Something We Don’t Usually Do

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These passages are excerpted from an editorial published in The Harvard Crimson last week. The anonymous essay, “I Am Fine,” resonated with us, and we thought you might find it interesting too.

“Hey, how’s it going?”


I filled my schedule with clubs, activities, and classes to avoid the isolation I felt when I was idle. When you’re running from one meeting to the next, it becomes easy to forget how alone you really are…. Even at school I was surrounded by thousands of other students—all of them able to manage the same difficulties that had rendered me hopeless. They wrote papers, chaired activities, networked, partied, all with an air of ease. Effortless perfection. I was the exception. I was the one who was incapable of handling all the wonderful opportunities that Harvard presented me with.

At least that’s what I thought.

One day, I decided to talk to someone… Instead of joking about lack of sleep and 20-page papers, I opened up. For the first time, I discussed what was really going wrong in my life. I told her about what had happened, the constant physical pressure that I felt on every inch of my body, the apathy with which I now looked at every aspect of my life. I told her I wanted to die…In turn, she opened up to me.

[College] is not always a place where conversations about mental health are necessarily encouraged. On a campus where the need for assistance is too often perceived as a flaw, the student body has a tendency to rely on variations of “I’m fine.” And, at a college where so many students already have far too much on their plate, it’s understandable that most don’t press the question further.

I’ve learned the importance of doing just that. I have also learned to cut back—on friendships, on extracurriculars, on classes. By concentrating my energy on the people and activities that I care most about, I have gradually begun to get past all Harvard has taken and realized just how much it can give. The most important opportunity I’ve found here is the opportunity for happiness, though the place that lies between night and Brochure Harvard holds a happiness that can be hard to find.

It’s certainly not emphasized enough how difficult it is to be a college student, especially when everyone’s telling you how great it is that you’re here. We’re given endless opportunities and urged to do anything. Somehow, many interpret this as a mandate to do and be everything. Please know, you deserve to feel like your best self, and there are people here to help:

Counseling and Psychological Services (Columbia): 212-854-2878
Rosemary Furman Counseling Center (Barnard): 212-854-2092
Nightline Peer Counseling: 212-854-7777
Office of the University Chaplain: 212-854-1493

And don’t underestimate the compassion, even empathy, of your friends.



  1. Dear Bwog,

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Sophomore Slump  

    or just a depression that I'm currently going through, due to the fact that I get pretty homesick each semester.

    I saw this on my Twitter feed on my iPod touch and decided that I needed to comment. This really resonated with me, especially the "he need for assistance is too often perceived as a flaw" part. I think that's why these past two miserable weeks, I didn't want to go to CPS and get help. It just seems like everyone has it together, and I know they probably don't, but it's hard to even feign that appearance.

    Thanks Bwog. Maybe I'm not alone. =]

    • CC'11  

      I just started going to CPS this semester (they have ten free sessions for us students who pay student health fees!), and indeed, it's nice to be able to just focus on myself for once and not on everything I feel like I should be doing. You're definitely not alone. =)

      One of the best things I learned while being here at Columbia is that I need to take time for myself. I didn't realize that as I was growing up, trying to get the good grades, rise up from my low-income background and make it into college. I am more than the sum of my parts. I am a person. And there's so much infinitely human in us that I--and all of us--need to nurture.

    • slump  

      The sophomore slump definitely exists. Things will get better, I promise.

  3. Anonymous  

    Thank you bwog!

  4. Thank you

    I find it staggeringly hard to believe how much I relate to this article. I'm in the exact same situation right now, and reading this made me feel like a person again.

  5. CC'11  

    I struggled with depression and eating issues for the first three years of college. About a year ago, I began recovery.

    I'm a senior right now, with about three months left at Columbia, and I can't express how emotional I get when I think about the difference between how my life is now and how dark my life was just a year and a half ago. Despite all the deadlines and mistakes and worries and uncertainty, there is a brightness now.

    It sounds trite, and distant, and implausible, but there is hope, and it does get better.

  6. 2013  

    it disturbs me other people understand these words as much as i do. the first year here was tough and i constantly thought of transferring, until i finally made some friends. then i realized how lonely i was even with those friends because we had probably banded together out of necessity and simple geographic proximity. while this article doesn't help the situation at all, it's good to know i'm not the only one.

  7. as long as we're all banding together  

    me, too, and i do work focused on supporting people in this kind of situation. i wonder often whether or not i should be.

    • Anonymous  

      Just because you have your own issues, doesn't mean you can't help others with theirs. On the contrary, I think you're in the perfect position to provide support, because you actually understand. You can earnestly empathize instead of just spouting some sort of script.

  8. ironically  

    We're "banding together" on an anonymous comment thread...

    • CC'11  

      Sometimes it needs to happen that way. You know people are afraid of letting out what they actually feel; as the article says, sometimes we just don't want to face our own realities. While I usually hate anonymous comments from people on websites, as many of them are unproductive or just nasty, these kinds of anonymous comments can actually be really productive for people's own sanity and for others. I know they already have been helpful for me. Thanks, randos. =)

  9. Anonymous

    thank you bwog for this. Two years ago, Spec ran a series called 'Mind Matters' about depression on college that is still my favorite. We need more of this kind of stuff

  10. Bwog  

    this made me feel so much better. This is exactly how i've been feeling since the beginning of the semester. you rock

  11. Dear Bwog,  

    You've been mentioning mental health services a lot lately...

    Is there something you want to talk about?

  12. Too true  

    Sometimes I feel that I'm overloading myself with classes and activities just so that I don't have the time to reflect on myself and how I feel...


    Bacchanal Spring Concert is the NY Phil!

  14. Anonymous  

    The spectator should have another series on mental health, or perhaps even a column. As someone who has been suicidal in the past and suffered very severe depression, its very frustrating to have friends and acquaintances who do not understand or mischaracterize what I went through. While misunderstanding of mental illness is nothing new, it truly is something which is neglected both on campus and within society.

