Starting sophomore year I really felt like I was getting to know the MIT culture, the MIT spirit, so I just finished off my stint as freshman class president, I won the election. Gave it up to do other things. I was working at the admissions office, I was doing a UROP for the first time. So my first time really doing physics research. Going to wrestling still.
Doing all the things that I wanted to do. Classes are going well. Doing well in my classes despite small things coming in my way. I was doing great. And I was ready for my trip to Austin, because it would be sophomore summer, going to junior year. Would be the first time doing research somewhere else.
So I was really excited for the summer. I was talking to my advisor about this program called Taurus where you go to UT Austin, you’re there for most of the summer, and you work at a research project with a postdoc and faculty member. So this is part of a summer REU, and it was really exciting. I mean I’d never really traveled West before. So you go to the Lone Star State, I’m thinking about half pint mugs of lemonade and giant racks of ribs. So it was really exciting.
So I go out there looking to meet new people as part of my cohort for this REU, working on a project with galaxy proto clusters, so looking at objects from afar, redshifts a far away distance, seeing how – give us a better idea like how they form in galaxy clusters. So it’s really an exciting– learning Python, and getting to work on the school’s laptops because we’re at UT Austin. And it’s really great.
And during some of that time I was a little confused about what’s going on, because I found myself occasionally getting to work late. A few times I didn’t show up and didn’t really say anything, before, OK, if I was sick I’d email, but it was just it was really confusing to me because I didn’t know why I didn’t – feel so unmotivated. Because I wasn’t all going to blow off work and go to a bar or something, or I’m going to blow off work and go walk around and do other stuff. I just was in my room, not really feeling engaged. I kind of felt like I was not putting a [?? piece of it. I was putting life.?? ]
And it was a little difficult to even explain to myself. I didn’t really understand what was going on. I had no clear concept. But would try to persevere, push through the summer. I get most of my project done.
When we come back, OK, that summer wasn’t 100% what I wanted it to be, but we still got a lot done. Gonna shake it off, water under the bridge, just getting ready fo junior year. Sophomore year went so well, we’re just going to keep it up, keep the pace going.
And then everything just collapses. After the first week of going to class and trying to do psets I just stopped. And not just stopped class, I just I really stopped everything. I didn’t go to class, I didn’t turn in psets that’s– didn’t work on class work even when I missed class. Then it became just sitting in my room, ordering McDonalds at 2:00 AM because I had just woken up, I don’t know what time it was, but I was still hungry.
I really got to the point where I was kind of working against myself, actively not seeking help. So I wouldn’t email people, I wouldn’t respond. People would come knocking on my door and I would just sit there silently just waiting for them to go away so I could continue to be alone with these thoughts I didn’t really understand.
I didn’t understand and I accept that– I knew like my family had mental health issues, between my immediate family, and I’m just thinking like that’s– I can sympathize, but I can’t empathize. That’s not going to be me. You know? I’m doing fine. I did well in high school, 4.0 despite dad dying in junior year, and all those other difficulties at home. So like, that’s not me.
It really got to a point just that continuing downward spiral. It was not like I wanted to, but I just found myself really, really close to suicide. And I didn’t– I somehow made it through that night thinking I should be at a hospital, I should go see some sort of intensive help. But I did Band-Aids when I needed– if I needed surgery, I really just put Band-Aids on, thinking this would be fine.
So I talked to S^3 and talked to mental health and kind of got stuff to get through the semester. We get to junior spring, I’m thinking, OK, same thing that the start of the last semester. Shake it off. Water under the bridge. I don’t know what that was. I’m not depressed, I don’t need these pills, I don’t need pills to sleep, pills to help me feel better. I don’t need this. Thinking that I’m not depressed, that’s not me, that’s someone else.
And to my surprise, the same happens again. Start off occasionally have an up day, and then a down day. I have an up day, and two down days. An up day, week goes by. And then it gets to a point I don’t even remember what the last up day was. And it was really, really disheartening feeling, like I was caged in myself. That I had all this aspiration and motivation and yet I continually find myself just sitting in my room, just looking at the ceiling, not going out.
