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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

confronting the self by CJ Q. '23

i am the captain of my soul

content warning: extended discussion of anxiety, depression, suicide.

dan: why are we doing this? this is such an awful idea. why’d you think it’d be a good idea to try to write a blog like this, when you could’ve, i dunno, complained with sections separated by numbers and everything, like you do in your normal posts?

alan: if this is how cj wants to format the post so that he posts, so be it. look, dan, cj has a duty. he’s an admissions blogger. he has an obligation to post regularly. it’s part of the job description. if he doesn’t do it, then he’s not doing his job.

dan: why can’t we just take a break from blogging? it’s not as if that’s illegal or anything. we can miss a week or two.

alan: but we’re already be—

cj: okay, shut up. the two of you, shut up.



cj: this is my blog post. i’m the interviewer. i’m the one in charge, okay?


dan: ah.

dan: you’re trying to pretend you’re in control of things to make you feel better.

cj: snark later! at least introduce yourselves first. it’s only polite.

dan: fine. i’m dan. i’m cj’s depression.

alan: and i’m alan. i’m cj’s anxiety.

cj: glad to have everyone in the same room.

cj: today’s a special day because it’s an anniversary. four years ago, i ran away from home.

alan: remind us, cj. why did you run away from home?

cj: well, the exact details of why aren’t important. the tl;dr version is that back when i lived with my parents, i was depressed. i felt unsafe.

cj: and, well, the way i dealt with my depression at the time was by pouring myself into planning. planning about how exactly i’d run away from home, and how i’d pull it off.

alan: planning? you call lying awake at night wondering about finances planning? to me, that feels more like worrying.

alan: believe me. i know worrying.

cj: well, the point i wanted to make was that the planning was a coping mechanism. i couldn’t deal with my current life, so i thought, hey, what happens next?

cj: i kept looking forward. one day, i’ll run away, and i’ll do so-and-so things. that was the only thing that pushed me on. it was that sense of escape, even if it’s just imagined.

dan: and you needed it. you were depressed as hell.

cj: no thanks to you.

dan: i’d like to think my intervention was justified.

cj: hey, you were the one who said i’d never make it out of this alive. you were the one who kept saying, you know,

dan: you’re never gonna pull it off. yeah, i remember. i said that. you’re gonna turn eighteen, you’re gonna go through college, and the whole time you’ll still be stuck with your parents. heck, that’s if they let you go to college in the first place.

alan: these sound like legitimate worries.

cj: but that’s not. that’s not the point! i was trying to make plans, right? i kept trying to look forward to the future, tried to keep my head up and be realistic. how bad could things possibly get?

cj: i crunched the numbers and i saved enough money. i was ready to run away. it was gonna be good.

cj: you gotta understand. that was literally the only thing that kept pushing me forward at the time. only reason i woke up in the morning.

dan: you know, most people who were sixteen years old didn’t have such a dismal reason to live.

cj: well. a month after i turned seventeen. it happened on this very night, four years ago.

cj: my parents kicked me out of home. they told me that i couldn’t stay, and that i should be gone by the morning. so i left. and i didn’t come back. and i thought that life would get better after that.

cj: well, it didn’t.

dan: you were hoping that once you ran away from home, you’d leave me behind.

cj: yeah. yeah, i did.

dan: that i wouldn’t have to be a part of your life anymore, sitting on your shoulder and whispering to you all the time. that the reason i was in your life was because of your parents, and that i was chained to your home—

cj: my parent’s home.

dan: —your parent’s home, sure. either way, your mistake. the problem is that i’m not tied to your parents. i’m tied to you.

cj: look. it’s not as if i was expecting running away from home to be that magic switch that made me all of a sudden feel better about myself. i did feel good about myself, for a while. i felt better for days, weeks, even. but then…

dan: oh, poor cj!

dan: running away from home, leaving your parents behind. did you ever think about how awful it felt for them?

dan: don’t you remember that time your three younger siblings were there, ushered by your mom, asking you to come home because they missed you? they looked so sad.

