Last year, we posted excerpts from a Harvard Crimson editorial, “I Am Fine,” and you responded with extraordinary sympathy and support in the comments. Two stories from the most recent of the edition of The Eye, written by Wilfred Chan, CC’13, and Sarah Ngu, CC’12, similarly resonated with us. You can read an abridged version below, and the full feature, “How We’re Doing,” here.
At Columbia, stress and misery are treated as harmless norms, and competitive commiseration has become the official school sport…But when stress is recast as a harmless, shared culture, many students end up suffering in silence… The tremendous outpouring of grief and solidarity from over a hundred and fifty anonymous strangers on Bwog is a haunting testament to how intimately Columbians understand desolation…On reflection, I realized that this sort of deep, searing honesty is required if we want to get past simply being “fine” and think about what it means to be truly well… Though we can never get rid of stress, we can change the way we think about it….Let us listen to one another, and create an environment where students can not only ask for help, but share their feelings of joy. We should strive to build a real community around the ideals of wellness, support, and genuine self-love…All of this starts with self-discovery, which is a highly personal, subjective — and often difficult — journey. But if we can start with just one thing, let us remember to simply remind those around us that we really care. —Wilfred Chan
[Tina] was walking on a high, thin beam of normalcy, carefully weaving safety nets of friendship, therapy, and medication to support her. Then, at some point last semester, something pushed her off the edge, and the nets couldn’t hold her… Reality can be harsh, but what is worse is when depression strips you of the tools to deal with it and then creates a pseudo-reality.
In articles like this, one is supposed to lift lessons out of tragedies with a few deft strokes of a pen. While it is clear that there are general things that ought to be changed, when I examine my individual story with Tina and what it means to be a friend on the sidelines, I don’t have any solid answers, just open questions about the intransigent problem of communication…how do you translate perceived emotion into instructions for action? When Tina told me how she was feeling, I wasn’t always sure how to respond, afraid I would do something wrong…What do you do when a friend seeks help and then pulls back and seems happier? It was as if there was a fire going on in the house, and Tina had opened the windows but kept the door locked. We were left watching from the outside…
The cry of pain is universal, but sometimes it is misheard, heard too late, or heard with little to no hints of what to do. The story of Tina’s death is not a story about how someone fell through the cracks. People in Residential Life, Advising, and Psychological Services and her close friends all knew and were keeping tabs. Perhaps we could have reacted in overcompensation to intervene, but would our intervention only have delayed the inevitable? For no matter how much care was thrown her way, it always hit an internal wall. It was acknowledged by her, even gratefully so, but ultimately repelled…Staring at the stiff, wooden funeral casket, [I] wonder[ed] at the fact that it contained Tina while disbelieving it at the same time. It technically held her body, surely, just as her depression had held her in a vise of unreality, but neither of them captured her. —Sarah Ngu