But at the end of that semester I’m like, OK, I’m on academic warning, so thinking it’s going to be hard to graduate in four years, but hopefully, if I can petition and get through it, we’ll be fine. So get to the summer, you’re up in here, same idea. Shake it off, water under the bridge, this isn’t me, because I’m not depressed.
And we get to the summer and the same thing comes in where I’m not– it’s much worse. I’m not coming into work and I’m not doing things, sitting in my room, not knowing what time it is. But I at least make some little acceptance and say, OK, I need some more help. I need to see these resources on campus more often. I need to understand that I need to take more time at MIT, and that’s OK. Because I’m still trying to work through it.
So we finally get to December, after having to drop more classes to figure out how to get through the semester. Feeling all this self-hatred, this self-loathing. All this ambition with no action, really kind of weighing on me. Also looking at my peers, they’re going about doing amazing things. They’re talking about how I’m stressed for finals, and I’m not going to be having finals because I’m both stressed and unstressed. Caring that I’m not doing well, and not caring to the point where I don’t move at all.
We start one day at 9:00 AM going to S^3 and had some of my dean and people at mental health, they’re all talking and part of my support network and, my dean brings up the idea hey, maybe we should go to the hospital. And I’m thinking, no. I don’t need it. I didn’t need these pills, I don’t need this. I’m not depressed. That’s not me. I don’t need to go to the hospital.
Thinking that I’m going to be stuck there like handcuffed to a bed with an IV in my arm till someone just like put a stamp on a paper that I’m better. So that’s not me. And that was nine AM, still ruminating on the idea, I don’t need this. Go through my day of doing nothing until 4:00 PM, when I go to mental health. And to my surprise, oh, hey, who are you talking about? We should– I think you should go to the hospital.
We’ve been trying a lot of things, it hasn’t really worked out for you. I mean, this is the best way for you to get there. And so while I’m trying to talk to him and figure out more about this, try to be outwardly more accepting, internally I’m just kind of like almost angry. This isn’t what I need. This isn’t me. This isn’t who I am. This is meant for other people. This isn’t something that is going to benefit me.
I don’t want to be strapped there against my will with no freedom and I was– I didn’t want to be strapped there to a bed, no freedom, and nothing to do. Just not where I wanted to be.
And then at some point in the conversation the doctor asks me, if you don’t go now, what will you do? And to this day I really kind of really go back to that point. Think about how that’s helped me. Because as much as I was still sitting there, like I don’t need this. I don’t want to be here. This isn’t the place for me. I don’t need to go to the hospital.
I couldn’t escape the fact that as much as I wanted to just go get dinner, and go back to work and go back to being a normal student like I was the first two years, I knew that it wasn’t going to materialize. This wasn’t something that I’d really shaken off, and it wasn’t something that was going to fix itself.
So after dispelling a little more of the myths about going to the hospital, understanding what I would really mean for me, that I’m not just stuck there till someone stamps it and says you’re either good or have to stay forever, I decide to go. So I go back, pack my things, and we go to McLean, where I stayed there for two weeks.
But it was really helpful just having time to some of the workshops with coping skills really helped. Having time to just sit there and reflect. Like OK, if I do the same thing expecting a different result, then Albert Einstein called me crazy, and I should too.
But just sitting there reflecting, like OK, this is where I am now. But this is where I want to be, so I have to take these steps. And talking to people that– not sure if my friends could really understand and empathize, but having people that they’re also there to really help pull me through, help me. Like hey, you’re in a good spot, you’re doing OK. You can push through. We’re there to help you. Was really eye opening for me.
So we get through. We get out of the hospital, finish up, and thinking OK, same idea. We’re going to the next semester shake it off, water under the bridge. But realizing that it might not shake off so easy. And that it’s OK to take those small steps. It’s OK, just getting out of bed is a victory each day. Eating more than one meal is a victory each day.
And that slowly built up for me this semester. I’m glad that my classes so far haven’t looked the same way they have the last three years. I’m really hopeful that I can continue this path now that I’ve kind of come to accept my diagnosis, my depression. Kind of come to know and understand like who I am, and that this doesn’t define me. This isn’t the end all, be all for me.