cj: they forced themselves into my room. my room. without permission. i had to replace the locks.

dan: and besides, i wasn’t even your main worry. all your worries came from alan.

alan: hey. my worries were perfectly reasonable!

cj: like what?

alan: well, what would all the other people think? the faculty, your classmates, your other friends? what if we ran out of money? what if your parents found out where we lived, and wrote to our landlord to kick us out?


alan: and in my defense, that last thing actually happened.

cj: okay, yes. that last thing actually happened.

cj: my parents found out where i was staying, because they stalked me after school. then they wrote to my landlord and said i was staying illegally and that if they continued to keep me they’d sue for kidnapping.

cj: it was ridiculous, frankly.

alan: but it happened.

alan: and you were back with your parents again.

dan: we spent all that effort for nothing. we spent all that time preparing to run away, we got a job, opened a bank account. we ran away and then we found a good place—

cj: and it was good! things were good! i ran away, and for the first time in what felt like forever, i felt happy, and i felt free.

dan: heck. sure. things were going so well for you, until, oops! your parents called your landlord and forced you home.

dan: back to square one.

dan: i don’t even know why you tried running away again.


dan: like, what’s the point? you should’ve just stopped bothering. failed the first time, more likely to fail the second.


dan: just stay with your parents for the rest of your life. just suffer, because there’s no way you’re ever going to escape them.


cj: …well.

cj: that’s what you said. but i kept on holding hope, because this was a pretty well-defined ending. it was five more months until i turned eighteen.

alan: and, well, your parents were trying to be nicer to you, so it wasn’t that bad?

cj: i mean, they didn’t force me to go to church, but then they assigned me more chores in exchange? which literally doesn’t make sense because no one does these chores when i’m in church? i dunno.

cj: i just kept waiting. kept planning, kept saving up again. kept insisting to my parents that no, i won’t run away again. more lying to their faces, until i turned eighteen, and i ran away.

dan: well congratulations, cj! you finally did it, right? you ran away from home, and you did it successfully. that was all you ever wanted. bet you were all happy then, huh?

cj: shut up, dan.

dan: you took a gap year. told yourself you’d work on personal projects, you’d save up some money, you’d apply to colleges. wouldn’t be too bad, right? no reason to be sad, right? didn’t expect that i’d still be a problem, long after your parents weren’t a concern any more?

cj: shut up!

dan: well, that wasn’t true.

cj: okay, so what? it turns out my experience with my parents was a traumatic one. i mean, is it really that surprising? years of psychological abuse, and it left scars on my psyche.

alan: i still remember all those nightmares. all the ones we wrote down. i remember us waking up, restless, the memory of the dream still fresh in our mind. your parents start stalking you again and then drag you home forcibly. your parents grow to ten times their size and start passing you around. your siblings cry and scream while you’re watching them behind a glass pane, trying to remain cold and unfeeling.

alan: so many nightmares.

cj: nightmares, alone, i could’ve handled. i mean, i dealt with those kinds of nightmares too, the first time i ran away from home.

dan: but the problem is that it wasn’t just nightmares. oh no.

dan: that gap year, you were alone. you moved to a new city, and you lived alone. you didn’t go to school, you worked remotely, you didn’t interact with anyone on a daily basis, and you were alone. you stayed in your room for hours, feeling loneliness creep up your spine.

cj: well, that’s not quite true. i moved to qc because i wanted to be near my friends who went to college there. and i was. and i visited them regularly—

dan: but!

dan: they were always too busy for you.


cj: …that’s.

cj: that’s not quite true.

cj: right?

alan: i dunno, he’s got a point.

cj: i mean.

cj: i made friends that year, good friends. ones i’ve kept even now that that they’re on the other side of the world.

alan: really? do you really believe that you’ve kept them?

alan: when’s the last time you talked to them? like, really talked?


cj: …okay. well, at the time, we were good friends.

dan: please. admit it: you were friends only because of the alcohol. everyone’s friendly when you’re under the influence.