  15. Woe is me,

    and my privileged societal position. Columbia, you seriously makes me work 80-100 per week between classes, readings and homework. The administration seriously needs to cap the reading load to 150 pages or less per week, per class and scale our workload back to a manageable 60 hours per week., anything more is just unhealthy. Everyone I know seriously thinks I look like I have been hit by a train, I sometimes go 3 days without sleep just to keep up, it sucks. Sorry for the vent, but I'm having a quarter-life crisis right now on top of mid terms stress driving me crazy.

    • Wow.

      Three days without sleep? One night without sleep is enough to render my brain almost completely inoperative. Academic performance is important, but there's a limit as to the sacrifice that it's worth in terms of personal health-- and eventually also a limit to the benefit of the sacrifice. If you're above the required courseload, I'd definitely suggest taking less classes in the future so that at you'll at most lose one night of sleep once in a while.

    • obnoxious marxist

      "woe is me and my privileged societal position. Columbia, you seriously makes me work 80-100 per week between classes, readings and homework" is exactly right.

      under capitalism, members of the upper (middle) class are under lots of pressure to do whatever it takes to secure our positions in that class. what's more, there's no reason to think there will necessarily be any overlap between the work it takes to get that high GPA/ internship/whatever which will land you the right job when you graduate, on the one hand, and the type of life you have to lead to be happy/at least not so overwhelmed that you struggle with depression, on the other.

      i'm not really a marxist, but the number of people (including me) for whom this post (from a different ivy league school) seems to have resonated makes me wonder.

  16. so sad  

    yeah. someone ran into my room and stole my computer. it really sucked. i've been depressed for a year. this post on bwog, however, provides a glimmer of hope

  17. CC '14  

    Any advice for a freshman struggling with these same issues?

    • Reach out.  

      If something hits you at night and you want someone to talk to, provided it's not an emergency (if it is an emergency, call 212 854 9797 - or 49797 from a Rolm phone - to talk to the clinician on call at CPS), call Nightline and they'll listen. They're well-trained students around from 10pm to 3am and can be reached at 212 854 7777 (that's 47777 from a Rolm phone). They don't have caller ID or anything and are actually quite helpful (I've called them before).

      I would also recommend contacting CPS to find someone to talk to on a more long-term basis. You can call to make an appointment at 212 854 2878 (that's 42878 from a Rolm phone - sensing a pattern? just in case you don't want to use your cell) and find someone at CPS to discuss and possibly plan with. I've found (again, personally) that having someone to talk with longer-term can be profoundly helpful in getting through depression and things like it.

      Best of luck, dear internet-friend.

    • BC '11  

      you have to find and focus on what really excites you. it's there somewhere and the rest is just unimportant filler

    • CC '13  

      Tell someone about it! Not even necessarily CPS or Nightline, although I'm sure they're terrific, but just someone on your floor or in one of your classes. I felt kind of lost for a lot of my freshman year, and I thought that everyone else was having the best time ever, so I didn't want to bring them down by whining about how my year was sucking. But I can't tell you how many of those same people I've talked to this year who've said that they were feeling exactly the same way. During freshman year, there's a lot of implicit pressure to be happy in this new place with all these unfamiliar people; and most freshman who aren't having a blast just slap on a smile and fake it. It's a vicious cycle, and of course the irony is that most lonely freshfolks would actually be happier if they at least had someone to commiserate with. So maybe take a chance—I wish I had. You are not alone!

    • senior  

      I've had friends come and go here, but you should always have a few people (even if they're from back home) that you can talk about the real poignant things in life. when something I study in class actually kind of resonates with me, rather than keep it inside or make fun of myself for being a nerd, I try to share it with someone - and it usually leads to some awesome late-night tell-all talk. and those are the kinds of things you have to get out of college, or else you're doing it wrong!

    • an RA  

      or talk to your RA! Keep us in the loop. We want to help!

      • Anonymous  

        Please do talk to your RA. We really want to be there for you and help as much as we can. We don't have the same kind of training as the people at CPS, but we do have some training and we can at least point you in the right direction.

    • CC11  

      i was dealing with all this the past few years and it finally came to a head this summer- i talked to a therapist at home, not here, but i was amazed at how unbelievably helpful it was. i feel completely different, and all the things i used to get caught up in in my head don't obsess me so much anymore. this has been hands down the best year i've had at columbia. it took me a while to realize/admit to myself that i really needed outside help. so don't pass up this opportunity: you've realized you're in a bad place- TALK TO CU.

  18. HEDONISM  

    If anything, my years at Columbia have that me that ultimately, the only thing that matters is self-gratification.

  19. Anonymous  

    I think the worst part of feeling like this is the guilt: we're afraid of being self-indulgent if we admit that we're not OK. Or maybe that's just me. In any case, one reason it helps to know other people are going through the same thing is that I feel less like I'm trapped in the worst version of myself.

  20. I wish  

    that I could give all of you a hug. Things get better with time, I promise, even though it may not feel like it now. One day you'll turn around and you'll realize how far you've come. Get out of your room and Butler (even if it means studying alone somewhere else), smile at people you vaguely know, and say hi to the security guards. And know that there are a lot of people out there who care, even if you don't know them now.

    • Actually no,

      you must not remember the pleasures of recent alumhood. It's even worse. Even the quasi-functional-on-good-days support system you were used to disappears. You feel even more lonely, sad, and bereft than before. Oh wait, but you're supposed to be doing awesome, amazing things with your life now, right?

    • yes!  

      say hi to people you vaguely know! especially those people who have lived on your floor all year that you don't know

  21. Cheers, Bwog  

    This is a really great post.

  22. this  

    is the best comment thread of all time. Columbia - I love you.

  23. Anonymous  

    Thank you bwog for sharing this. such an important message of reaching out to others.

