TW: Depression, Suicidal Ideation
My friend Nathan is aggressively bad at reading maps. Notoriously, infamously, comically bad at it. Not even his phone’s mobile navigation app can save him from his perpetual state of spatial lostness. In his words, “location just isn’t something [his] brain keeps track of”. I find this simultaneously hilarious (sorry, Nathan) and utterly incomprehensible. Sense of place is perhaps the most permanent aspect of how (if you’ll excuse the pun) Also how I navigate campus, unlike some people we know Everything that happens to me is intrinsically linked to metadata about the place where it occurred; I remember the directions to my aunt’s house in Bangladesh, my childhood best friend’s favorite hiding spot from over a decade ago, the painted red and white stripes on the trees beside my grandfather’s grave.
When I came to MIT, the repertoire of places I carry in my heart more than doubled. The most secluded desk on the fifth floor of Barker, where I went when I needed to work for eight hours straight; the cork walls of its cubicle are covered with Sharpie messages from students; Plus it has easy access to two electrical outlets The Borderline Tunnel, covered with wonky murals and the home of a trio of beaten-up, well-loved chairs. The bench outside of MIT Medical, positioned directly under the streetlight, where you can sit and watch the moisture in the air fluoresce on a foggy night. The biggest tree on the Courtyard at the end of the infinite . These places fill me with quiet wonder, the sort that floods up your chest with something like fairy dust, an emotion I always feel when I think about MIT.
I’ve skipped the place I spent the most time during my first year at MIT, though. My old room, number 351, in Next House. It was approximately the same as every other Next House room. Peeling walls covered in softly reflective cream paint, commercial tile floors, a door so blue it almost hurts your eyes. Standard wooden desk and bed. Me and my two roommates were crammed into a room meant to be a double, a situation that positively bred comical scenarios. Athena once brought a cubic foot of used tape back from her Terrascope project. Jennifer is so bad at waking up in the morning that Which miraculously managed to wake up everybody in the room except for her I plastered the walls with frog stickers. It was a messy, chaotic jumble of laughter, silliness, and genuine friendship, a place where I lived with two people I love very much.
There’s a reason 351 also fills my mouth with salt though: It was the place where I experienced the most all-encompassing despair I’ve ever felt in my entire life. There’s not really an elegant way to introduce this, so I won’t mince words – my mental health was abysmal during my first semester at MIT. That room was where I grappled with this constantly, day-in day-out, during the most unpleasant months of my life, feeling terribly alone. My sadness slipped into despair, which eventually faded into numbness, night bleeding into day, while lay on my floral bedsheets in 351. I stayed in that bed for days at a time during my first IAP, unable to force myself out of bed to eat, staring at the ceiling for hours instead of sleeping. During my first semester at MIT, I slept 4 hours a night and ate a single meal a day. I lost 10 pounds in 2 months, wasting away, as I did everything I could to attempt to keep my thoughts at bay (primarily, sleep and food deprivation). I was trying so hard to hang on to control, and a facade of ‘togetherness’ that I felt unable to communicate how badly I was struggling. Not that my friends didn’t notice (I like to tell myself I was better at hiding it than I was). A friend of mine once mentioned that I seemed like I “had my sh*t together”. He was impressively incorrect in this assertion, but I began to feel that I was good at concealing my mental state, that I was getting away with my little secret.
I felt incredibly inept. For me, I always felt manic during my worst nights. A single thought, a kernel of self-loathing, that, when I was left alone, would boil over into a spiral of crippling, overbearing feelings of worthlessness. It scared me – it still does, when I think back on it. A fragment of a sentence was all it took. For much of my life, I’ve felt this way to varying degrees, but I always felt insulated by the fact that my ‘togetherness’ was unimpeachable. I was confident, capable, likable, and no one could produce any evidence to the otherwise, even if I never felt like I was any of these things. But things were falling apart, and it didn’t take long for someone to point it out. One night, as I sat in my corner in 351, I was texting that same friend. I mentioned, with forced casualness, that I had slept 4 hours the night before, and would have to avoid sleep until 5 AM to run a late-night wing outing. He asked if I had eaten. I hadn’t. If I had taken my medications. I hadn’t. In a moment of frustration, as I insisted that I was alright, he sent me a single message that has haunted me since. “Your life is always in shambles, Shorna. I eat when I’m hungry, I sleep when I’m tired, I take my medicine because I know I will suffer otherwise. I’m more on top of my PSETs than you are.” I felt a pit of shame drop into my stomach. He had seen right through me. My skin crawled, my throat was ablaze, and there was a single thought on my mind. My life is in shambles. My life is in shambles. My life is in shambles. F*ck. I hate myself. Why am I even here?
All of this was around nine months ago. I’ve gotten much, much better. I’m on antidepressants, and I take them regularly. I sleep eight hours a night (sometimes more), and I eat regularly (three times a day!). I’m happy, and productive, and most importantly, stable. I’ve learned the art of being kind to myself, something I’ve struggled with for all 18 years of my life. I feel anchored. I feel safe with myself, in my head. I don’t feel like there are enemies within my own cranium.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing I grapple with now, though, is the fact that that regulating my mental health is an active process. I have to put in effort to maintain my wellness; I have to force myself to be kind to myself when I’m unable to finish my work fast enough, or I hate the way I look today, or I can’t keep up when my brilliant friends talk about their work. I have to use the things I’ve learned. I have to let myself rest. Being happy is hard and doesn’t come easy. Somedays I reach back into that version of myself, and I still sometimes feel like my life is in shambles. It can be incredibly frustrating when I can’t shake that feeling, but I’ve learned to keep moving. Sometimes I still need to cry for a few hours. I make use of my support system. I guess, at the most basic level, I think I’ve learned to accept that my life can be in shambles. Being a human is difficult, MIT is an acutely challenging place, and having a hard time says nothing about my worth or ability, or whether or not I ‘fit’ here. It is frustratingly hard to believe that with every particle of my being, but it’s true. And I’ve been happy, no matter how much my life was (and is) falling apart. 351 is where my friend Omkar tortured me with incredibly off-tune guitar playing. Where I laid on my grass green carpet with my roommates, listening to Rebecca Sugar’s Time Adventure, as I turned 18. Where I did my 18.100B PSETs (I like real analysis a LOT, ok?) 351 is where, in some strange, twisted, throat-coatingly saccharine way, I truly found paradise.
- Also how I navigate campus, unlike some people we know back to text ↑
- Plus it has easy access to two electrical outlets back to text ↑
- Which miraculously managed to wake up everybody in the room except for her back to text ↑