cj: that’s not—

dan: no, look! you turned eighteen. you’re all excited to get out and start drinking alcohol now that you’re of age, right? you go to bars, you talk to people, and at first, you’re just drinking with them, and it’s all fun.

dan: but then you started going alone. friday nights spent walking to pop up and finishing two bottles of beer, while flipping through old messages on your phone. you’re drinking alone, but you promised yourself that it’d be just this once.

alan: well, was it?


dan: and even when you weren’t alone, well. try to remember, cj. think about all the times you spent hanging out with people during your gap year. when was there not alcohol involved?

cj: well—

alan: i can’t think of any.

cj: there were a handful of times—

dan: just a handful. the overwhelming majority? you were drunk. self-medicating away your depression, because you didn’t want to hear me talk to you. because the alcohol made my voice quieter.

dan: because that was an escape. when your friends weren’t around to distract you, you turned to alcohol. being drunk became your escape from me, from listening to me, from facing me head-on.

dan: so you tried drowning me. well guess what?

dan: i can swim.

alan: unlike you!

cj: uncalled for, alan.

dan: heck, sure, i’m quieter when you’re drunk. but you’re only avoiding the issue. you haven’t really escaped me. you’re only pushing it to the next morning, when you wake up with a mild headache, nodding yourself off to work while trying to ignore my voice.

dan: not the healthiest thing in the world.

cj: but i managed. i managed! it’s called a coping mechanism for a reason, and it’s because i coped. it definitely wasn’t healthy, and i’ll one hundred percent acknowledge that part.

cj: but this was, once again, one of those things that had a well-defined ending that came up in pretty much less than a year. it was like, what, nine months or something? nine months and then the gap year’s over.

cj: despite wallowing in my feelings for most of those nine months, and not really doing much that’s cool, or being as productive as i hope i’d be,

cj: and, i guess, i pretty much wasted a year of my life, in that respect,

cj: but still! i managed. i applied to colleges. i got into several schools. and then i chose mit.

dan: alright.

dan: you were through your gap year.

alan: but then came mit. and with mit, came me.

dan: drinking age was twenty-one, so alcohol was out of the window. but no problem. you were in mit now, and you were always surrounded by people.

dan: any time of day, if you wanted to talk to someone, to see someone, you could. you just walk out to the lounge.

dan: you had a roommate. you loved your roommate. you hugged each other every other night. you were good friends.

dan: and yet!

cj: …you were there.

dan: surprised?

dan: even when you were with your friends, i’ve always found strings to pull. they don’t really like you. they’re just there for convenience. they talk about you behind your back.

cj: i know. i know the feeling, okay? after all, i know what it’s like to think that your depression is caused by one thing. and then you remove that one thing, and you think your life’s gonna get better, but the depression’s still there. turns out it wasn’t caused by that one thing.

dan: no, because—

cj: because the depression is within me. okay, dan, i get it! i get it. you don’t have to rub it in.

dan: yes. and even when you weren’t feeling lonely, when you’re exhausted of social interaction, a different thought still kicks in.

dan: one of malaise. one that says:

dan: god, this sucks. i’m sad. i should just give up.

dan: why am i even here? what’s the point of any of this?

alan: and this time, your coping mechanism was pouring yourself into work.

cj: to be clear, i didn’t know, at the time, that this was my coping mechanism.

alan: but doesn’t it make so much sense? just look at your first quarter at mit. look at your blog posts from that time. nothing too negative, because you were busy.

cj: not that busy, though. that was probably the least busy i was that whole year. i don’t think that makes sense.

alan: but then your friend killed himself. and you took the guilt. that iap, you were busier, even if it was iap. to be clear: you had no classes, and yet you were busier.

dan: and may i point out, sadder. did you read that last linked post?

cj: “some days im glad to have a reason to get out of bed, but some days i wish i didnt.” yeah, i know.

cj: also, wow, is that a snapchat screenshot? who uses snapchat these days?

alan: and then you became busier. and then covid happened and everyone got kicked out of campus.