  24. Great post.  

    I feel like it's also worthwhile reiterating that there are things more important than grades. Occasionally those things include sleep and personal well-being. Reward yourself for hard work; skip a class and sleep in. Figure out how much reading you actually have to do and skip the rest. Ask for help from friends and classmates (one of the first things law students figure out is that the only way to really get the reading done is to split it up - a technique that undergrads would do well to borrow occasionally). Talk to your professor and ask for an extension (many will listen). For smaller assignments, turn one or two in late if you have to (it's okay, really). Prioritize the classes for your major, and find something you love outside of class and do that thing well. Spend time with friends. Whenever possible enjoy your full weekend and put all your work off until Sunday (though don't feel bad about staying in on a thursday,friday,or saturday, either - it's necessary at this place).

  25. CC 13  

    i feel like i'm one of the only people here with depression, and that there's a large disconnect between me and other people, even though most people wouldn't think that of me

  26. CC'11  

    Thanks for re-posting this, Bwog. I don't know how many times I've answered a well-meaning relative's "So, how's Columbia? Are you loving it?" with "Oh, yeah... it's great...!" when what I really want to say is "I'm pretty much a depressed shut-in with no interest in work, play, or anything else, and I've never felt more alone or worthless in my life. I'm happiest when I'm asleep." Because I feel like I've failed the people close to me for being depressed in a place where so many people my age would love to be. I guess it's kind of nice to be reminded that (a.) it's all right to feel that way and (b.) others feel like that, too.

    • also CC '11  

      I know exactly what you mean about that feeling when it seems so much better to be asleep. I've realized that for me, these bouts of depression always happen when I let the really big, vague stressors distract me from the day to day stuff I have to do. sometimes making to do lists gets me out of that kind of a funk, even if I don't end up doing the stuff!

    • 2013  

      i totally see what you are saying. even when people here ask me how i like columbia, i feel the need to say "it's been good!" otherwise they'll see me for the deeply pessimistic and sour person i've become after being here for a while.

      sometimes i think about all the people who ended up going to state schools, partying constantly, putting in minimal effort in classes and doing well and i have to wonder - am i better off for being here? this post tells me that others are thinking the same thing.

  27. '11  

    I feel like college is painted as this awesome place where you're going to have a lot of fun. And granted I have had a lot of fun. But I also had had a lot of depression. No school year goes by without depression taking a hold of me for at least one semester.

    College is painted as this place where you're going to make life long friends and go on epic adventures. I can honestly say that I will leave college with three solid good best friends that I have made while my time here. Everyone else are friends I can hang out with but not really people I can talk to or lean on.

    But no one ever talks about the bad side to college. The depression, the responsibility, the guilt from not doing as awesome as you believe you should, how hard it is to make friends, balancing socializing, school and sleep, etc.

    I just felt and sometimes still feel very alone. We all have one thing in common: we wanted to go to this school, choose to come and are hoping to graduate. Humans are social creatures but for some reason here, we retreat into ourselves and forget that we should be helping one another. It shouldn't be even man for themselves; we should all be helping one another achieve our goal. Then I think we'd have a better community and the RAs wouldn't have to force us to talk to one another by having events or making a game that has prize money.

  28. '14  

    My friend at another school has two friends who are leaving for the semester for depression. Reading this and thinking about my own experiences make me wonder how big of a phenomenon this is.

    • CC'11  

      Sooo many friends of mine, myself included, have used study abroad as a time to reflect and to rejuvenate because we just burnt out. In terms of my friends over the past four years who have left the school for some time, I know probably ten or so who have dropped out or left for a semester/year to take care of their depression, their exhaustion, their families back home, or the financial burdens that they have from coming to this school. I'm sad to say that a lot of my closest friends have left Columbia, but they're much better off for it: when they come visit me and others again they're in a much better state than they were here. Sometimes you need to take time off. I was surprised and sad when these friends left, but I was also so SO proud that they were able to reflect and understand that they needed that time for themselves.

    • CC '11  

      seconded! study abroad was by far the best thing i did at columbia...it gave me an opportunity to actually focus on having fun, going on adventures, and discovering what makes me truly happy. homework was there, but by no means was a factor that precluded any fun times. and conveniently, study abroad programs are generally made up of a few dozen outgoing students looking to make fast friends--the opposite of how i see students behaving at columbia. leaving this school for 6 months gave me an amazing perspective on how to deal with this environment and what actually matters in life, and my senior year has been great because of it

  29. Mark Hay  

    is the bomb. Thank you.

  30. Interest in mental health advocacy group?

    This is a great piece! Both the original Crimson piece, and I appreciate that Bwog posted it as well.

    It's heartening to see so many supportive comments - ah, anonymous internet - you're not all snark! :-)

    I'm in the process of trying to find students interest in starting a mental health advocacy group on campus. One organization I've been in contact with is Active Minds.

    If you're interested/want to throw ideas around (I am so open to bouncing ideas around - I think an important part of the discussion has to be an examination of how we define mental health, what constructive advocacy does and does not look like, etc. - a diversity of view points are welcome) please e-mail me at kec2156@columbia.edu

    I will of course respect requests of keeping anonymity. I'm interested in hearing from people with thoughts but no time to get actively involved as well as people who might potentially want to get heavily involved and everything in-between.

    My own schedule is already very full, so from a purely practical perspective, I am also looking for a few people to help take the lead.

    No one is alone,

  31. Anonymous

    I considered going to CPS this semester but I went to the gym instead and believe me it helps so much. I just feel so much happier now

  32. bc'11  

    Personally, I hide things well. No one knew I was depressed unless I let them know. I would plaster on a smile and go out to the bar or party. And it’s not like I didn’t enjoy them. I do. I love going out because it takes my mind off how many responsibilities I have to school, myself, my family, friends and my boyfriend. But people would never ask me how I was really doing. And some days I just wish a friend would come visit me or call/text me or just come hug me. Hugs work wonders for me but I don’t get any many as I used to in high school.

