Cat

    The tone of this article could definitely use some reworking, but I think he’s trying to make the point that *since* depression, as ’12 says, is one that causes you to be afraid to open up, to “collapse on inward,” so to speak, it’s too easy to get caught up in one’s suffering and forget that other people can help or relate.

    Maybe he’s going a little overboard in calling it “selfish,” since that word conveys *intentional* self-focus, but he probably meant it in terms of “focusing on yourself/your issues to the exclusion of everything else”, which is part of the disease of depression. True selflessness, as I once heard, is not thinking *less* of yourself, but in thinking of yourself less.

  • Cat

    Seconding Ariel – CAPS helped me immensely, even though it sure was uncomfortable at first. That’s part of the healing process – change, even from a bad state to a better one, is always a bit prickly. I’d say not to give up if you’ve tried CAPS once or twice and it didn’t ring true to you – a change of therapist, or maybe a few more weeks of sticking with it, might be the difference.

  • Steven

    Just for any who are reading and want to discuss in person, we’re having a student get-together discussion of this very topic at 9:15pm at The Bridge (second floor if there’s room, first floor if we need more) on Tuesday. Bring your thoughts if you’d like some honest face-to-face discussion.

  • Michael

    I really disagree with what Ariel and Shannon have said so far, and think that the commentators have missed the point. Nowhere in the article did the writer say that students with mental or emotional health issues should suck it up or not see CAPS. Robin is calling on students to break out of their own bubbles, to be honest and authentic, to share their truth, to be vulnerable. No, you can’t, and shouldn’t, try to get mental health care from your neighbor. But being honest about your struggles, challenges, and pain with others, rather than constantly saying “I’m fine” and keeping others distant, can go a long way. This isn’t just for students at risk for suicide or who have depression. Some, many, or even most of us, need some kind of professional mental or emotional health support, but many of us don’t. All of us, however, can make big strides toward a healthier campus culture that is more understanding of, and less scornful to mental health issues by being more authentic in our everyday lives.