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Thinking “I’m a complicated human being” has preceded all my worst looks this semester. Maybe I should attempt to be somewhat predictable. I should make it a New Year’s resolution. I’ll let you know how that goes. Jokes, but I couldn’t always laugh. There’s been many times when some matter or another made me feel so utterly flat. Some felt like they were the last one I could handle. Fortunately, that thought hasn’t visited me this semester because of the last time it did.
This is my first semester back after a nearly yearlong mental health leave. Spent in the house that I had flown out of. “The last one” came during, not before my leave. I couldn’t motivate myself to do or feel much of anything because I had been unregistered of a life that instructed me on what to do and feel. Every day was spent in uncertainty of whether I’d even be readmitted “early.” It was my only and last chance since four more months was unthinkable. I started to count down the days, then the hours of each day, to when I would find out if I would begin again. I endured hopelessly disappointed parents, hid exactly how bad I was doing from my therapist and dragged myself back into many closets to get (back) into Cornell and be a “Cornellian” again.
Eventually, I decided not to try and conquer my leave, but to just get through it. So, I did. Since adopting that outlook, my life has changed for the better. When I say my only goal is graduating, I’m not kidding. It’s too easy, however, to say that I just lowered my standards. I started to take less seriously the labels that created those standards that precipitated my leave in the first place, and through that therapy I developed an appreciation for my humanity within a context that suppressed it. Well before I received a decision from Cornell Health, I acknowledged that dropping out wouldn’t be the end of me.
My leave helped, but not in the conventional sense. Forcing myself to lie about most of my truth made me fear that I might lose my ability to live it. Thank you, Cornell Daily Sun, for letting me continue this column. Without it, I don’t know what I would do. Well, that, and a Word document saved on my computer that is password protected — 100 single-spaced pages and counting — of thoughts too deep for 900 words. It’s called “How dare you” and I’m still not kidding. Writing became and remains my means of survival. I’m literally living for it.
When I did finally step foot on campus again, everything came bursting out. I’m extra now, more than ever. Through writing, I can flesh out the range and depth of emotion brought out by waiting for a text. But it’s more than just typing. Blending openness with self-expression is wholly liberating. Each experience I go through, or rather, the feelings elicited by them and their memories, are parts of me. This means that no matter how horrible things may seem, everything is part of a progression. Therein lies the reasoning behind my frequent interjection of “I wouldn’t say I’m a good person” to the alarm of my listener. I try to “just do right,” but don’t know what that means yet. Having a premature sense of righteousness is stunting and privileged to an extent. The fact that “good” is the label that I’m resisting explains why I’m doing alright this semester.
The expectations that labels impose on people make up the bulk of mental health concerns among the Cornell student body. “Cornellian” is one in itself. If you aren’t reveling in stress and despair during finals week, then you aren’t one. When someone feels the need to be outside the space afforded by this label, like talking about how this dynamic is affecting their mental health, they will likely choose not to. Participating in a norm that we all bask in is easier than sharing another sentiment. Even the way that mental health leaves at Cornell are structured reinforce this toxic culture.
This culture of silence is why Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white Americans. This statistic is why I don’t provide the perspective for any one or intersecting identity for The Sun. I offer one, but it’s mine. I get therapy weekly. I have no qualms about going against any of the agendas attached to the labels imposed upon me, or expressing feelings that don’t jive with them for reasons that I explained. I have, just did several times over and will a few more times before this column ends. They’re my identities.
In that same vein, I don’t feel too obligated to meet any expectations or express myself in a certain way. No one can renounce all shits, but I’m fairly selective. I do my best, but sometimes my best is getting out of bed. Even if I don’t finish all my work, I’m OK with disappointing people sometimes. As an Asian American, that’s healthy. For that computer science major who is taking six finals and is under intense pressure to meet parental expectations, match those of friends and buck those of male counterparts, opening up about her off-the-script struggles in dealing with them is a good thing. It could even be lifesaving. Everyone should feel free to say so, but it’s rarely said, let alone expressed. Let’s make a real resolution to listen more closely during these last few weeks, to others and ourselves. Or, better yet, for the rest of our lives. We are and will always be worth it.
Originally published in The Cornell Daily Sun.
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