    So I say smile to that random person, say hey in the elevator, text your friend and cheer them on doing homework, etc. It will make their day a bit brighter. It definitely works for me. :)

    • Anonymous  

      That sounds like a great coping mechanism for everyday blues but you're trivializing the experiences of those with clinical depression. For them "just pretending" isn't enough. Until you've spent months under a black cloud, dreading getting out of bed every day, and questioning your desire to live, please don't comment.

      • bc'11  

        I have been there. I have slept my days away, skipping all my classes and barely eaten. I have cried for days on end because of my depression. I have had shitty grades a few semesters, barely passing or being put on academic warning. I have had the dark cloud.

        Some people plaster the smile on to silently deal with the problem because in their culture, a mental illness is a bad thing to have. I could never tell my mom that I cut school or cried silent in bed for days; she wouldn't ever understand what is going on with me.

        I know I have depression and I've gone to therapists to talk about it. It is not like I just self-diagnosed myself. I know what I have.

  33. I didn't  

    believe in the sophmore slump until this semester. I thought that my upperclassmen friends were blowing smoke. I was very wrong.

  34. This thread...

    ... actually showcases the problem the article talks about.

    "Omg! You guys are sad too? High five!"

    A lot of people like to romanticize their feelings or little problems or sophomore slumps into depression. I don't doubt for a second that a lot of the posters here have intense bouts of stress but there is something very different about feeling overwhelmed during midterms or "omg picking a major" and a deep or pervasive state of depression.

    So people that do need the help don't always speak out because they feel like their issues are just as trivial. You needing a hug at p. 75 of 200 of your reading isn't necessarily depression.

    The point is; if this isn't about you, if it doesn't reflect YOU: Don't try to make it! Because chances are you're more likely in a position to help someone than you are in need of said help.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you. I was going to write something similar, but I'm not one to put things so eloquently so I'm glad someone else spoke up about this first.

      So many of my acquaintances at Columbia have been very histrionic and, well, flippant about mental illness. A friend of mine recently checked herself into the hospital because she hadn't slept for a few days. I used to hang around a group of people who seemed to compete with each other to prove who was on a greater cocktail of meds. As you say, this romanticization of mental illness makes those with much more serious problems feel as if what they're going through is much less serious than it actually is, that everyone is going through it. I also take issue with this because those who really need help, because the counseling centers encourage everyone to come in for so much as a crisis about what major to choose, do not receive it--after the ten session limit the student is cut loose and forced to pay for a therapist/psychiatrist, an expensive many who really do need that service cannot afford.

      I don't doubt that everyone at Columbia is extremely stressed out and taking too much on to handle in a healthy way. The thing is, that is the sort of problem you can fix on your own, but looking at the situation and realizing you really don't need to take six classes. I also encourage finding a close friend or parent to talk to, because in any situation that is a great help. But to paint these crises as mental illness is, honestly, a little insulting to those who are dealing with something much more complex and innate, something that often needs medication, and something that can be seriously detrimental to their health.

      • '11  

        I think some of the people commenting on here actually do have issues and I feel like this post is down playing them. Sure a lot of us are stressed and that doesn't mean depression. But I know people like myself who get stress-induced depression. I've gone to several doctors to talk about and get help for it. I have had the friends who took a semester or a year to recover. I have see what depression does to my friends and myself. It is not a joke or something to be down played.

        I think if anything what the comments here do is that they address there are a lot of people with the same issues as everyone else. It may not be depression but I really don't think school should be making you feel down. That is not what i signed up for.

      • Or, perhaps  

        Dismissing what someone feels to be a mental illness as "histrionic" will contribute further to the attitude that unless one is truly at a crisis point, then one doesn't have a problem that bears treating, and should just buck up. I don't know your friends, so maybe they are just "flippant." But, I find it difficult to believe that someone would check herself into a hospital for mental illness for a trivial reason. As someone on psychiatric medication, I discuss what I'm taking with my friends so as to compare experiences, to see what they've found that works for them, and to see if they've had similar issues with pills. It might sound like a "competition," but, for me and my friends, it's a way of sharing where we're at.

        As for the session caps, while I feel the pain of those in crisis and at the end of their sessions (I've been there), at least at Barnard, the counselors usually do their best to help you transition to someone on the outside within your price range/covered by your insurance before you reach the end of your sessions. The cost of external mental health services is a problem that goes way deeper than the administration of college counseling services (although, as I understand it, there are relatively affordable sessions offered at Columbia's med school). College counseling services aren't designed to be a long-term provider, just as college health services aren't designed to care for chronic conditions. Furthermore, they serve the entire community, not just a specific subset which is designated "in crisis" by some ambiguous definition. The maintenance of mental and emotional health is crucial at all levels, whether someone is suffering from a paralyzing mental illness, or whether someone is situationally stressed/depressed--while the former might be more urgent, the latter is equally important from a mental health perspective. The spectrum of mental illness is vast, encompassing conditions which vary in their severity, change with time, and interact with each other in complex ways. While suicidal ideation requires immediate treatment, those suffering from less catastrophic forms of depression still deserve access to resources which can help them mitigate the disruptive effects. To argue that treatment should be reserved for those with very, very serious conditions is to ignore the fact that mental illness, like most diseases, is often progressive. Early therapy/psychiatry can help prevent a condition from developing into a full-blown crisis. Aside from snowballing effects of anxiety and depression, there's even some evidence that depression is a physiologically progressive disease (see: Frontline's This Emotional Life), causing shrinkage of the hippocampus.

        I don't think it's insulting or trivializing of anyone's particular condition to say that mental illness tent holds a large and varied constituency; I think it recognizes that there are variations between and within specific illnesses, and how individuals experience them. I think it recognizes that, like physical health, mental health is something that bears consistent care. Friends and family are great resources, of which people should absolutely avail themselves. But, if someone feels the need to turn to a professional, then clearly s/he desires additional help of someone more skilled and disciplined. They're both important resources, but a therapist/psychiatrist is not a substitute friend--they meet a different set of needs.