dan: and then you weren’t busy. classes went remote, which made them even easier to skip. assignments got cut down. so did projects. you had less to do, oddly enough. even with the pandemic happening around you, the fact that all your needs were taken care of made it so that you had less to do.

cj: to be fair, it is a privilege that i didn’t have to worry about covid hitting me. i had a place to stay. it was, in retrospect, a good thing.

dan: but was it really? your next normal post was two months later. note that, in between the covid post and this post, none of the blog posts you made dealt with your feelings. and from your journal, it says that this only happened because you felt too sad to even write about your feelings.

cj: okay! okay. there’s a pattern here, i get it—

alan: no, we’re not done yet. that may was depressing. that early june? also depressing. so you overcommitted. you were doing research for a lab and you were a counselor for a summer camp. both theoretically full-time jobs. life was, in your words, non-stop.

alan: because work was an escape. when you’re busy, at least you’re not sad. when you have things on your plate, you don’t have to think about the things on your mind.

dan: the funny thing is, despite this pattern being clearly evident from just your first year of blogging, it took until last month for you to notice it.

cj: to be fair, i don’t think it’s that clearly evident.

dan: but it must’ve been pretty bad if the person who pointed it out to you was your psychiatrist, not you. again, despite you being the person most closely engaged to your writing.

cj: to be fair, it’s also his job to understand my feelings.

alan: and oh, those feelings. let’s skip ahead to this semester. first in-person semester with everyone on campus in a year. in all respects, it was a pretty normal semester. and let’s see, oh, this blog post. let me summarize it.

alan: wow, i’m taking the most classes i’ve ever taken, and yet i still had the nerve to feel like i’m holding up these three clubs. or maybe it’s four, i’ve lost count! also, it’s my personal responsibility if any of these clubs fall apart, and it’ll be my fault if i don’t do something about it.

cj: i don’t sound like that. dan, tell alan i don’t sound like that.

dan: you kinda do though.

cj: at the very least, well, like i said. “a reason to get out of bed”. i had that reason. i had all these things i cared for, things that i wanted to keep afloat.

alan: but the context for that phrase is so, so different. when you said that in your first-year iap, those reasons felt more… positive. you looked forward to going to tech squares each week, because you liked square dancing. you looked forward to mystery hunt, because you liked puzzles. you looked forward to going to web.lab, because that was a class you liked doing things for.

alan: but now? going to tech squares each week feels like a chore. you feel like you have to show up, because you have to set up the room, you have to scan people in, you have to be there to make sure it happens.

alan: that puzzlehunt you’ve been looking forward to for months? you were honestly too hosed to do it, but you felt like you had to anyway, because floorpi needs to keep working on puzzles together.

alan: all the classes you’re taking? the billion classes you’re taking this semester? that’s a billion more than you need to take, and you don’t even like them. you go to class only because you feel like you have to.

dan: wow. and i thought i sucked. clearly alan’s worse.

alan: why, thank you.

cj: okay. i mean, yeah. yeah, you’re right.

cj: i mean, i have struggled with purpose before. it’s not a new feeling to be doing things without knowing why, even if those things didn’t bring me immediate joy.

alan: cj, isn’t the whole point of doing all of this is so that you don’t have to think about your purpose?

cj: excuse me?

alan: think about it. you’re worrying about the future of so many things around you, and you’re calling it caring. you keep thinking, god, what’ll happen to this club when i graduate? what’ll happen to my living group when i graduate?

alan: but what’ll happen to you when you graduate?


alan: you never liked thinking about that. you always hedge your answers. maybe you’ll go into academia. or maybe you’ll go into software, or finance. front-end, maybe full-stack a little. oh, you’ll figure out which company you want eventually.

alan: you ignored the career fair. while people around you applied for internships, you sat around doing nothing. and now that you’re applying for internships, you still hate it. you absolutely hate the process.

alan: sure, maybe you hate it because of how tiring it is, or all the rejections you’re getting. but the bigger reason you hate it? it’s because you don’t want to think about “the real world”. you don’t want to think about life after mit.


alan: that’s the reason you like burying yourself in all of this.


