Madhavi Narayanan, Roosevelt’s 2012-13 Valedictorian and ASR president, is currently a sophomore at Harvard University. Her piece, “A College Story”, talks about her transition into college from Roosevelt and the abrupt shifts that came with it. The featured photo is complements of Narayanan.
I was never excited about the idea of college. I had everything I wanted in high school – a family who loved me, teachers who supported me, friends who would be there whenever I asked. I didn’t like the idea of being all on my own, dropped in the middle of what I imagined to be a never-ending party that I had no interest in.
Roosevelt High School was the best home I could have ever asked for. I ran from class to class, meeting to meeting, walked around after school taking tape off of posters to keep the custodians happy. I was so incredibly proud and happy to serve this home away from home in some small way. Roosevelt was a community for me that was supportive and encouraging, and leaving it excited me in no way.
When I was offered late admission to Harvard (I was informed of my acceptance a month before I was expected to move in), everything seemed to be coming at me at once. Leaving my family, my school, my friends – everyone else seemed excited. Why wasn’t I? I mean, this is HARVARD we’re talking about. Showing any reluctance to going there was seen as downright douchey.
I arrived at Harvard ready to make full use of its academic resources. Because of my delayed admission, I missed the housing assignment process, so I lived alone in the dorm furthest from campus. But I refused to allow myself to get lonely – I picked classes that I knew were challenging, but interesting, and I devoted all my energies to them. I was on a mission to prove that I, Miss Late-Admission from a public school on the other side of the country, could make it at Harvard.
And I did. I took upper level courses, but focused all my time on my academics, and received all A’s my first semester. I was proud of myself, but something was wrong. I didn’t want to go back. At the end of January, I couldn’t put it off any longer and returned to campus to begin my second semester. This time I was taking an extra class, all bland requirement classes that I wanted to be done with so that I could get into upper level courses during my sophomore year.
I misunderstood the power of loneliness my freshman year. Less than a month into my second semester, I cracked. I passed out after donating blood and was sent to a hospital, where I spent a week having panic attacks. I had developed serious depression and severe anxiety.
I didn’t even know what those words meant, and I hated the sound of them. Hoping to replicate my first semester, I took the doctor’s words as a challenge. I made myself calm down and stop feeling so sorry for myself. There was nothing wrong with me, I told myself. I just had to be strong, be an adult. I refused the anti-depressants offered to me and returned to my classes.
But the loneliness grew and this time it came with more panic attacks, nights of no sleep, and constant sobbing in my room. What hurt me the most was that nobody cared. My dorm walls were thin, but none of the people who lived around me cared to approach me during the nights I was yelling and sobbing. People walked straight past me in the dining hall, where I sat every breakfast, lunch, and dinner, alone, sometimes with tears streaming down my face.
I felt so weak but didn’t know how to pull it together. The depression nagged me from inside and I didn’t know that I couldn’t just push through it. I couldn’t study because I was constantly crying and unable to sleep, I walked from class to class like a zombie, emerging with an empty notepad. I brushed my parents to the side, making up excuses not to talk to them. They had enough on their plates and I had to show that I was strong enough to be on my own.
And then it happened. In early March I woke up at 8am realizing that I had only slept two hours and had not even begun studying for my economics midterm that was scheduled to be that evening. Everything I tried to push away came flooding at me: nobody wanted me there, I was a failure, destined to be a weak person dependent on my family. My depression enclosed me and I opened the fourth floor window of my dorm, and pushed myself onto the ledge, ready to jump. I sat there for 35 minutes. Those were the longest 35 minutes of my life.
The most I had thought about suicide before that semester was in 9th grade health class when we had to write a report about it, and we learned about depression, anxiety, bipolar, and a load of other mental health diseases. Back then they were so distant, not truly real in the world we lived in.
I made the right choice that day and stepped away from the window and had two people I trusted come and physically restrain me from doing it again. I ended up spending a week at the psychiatric ward, wondering what had happened and looking at a long journey towards getting better.
Just one year before I was roaming through the halls of RHS, exchanging smiles and running ASR activities, happy as can be. I thought I was ready for college – I was ready to study, knew how to cook and clean for myself. But what nobody told me was that college was HARD. Not because of the academics, but because for the first time you are completely alone. People walk around with their heads stuck so much in their own business that you may slip completely out of their notice.
National Alliance for Mental Health reports that one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness and that more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year. That’s 6 people in each Roosevelt classroom.
So next time you walk down a hallway or move into your college dorm, open your eyes. Exchange more than a “How are you?…Good.” We talk about support, friendship, being there for someone to lean on. But what does that mean? Everyone has their own story, their own problems. A simple smile or greeting could make or break someone’s day. Look up from your own life and one day, you could be the reason someone makes the right choice if they ever end up sitting on that fourth floor window.