    • Anonymous  

      I can't agree with this enough. For someone with a family history of suicidal depression, the characterization of stress about one's workload as mental illness is misrepresenting the issue. If factors in your life are causing you to feel overwhelmed, make an effort to change them. Depression isn't about what's going on in someone's life, it's internal to the person.

      • Anonymous  

        I can understand where you are coming from a college student's point of view, much of depression IS work/stress-induced. Please don't downplay our sentiments, we have all been there and some of us have diagnoses from CPS to confirm it.

    • True enough  

      But I still maintain that everyone can benefit from counseling, and it's not going to be this accessible and free again in most of our lives. I'm not saying everyone should get on anti-depressants. But college is stressful, and you shouldn't need a certain severity of diagnosis to be allowed open up about that stress. I would like to think that for most of us these down times are not the dominant experience of Columbia, but when they come up it's better to deal with them rather than push them away. Ultimately you'll just get more upset with yourself for not being fully functional.

      Everyone's got to deal with their own shit, and it's not a competition. If you're unhappy you owe it to yourself to figure out why and what to do about it. I think most of all this article is a plea to have compassion for others and ourselves as fellow human beings who are probably not always fine. That describes everyone here I think.

    • Anonymous  

      I don't think any of us is under the illusion that we all suffer the same things for the same reasons and to the same degree. To me the point is that despite what we often think, other people are more likely to empathize with our problems than to judge them.

  35. : (

    i'm bummed that there are so many 2011ers commenting on this! To my seniors - hang in there, I'm with you, and I love you!

    --fellow 2011er

    A little anecdote - I've been feeling this way too, being only a few weeks away from graduation is probably the most overwhelming thing ever - and it's not because I don't want to leave (because I do). I had been keeping it inside of me, and the ill feelings essentially manifested physically (i.e. I've been sick multiple times this semester), until I talked to my parents. I was honest with them - I told them I've been struggling and finding it particularly difficult to strike a balance between focusing on the semester and trying to figure out post-grad plans. It helped. It truly, truly did - particularly because I talked to the (only) two people in the world that I have to thank for my entire life. It's not like magic - the burden hasn't been lifted, but it's lightened. So if there's someone who you feel like you NEED to talk to, for example - the people who are putting you through school, do it. Chances are they'll be understanding when it's your personal health at stake.

    xoxo to ALL

  36. anon  

    this is the most touching bwog post I've seen in a long while.

  37. Anonymous  

    I'm a freshman struggling with anxiety and depression. It's really heartwarming to know that I'm not alone. I would like to mention one doodad that's really helped, especially when the weather is yucky and the sun seems to be on permanent vacation - a mood light. Heck, any type of light works well on fighting those winter blues.

    I also recommend looking at pictures of kittens. :)

  38. CC'12

    Thanks so much for posting this. One of the biggest things that kept me from seeking help after my dad died and I began having panic attacks and feeling suicidal was the guilt - the rest of my family had gone back to their jobs and were functioning - hell, my brother was deploying to Iraq - if he could go off to war, why couldn't I do my homework? My mom constantly told me that I just needed to get it together, my friends were taking 6 classes and completing prestigious internships.

    I felt like if everyone else could keep going, why couldn't I? It seemed like it was my fault for sleeping and crying all day and missing class. Was I weak or indulgent? Two years later, I know that was the depression talking. It wasn't my fault that I had a serotonin and dopamine imbalance. And it's so helpful to know that other people feel the same way. It takes away the guilt - it makes me realize that these are legitimate, real problems and I'm not just down or feeling sad. Mental health problems are so common in college, and in the population in general - you're not a freak, and you're not making it up.

    Now that I've taken time off from school and gotten treatment, I'm still not totally better - but if anyone else is feeling the same way, things can change. It won't always be this terrible. Talk to CPS - even if you don't like who you're talking to, they can refer you to an outside psychologist or psychiatrist. Tell your friends and your family how you're honestly feeling - they can help. And if they act dismissive, they're wrong - it's never your fault. Anyone who doesn't treat you with empathy and understanding isn't worth your time.

    • Anonymous  

      I'm one of those students taking six classes and doing a "prestigious" internship...and I do feel in a similar way that you did. For everyone who thinks they don't "have it together" compared to the "superhuman" students, don't worry. Some of us feel just as fucked up inside too. It's been really nice to read that we're not alone.

  39. Anonymous  

    so basically i have no friends. how do i fix that?

    • Anonymous  

      Get involved in activities that actually interest you. Chances are you and the other people involved will probably share some things in common!

    • I can't imagine where you're sitting...  

      You can invest your life into something and sometimes it's just not enough. I joined a group and got really involved with it. I met tons of people and they were all really sweet but it lacked the depth that I wanted and needed out of a friendship. I would encourage you to invest in a few friendships (not a million) with people that you really enjoy or get along with. As time goes on, don't be afraid to be vulnerable and honest. When they ask you how you are, step forward and tell them how you're actually feeling and it'll open up the space for them to be honest with you as well. As I always say... a little honesty goes a long way. As a comment below said, generally friendships are based on mutual empathy. I would agree with that. Be ready for bumpy rides; your friend won't be perfect and neither will you, so be forgiving when needed.

  40. ...  

    you know, outside of fucked up places like this, friendships are generally based on mutual empathy.

  41. '13er  

    Thanks for posting this. It's insane how much I can relate, not to being depressed thankfully, but feeling inadequate and stupid.

    Also, it's incredible how insanely cold I've become here. Someone I knew all my life and loved like a sibling passed away a few days ago and I spent the night working on a paper and studying for a quiz I had the next day in Butler--taking breaks to cry and sometimes crying while working, but being productive nonetheless. I feel like a part of my soul has died here--many of my friends still have no idea what's going on, and I have no intention of telling them unless it comes up. It kind of feels good in a way, not to have this impair my functioning, but I have to wonder how good of a thing this is.

