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Once my depression hit rock bottom last January, I couldn’t bear to write about it as I opened the Google Doc and ultimately still continue to bear witness to the mess that is my life. I quit. I just fucking quit. I needed to get “treatment” I guess. But what does “mental health” even mean?
What does it mean when I receive all these messages from I don’t know how many administrators affirming their commitment to improving mental health services, while the Cornell Chronicle profiles the incoming class as one made up of extremely talented, brilliant students destined to be the leaders of society. Do I even have to say that it’s not exactly becoming of a future leader of society to undergo rounds of talk therapy and drug trial and error just to get through the day?
But even the obituaries published in The Sun which profile the individual still mark students who committed suicide as “exceptional.” The elephant in the room, of course, is how campus culture might have influenced their decision. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but the fact is us students and the administrators do have a lot in common in the way we associate with Cornell.
See the hypocrisies that normalize pain. I’m a Gemini so it’s hard to nail me down, because I’m two-faced by nature. I see them on a personal level too. I see you with your Facebook statuses about how important mental health is while you scroll over another emotional status by that crazy bitch. I’m referring to myself. Shoutout to everyone who offered support only by saying they would, and/or couldn’t take the fact that someone with severe mental illness actually thinks they have something to offer. Shoutout to my best friend who was the exact opposite and got me through last semester.
What I am gesturing toward is a culture at Cornell that creates a fertile ground for mental illness to fester and literally develop mental health issues through the very “commitment” to mental health. If such commitment isn’t grounded on a genuine concern over student wellbeing and is mostly a superficial front to create the impression of it, then students who buy into it will perhaps leave more broken than before their decision to seek help. One popular example is getting prescribed medication that actually worsens suicidality, and there isn’t enough intervention to properly address it throughout the semester for the overworked student and staff psychiatrist.
The injustice that pervades our very eyes. “Mental health,” as I’ve experienced it, is a superficial term that seeks to disengage the conversation from the fact that this society is designed to traumatize nearly everyone, going so deep as to create personal identities of trauma just to survive it. I’m not saying I don’t have comorbid and severe OCD and depression, but reliving deep shame every time I see someone who humiliated me almost a year ago like it just happened (unfortunately a daily ordeal) is how I’d describe my illnesses. So is ruminating over whether the fact that it broke 10 times meant I was clenching too hard and maybe I should’ve said something, kicking myself until I feel it and enduring the meta-trauma of lying about how traumatic my mental health leave was just to end it. My psychiatrist just prescribed me what she basically described as mild Xanax to keep me swallowing. From my scaling down of university-wide issues to my own issues earlier in this column, I hope it’s clear what the bigger picture is.
The first column I ever wrote for the Sun was a Guest Room called “The Disease.” It talked about my own experience with mental illness, and how it was important for us to create an environment where doing exactly what I did in that column would benefit everyone. It had some pretty language in it but it was ultimately bullshit. One incident I cited in it was when my friend noticed a text from my mom asking me about drugs, and my pre-med ass said some shit like “oh I told her about a lab in chemistry where we had to design drugs and she’s just asking me how it went.”
Now I’m like, wow they expected me to become Sanjay Gupta with my messed up brain. They still don’t realize no neurosurgeon can fix me unless they can erase my memories and their psychological effects. Who truly stuck the knife in first? Me, them or who we’ve truly become after having been forced to suppress our thoughts and subsequent actions? Who can relate? How is Counseling and Psychiatric Services going to help me with this? Or more importantly, does it even have the power to given the context it operates within?
Ultimately, just talking about “The Disease” did nothing but make me feel like I was real for a hot second. I’ll say it again, self-making is bankrupt. If we were to organize on the basis of our collective experience of being commonly oppressed by something or the other, and boldly lean into the tensions that erupt as a result we can form something called a “coalition.” I hate that word because I feel like the work required to even come together like this is just way too much than it needs to be. But it’s the reality. Even if this approach is bound to be as messy as me, if it at least succeeds in preventing a single suicide, then it will have succeeded in saving us all. Stopped mine, so it’s worth a shot.
Originally published in The Cornell Daily Sun.
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