alan: because it’s easier to be anxious about the things around you, rather than being anxious about yourself.




cj: …fuck.

dan: and so we swing back to me.

dan: faced with all of these things to worry about, and all these things that you should be worrying about but aren’t, what’s your response?

alan: it’s fight or flight, and you’re tired fighting.

alan: tired of fighting all these questions. these questions, these enemies, these shadows. shadows you created because you refuse to shine a light on the bigger, larger question behind them.

dan: and so you choose flight. you spend longer and longer each morning lying down in bed, scrolling through your phone. you spend longer and longer playing monster train rather than psetting. you turned twenty-one two months ago—you’re drinking age here now.

dan: flight. isn’t that just escape? we’re back to that theme again. escape. trying to escape. trying to run away.

alan: but it’s not a threat you can run away from. it’s there, it’s looming, and each day only brings it closer.

dan: and so you think, maybe i should just stop trying. maybe i should just give up. everything’s so hard,

dan: maybe i should just kill myself.

alan: and you think, but i can’t do that. sure, the pain of suicide will suck. but even more than that that,

alan: i’m worried about what’ll happen when i’m gone.



cj: …yeah.

cj: neither option sounds very nice.

dan: and that’s the point.

alan: that’s the dilemma!

cj: i mean. sure, the thought of just not having to deal with any of this sounds really nice. but… i don’t really want to kill myself. i have this visceral reaction in my body when i think about it. i have a will to live, even if it’s not pointed toward a particular purpose yet. i think it’s only really dan who likes this option.

dan: i mean, it does sound nice to stop fighting.

cj: but that’s not an option either, isn’t it?

alan: because you have responsibilities!

cj: yeah, i do. alan’s right, and i do have responsibilities to worry about. but alan keeps thinking that i have to tackle all of these head-on, that i have to steamroll through all of my problems full speed ahead, and that every second i don’t spend doing something productive is a waste that i could be spending thinking about the future.

alan: because it really is. you’re already a junior, cj! you’re going to grad—

cj: shut up. i’m talking.

dan: ooh. now you’re getting aggressive.

cj: no, i’m just sick of hearing you two talking all the time. this isn’t your blog post. it’s mine.

cj: it’d only be fair if we get our equal share of talking, right? and that brings me to my next point.

alan: which is?

cj: that word you used alan. what word was that?

alan: …responsibilities? …junior?

cj: no, the other word!

dan: you’re not being very helpful.

cj: ugh. it’s dilemma. i think it’s dilemma.

alan: what about dilemma?

cj: it’s interesting. that word. it makes you think there’s only two options. prefix di-, meaning two, right?

cj: but this is a false dilemma. there’s another option.

dan: and that is?

cj: doing nothing.

alan: sorry, what?

cj: you heard me. i’m doing nothing about it.

cj: there’s fight. there’s flight. there’s also freeze. i don’t have to deal with it right now.

cj: like, sure. life sucks, and i’m tired, and maybe there isn’t really a point to anything that i’m doing.

dan: agreed.

cj: but so what? i can still manage it. i can still do it. i don’t have to worry about the future, because it’s still in the future.

dan: hey, i—

dan: uh.


cj: and i don’t have to go at it with all my cylinders blasting one hundred percent of the time. i need to cut myself some slack. i need to stop worrying about doing things twenty-four-seven.

alan: but what about—

cj: and yes, even if that means not keeping everything afloat. if i try to hold everything up, i’ll get crushed by the weight, and i can’t enjoy the things i’m holding up any more.

alan: h—

alan: hm.

cj: and sure, maybe that’s not the healthiest response. and sure, i can’t keep doing this forever.

cj: fuck if i care.

cj: it’s better than alcohol. it’s better than suicide.

cj: and by the way, i’m the one in charge of my life. i fought to be in charge of my life. that’s what i proved, four years ago, when i ran away from home.

cj: i’m not gonna let anyone else call the shots for me, whether it’s my parents, or dan, or alan.

cj: i’ll figure things out.




cj: …eventually.