    • CC '11  

      having been in a similar situation, it's so important to take time to process what happened. you might still be in shock, denial, who knows...i've been there too. our ability to compartmentalize is amazing. but talk to people that loved this person as well, tell funny stories, reminisce, share what you're feeling, cry together. it's easy to get really down when you're alone, but talking to other people can help remind you how great that person was (is) and how much fun you had together, and having a few laughs and knowing that everyone else is going through the same thing makes a world of difference. that's not to say it won't be difficult, that you won't cry, and that you won't think about this person every day for the rest of your life. but it helps.

  42. Anonymous  

    this is the first bwog post i read that has virtually no negative comments.
    so great to feel the solidarity.

    • BC '12  

      I've been reading through all the comments and I had to comment on this one. I completely agree with changing the culture- I'll never forget sitting there hearing about the international movie star and girl who stopped the spread of malaria in a small African village or whatever. It's sad that we're meant to think we have to accomplish these things before even walking in the door. Isn't getting here an accomplishment? What happened to that? and what happened to celebrating the things we have done in our own lives, instead of peddling others' victories?

  43. Change the Culture  

    I don't think there's a Columbia student that is actually capable of doing the productivitynosleepSTRESSSS ideal that people joke about. But why on earth does everyone have that same idea in their head?

    It comes somewhat from the administration. Think back to NSOP week. People always joke about getting drunk or meeting people they never talked to after first semester, but I think the most formative experience by far is that big rally for the incoming class. They pack everyone into a gym and then tell you how great you are, how much you're accomplished already. One of you is an Eritrean goatfarmer who read physics by candlelight, and another one of you took a summer during high school to train honeybees to respond to market incentives, and another about the dodecolingual contortionist.

    There's about twenty of these. There's nothing about the guy who made it into Columbia as a stretch, or the girl who gets along well with her parents. And everyone who's not one of those twenty feels like a failure, like they're the one person who's not absurdly accomplished. And you know what? Classes haven't even started yet.

    I'm not saying the dodecolingual contortionist shouldn't keep on doing what shes's doing -- she can fit in a box and write out the packing orders to send herself to every country in Asia! And I'm not saying that she shouldn't be recognized for it. I just think the administration should make a much more concerted effort to recognize that there's something worthwhile in having a balanced life and that most real accomplishments happen after college.

  44. anon

    I used counseling for the first time ever this year. I don't think I would be the person that I am today without it. I come from a family that frowns upon psychological health which ultimately is quite terrible. Our brains are our most important organs; why not take the time to make sure our thoughts lead us to a better life?

  45. '12


  46. '12

    Also, you know what else is bad? Getting in contact with friends elsewhere that have hobbies and pursuits in their free time. Sometimes these pursuits define them! I was at a party over winterbreak and a guy told me about how he drives to the coast and windsurfs every few weeks. Then he asked me what I do, and I had nothing, nothing! Not a single thing outside of school, I had forgotten people do these things. When he told me that sometimes him and his friends go out for a beer on a Wednesday, I lost my shit. It's like growing up in the USSR and hearing Radio Free Europe for the first time.

  47. '13  

    I cannot agree with all of you more. Like 99% of this school, I'm an overachiever and a perfectionist, and I have had many years of anxiety and stress because of it. I have to say, though, that I've finally figured out how to make myself happier: don't do everything. And certainly don't do things that you don't enjoy just for the sake of achieving it. The more you organize your time around the people and things that you love, the better off you'll be. So don't do that extra class or club or whatever, unless it truly adds something to your life. You'll actually have a liiiittle bit of free time to explore the world outside of our little bubble here, and do the things that make you happy.

    and dear lord, please sleep. It scares me how much people here abuse their sleep cycles. If for no other reason, your short term memory starts to erode if you don't get the proper amount of sleep.

  48. B@ user  

    I remember this one kid who was afraid to go to CPS of nightline because he thought their record could get his scholarship revoked or something. Let me assure you, all these services are professional and maintain sealed medical records, just like any other doctor. Columbia won't kick you out because you are looking for help, in fact, I bet they will be glad for it: they want a authentically happy campus.

  49. B@ user  

    ooo PS, CPS has walk in hours, bwog should post those too

  50. SEAS guys in CC  

    We can do it, compagnon de miseres, keep pushing!

  51. CC'08

    Yes, I am an alum who still occassionally checks out the BWOG. Don't judge.

    I just wanted to commend BWOG for posting this article. I spent an overwhelming amount of time at Columbia crazy busy but lonely as hell. Don't just coast through your four years glossing over the fact that you're miserable. It's not worth it. Enjoy your time, and find your passion.

  52. Anonymous student

    I don't want to stir anything up with this comment, but I feel the desire to let my feelings out about this: One day, I had a panic attack during my seminar presentation. I had been dealing with my anxiety/mood issues for a long time and just the weekend prior, I finally sought professional help. Needless to say though, I was still experiencing major anxiety and psychological imbalances (perhaps even to a more heightened degree, because I couldn't fathom or deal with the idea of getting myself to a state of recovery). So, I had a panic attack. I cried, heaved, shook, and stuttered right through the end of my presentation. And you know what? Not one classmate gave me a look of encouragement. Not one even looked at me. The guy and the girl next to me started texting on their cellphones. Others just turned away or looked confused. My professor was the only one who encouraged me to continue (thank god), because she knew I was trying so fucking hard to articulate a good point. At the end of class, no one said a word to me. Not even a, "Are you OK?" Even though I know I share similar mental problems with many other students (as this thread seems to imply), this personal event really made me skeptical about my classmates' interpersonal sensitivities or knowledge about psychological issues -I mean, fuck, it's made me question the quality of kind human beings at this institution. Yeah, yeah, that's probably just an over-exaggeration in my head, whatever. People don't know what to do with a hysterically crying girl in class, whatever, ok, I understand that possibility. But how can students be expected to recognize their own mental issues when they are sometimes so blatantly and unapologeticly unsympathetic towards others? I promise I'm not trying to make general conclusions about the student body or project my cynicism about the state of humankind; I just question whether the 'we're all perfectionists who are too busy to work on our problems' line is really the core issue of our 'psychological ignorance.' And I'm saying this as someone who is trying so hard to get better and trying to meet new friends, but continues to withdraw with every encounter involving the many cold, aloof, and self-absorbed individuals on this campus... *sigh*...

    • Anonymous student

      Ah, sorry my post was so depressing. Don't want to dampen the good feelings. I thumbs up this post, Bwog! :-)

    • well  

      you're blaming other people when you're having a meltdown. you're blaming other people when you can't make friends. i understand panic attacks are overwhelming and awful, but you're questioning the "quality of kind human beings at this institution" just because they're awkward? your classmates aren't your parents, just people who maybe don't know what to do when a student erupts into tears and demands that they care about him/her because GODDAMNIT why is everybody so self-absorbeddddd. just concentrate on bettering yourself first.

      • this gal/guy

        is a dick. i feel the same way about many of my classmates. not generalizing, but it is true. why else would we have the social experiment?

      • Anonymous student

        Jeez, this is the exact response I was trying to avoid. Sarcasm can be funny, but this was kind of mean. I explicitly made the point that I wasn't trying to make generalizations about what happened and that I could understand the reaction of my peers. I'm not blaming anyone nor am I demanding anyone to care about me. I promise you I'm not self-entitled enough to feel anger towards others who have been indirectly unkind to me. I mean, fuck, you're talking to someone who is self-loathing and self-deprecating; trust me, my anger and frustration is reserved for myself. Anyway, have a good day, too.

    • they're scared  

      It makes perfect sense why you would be upset that no one tried to help you or see if you were OK, but why do you think they really just tried to ignore you? It wasn't because they were evil, or heartless, of malicious. Understandably, they were just scared and didn't know what to do. It's one thing to try to help a friend who's struggling (although even then, it doesn't always work), but it's difficult to help someone you don't know that well. Students aren't trained in mental health, and they can't know how you will react if they try to help you or whether mentioning that you were shaking while giving your presentation will just make you even more upset and be counter-productive. Even encouraging someone to seek out CPS can be taken the wrong way. You had a terrible experience, and it sucks that your classmates ignored you, but I think you have to seriously consider how they felt. I doubt they hate you; they just don't know how to help you.

    • someone who symphatizes  

      Thanks for putting your story in the comments. I feel pretty much the same way and I hope that you're feeling better. :)

    • Anonymous  

      it is sad that we dont reach out to each other. hearing that this happened to someone makes me so angry. are we really that self-indulgent and only in it for ourselves? as a transfer student, i know that it is possible for students to encourage each other and care enough to say "are you ok?" when their peers are sooo anxious over a presentation and a grade that will hardly matter in a year... but this is something i haven't seen here and it's sad, but based on what everyone has been saying, i know there is hope!

  53. Columbia

    Makes everyone depressed. But if you are the kind of person that is going to go to Columbia, you are going to be depressed at any other school you go to.

  54. Empathy  

    I know where you're coming from. I've been here for three years, and I've walked around campus with tears streaming down my face. I got looks of disgust, shock, and judgement. I'm not proud about how close my emotions are to the surface, but I do think if we all cared/acknowledged that this place is well - not as wondrous as we would have thought, we'd be happier. See the significance of random acts of kindness. We all deal with things differently and are going through more than another can fathom. You know, take it easy and realize that wait you can help brighten someone's day; they in turn will brighten yours. Open the door, smile, etc. Karma.

    Also, my friends are awesome.

  55. Thanks Bwog  

    While I'm not necessarily a person who feels overwhelmed by Columbia (maybe because I am just obviously a mess on the outside, so it's easier for me to be less of a mess on the inside), this post has obviously helped a bunch of people. And its nice to think that the post that has the most comments in the past several months is such a positive one, with a positive comment thread. Great job, guys.

  56. Hmmm...

    After reading the entire article in the Crimson, I have to say I found it incredibly vain, and very typically Harvard. The whole thing read as "Harvard is so much harder than any other school, it causes its students so much stress that they become suicidal." I know, I know. Ivies are so demanding, we can't take up windsurfing or make shell art like those dumb state school kids.

  57. thank you  

    for this thread I called furman counseling today and I'm hoping to get better. :)

  58. Anonymous  

    I thought CC people were mostly supposed to be happy but I guess not after seeing the posts here. Well, imagine having to teach yourself everything out of the textbook for more than half of your classes on top of all the other shit you're dealing with. That's SEAS.

    Also, the happiest people I know don't give a rat's ass about academics...maybe the solution is to just care less? Just going by the numbers, not everyone here is going to have a super awesome life post college. (No, just because you go here doesn't mean you're destined for a charmed life). If you don't think of yourself as something special, you won't put so much pressure on yourself to perform at unsustainable levels. Problem solved!

    Personally, I'm a lot happier after coming to terms with the fact that mediocrity is the most likely outcome of my life. It's incredibly liberating because you can finally gain release from the ridiculous rat race that is life at an elite college. Of course, if your happiness is dependent on "being someone" in life (whatever the fuck that means), then by all means, keep on running.

    • Anonymous

      I don't think you have to be content with mediocrity to be happy, at Columbia or in life. I think what everyone here needs to come to terms with is the fact that to be great they do not necessarily need to take ten classes a semester, get straight As in all of them, be class president, and maintain a booming social life too.

      Everyone comes to college, especially to a place like Columbia, with certain expectations of what their life will be like. I, for instance, thought I would meet all sorts of friends and feel like I fit in perfectly. My freshman year I also thought that I'd get into phi beta kappa. Both of those ideas seem silly to me now.

      So I agree with the basic premise of what you're saying, which is to take things with a bit more of a laid back attitude, and to realize that college and our lives are not everything we expected them to be, and never will be. But while that's hard, it's also part of the excitement. I may get a bad grade on a paper because I don't care very much, but that doesn't make me a loser, a bad person, or even mediocre. You can still aspire to greatness while maintaining a lick of sanity.

      P.S. Never underestimate the willingness of your professors to listen to your problems and give you some help. I spent the past two years switching apartments every two months; my life was in total upheaval. My sophomore year I was feeling extremely depressed, and just couldn't motivate myself to write reaction papers for one of my classes, ever. Every time, I was really shocked by how understanding professors were of the things I was dealing with, and how willing they were to both give me an extension and to make sure I was getting by in my personal life as well. I think this also needs to be emphasized, because it certainly helped me in times of crisis to feel like the burden was lifted a little.

      • SEAS '13  

        I'm glad you get where I'm coming from. I did not intend to use "mediocrity" in a bad way; maybe it just has a negative connotation. Perhaps a better word might be "average"? Certainly did not mean to imply that anyone is a loser or a bad person just because they did badly in a class. Most people in this world are mediocre (as in average) but everyone gets by and finds happiness in their own little nooks and crannies of life. But yeah, a big part of being happy is managing expectations (above all your own!)

  59. BC'11  


    i read this when it first came out and i think its a good thing to let everyone one know its not columbia or just harvard or yale, but it happens everywhere and we're not alone.

  60. can you all  

    just go visit some porn sites and drink a beer once in a while during the week? I promise it will lighten your attitude toward work a little.

  61. ...  

    honestly. i think people need to get past the idea of taking for granted that because some arbitrary magazine called us news and world report thinks this place is hot shit, that it must be unquestionably true.

    maybe life sucks here not because there's something wrong with you.... maybe life sucks here because CU actually is an overpriced, overrated shitshow and knowing that on some deep fundamental level while being a part of it is indeed a very depressing thing.

  62. BC '12  

    great post, Bwog. I couldn't believe how many people had the same experience I did. I just withdrew from a course today to lighten my load, and I literally couldn't not get over how I would actually have time to make dinner plans with a friend. That alone is so ridiculous and I will be dropping other commitments to make time for my sanity.

    Admin, listen up. You're students are broke, depressed, and over-worked. Time for a change.

  63. A Dad's Response  

    Just sent this and the Crimson article to my dad and here's the email he sent me back:

    "Though memory fades, even I can relate to this and relive the episodes of inadequacy and loneliness I felt at IIT. Its amazing how persistent and debilitating such pain is compared to a broken hand or a sore throat.

    I read through most of the comments ..even the mom who commented on the value of the 'average' ..she even got the Bell Curve reasoning right! So I declare that this is one of the best examples of social benefits off the Internet .. giving voice to the 'lonely'. So why can't you have a place on campus (not CPS) that is openly declared to be the hangout for the lonely - a room where any student who shows up is clearly in need to talk to someone else and is welcomed by anyone else who is there as such..maybe with help of some brave volunteers ..it could be the place to go share some pain and gain some happiness.

    Well, I feel for all you of you who went through much of this and probably still are and hope you feel we are here for you -whatever the issue or time."

    I think it's interesting how these issues span generations- from a guy who went to a competitive engineering school in India in the seventies to his daughter here in 2011. Some things need to change.

  64. Anonymous

    Maybe students should turn their phones off when they're in class, so they can pay attention....and have some empathy.

  65. Anonymous  

    ive recently realized that ive almost become my own enemy with my negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness. peers, whether youre just having a bad day/week or have been seriously depressed for a while, if anything else, please just believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things will work out. it might take a while, it might be a painful journey, but one day, we'll all look back with bittersweet feelings about our college experiences, and hopefully have a sense of pride for struggling but surviving nonetheless.

    "Keep your face always toward the sunshine - and shadows will fall behind you"

  66. another great article  

    This article on the importance of "self-compassion" (i.e. not being overly hard on yourself, but willing to show yourself the same leniency that you show your friends and those in need) was just published in the Times and I think it's definitely relevant to Columbians: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/28/go-easy-on-yourself-a-new-wave-of-research-urges/
    We tend to be so self-critical; it's good to have a critical mind and to hold yourself accountable, but only to a point. Columbians especially tend to go way overboard!

  67. Anonymous  

    The huge list of comments on this wall...I had no idea it would receive this kind of response.

    Though I don't struggle with depression, and have generally very much enjoyed my Columbia experience in spite of it's difficulty, I would like to say to anyone who is struggling with these kinds of thoughts that I would would never think less of you for opening up and looking to talk, and I can't imagine almost anyone here would say differently. Everything is easier with company, so please don't be afraid to open up :)

  68. CC'13

    Last week was probably the lowest I've ever felt while at Columbia and in my life. For about a month, I've been even more forgetful than I usually am. I stopped going to class, which resulted in having to drop one class that I have to take for my major and now I feel like a failure for only taking 4 classes. To top it, my laptop, which like most students, is my life, completely died and I had to buy a new one. I haven't felt close to my friends in awhile, realizing how truly selfish they (and I guess me too) are. And now I have a cold.

    I thought about going to CPS, and this has just solidified my resolve to do so.

    Thank you for this article and this comment stream. I may feel alone in my little world but now I know for sure that I'm not.

  69. Anonymous  

    Reading about how depressed everyone is made me depressed. But I still love you all

  70. Anonymous  

    This is a truly beautiful comment thread, Bwog. Thank you for posting this, thank you everyone for responding and letting each other know that there are others out there. Seek help if you feel that you can, try and find what you want to do here and do it. Don't beat yourself up. Have fun. There is love here!

  71. caronae

    Thanks so much for sharing this BWOG.

    My sophomore year, I had a pretty severe breakdown and had to leave school and learn how to be happy again. While I certainly had genetic and environmental factors that contributed to it, it is probably true that being at such an intense, sometimes overwhelming school contributed as well. I wrote a piece for the New York Times about it in the summer of 2009:


    I also write a blog about mental and physical health in college at caronae.com. I'm not sharing these links in the name of shameless self-promotion, but in the hopes that other people will not be afraid to step out and seek help. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

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