*** This post was written by a guest contributor wishing to remain anonymous.
As I lay in bed, my hand fumbled around, reaching for another fistful of cheerios from the cereal box. I had bought it only two days ago, and yet in one sitting, I was almost done with it. In an attempt to drown out any urges of crying or feeling of loneliness, I cuddled with my pillows and wrapped the blanket tighter around me, watching mindless TV shows that could take me away from any realities of life.
This was a typical day for me at my worst of times, when I felt like I was on the brink of collapsing into a mess of tears. My self-esteem was at an all-time low, and I would look at myself in the mirror and wonder if anyone would care if I just disappeared.
Academics was a frustrating annoyance that I had to worry about, even when I didn’t want to worry. Relationships required too much effort than I had to muster, and I just wanted to sleep and eat and sleep and eat all day, and not have to think about anything at all, even my spiritual life with God.
That was the semester that I disappeared from many people’s lives, when my relationships with friends suffered and my grades took a toll.
It surprised me how little people seemed to care when I came back “on the radar”. Most of my friends never confronted me about it, and those who did came to me with pre-determined ideas of why I had been gone, telling me their thoughts about how they felt marginalized because I was spending more time with my boyfriend or focusing too much on my academics.
I felt more alone than ever before. The community of friends – of Christians – that I had come to rely on seemed to be judging me. It was, in a way, mostly my fault, as I gave little explanation – I felt uncomfortable sharing my innermost feelings with people, especially because I had always found it difficult to trust others – and I didn’t have a real, concrete reason for my negative feelings. But at the same time, I felt like I hadn’t even been given a chance to offer any explanation. It was simply easier to agree with them and apologize.
It was shortly after this that I began to have my first suicidal considerations: what would actually happen if I were to disappear? How would I do it? Who would remember me after years had gone by? As these thoughts fed by Satan continued to consume me, I felt even more insignificant, worthless, and disconnected from everyone else and from God than ever before.
That following summer, I considered actually going through with the act. But by God’s grace, someone was there to stop me from actually doing anything. I remember feeling empty and void even as I promised that person that I would never try it, or even consider it again.
I knew that what I was feeling was selfish and completely disrespectful for the temple and life that God had blessed me with. It seemed so easy to just give up, and while I knew it was not the right solution, I found that instead of searching for another way, I instead became caught up in feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt because there were children and women and men dying and suffering through so much more than I was. How grandly I lived compared to them! How much more should I be thankful! Shame, because I felt like I was broken – that there was something irreparable with myself that I just couldn’t fix.
While I should have been finding peace in God, I turned instead to a false sense of calm upon feeling the physical pain of a cut or the continual embrace of sleep that shielded me from any feelings, rather than holding onto an emotional pain that was much harder to dispel or deal with. I found that hiding from others, and not seeking help, made it easier to avoid any judgment and prevent any hurt, but at the same time, it escalated my feelings of loneliness. Then when I would reach out to others, I was confronted time and time again with the same excuses: lab, work, studying, sleep. Though I had reached a point where I wanted to let go of all of that, no one seemed to want to do it with me.
I know what the Christian response to this is. Only God can fix me, and with prayer, I can find peace in Him. By mending my relationship with my Father, all of my other relationships will flourish. I know that expecting perfection in others will only lead to bitterness and loneliness, and that it is selfish of me to consider the “easy way out” or to place the blame of my feelings on others.
I believe in all of this, and I wish I could say that I am now doing drastically better. Truth is, I’m not. I’m still struggling with these feelings of self-harm, negative self-image, and loneliness. It sometimes feels as though a cloud is surrounding me and I can’t see God as well as I want to through it.
Gradually, though, I am reaching back out to Him and trying to understand how I can better love others and myself. Despite my shortcomings and my continuous struggle with these negative feelings, there is one thing that God has shown me every time: that I need to not only learn to love, but also truly forgive. If I expected that every time I reached out to a friend that they would have the time to spend with me, unconditionally, what a perfect, selfish world that would be! In a world where everyone is going through struggles and feelings of sadness or stress, I needed more understanding in my love, more forgiveness for when others fall short, and more selflessness in my interactions with those around me. And no one can give me these things except God.
I know how in such an intensely “success”-oriented society such as Harvard’s, it is often difficult to reveal our true selves to our peers, even to our brothers and sisters in Christ. All too often, we remain content with our shallow understanding of each other, and our assumptions and our disappointments that often lead to distance. More recently, I have been encouraged by the stories of those who have come out about their depression and feelings of anxiety. We are beginning, it seems, to acknowledge that beneath the perfect exteriors of “I’m fine” lies the truth: that many are lonely and even depressed.
How much could change if we could approach each other freely, letting our guard down and sharing with each other with judgment-free ears and hearts? If we allowed ourselves to feel each others’ raw emotions and connect with each other in a deeper nature, would we find it easier to deal with these problems and feelings? I cannot speak for others, but I do believe that it would have been easier for me.
I am not perfect – no one is. I will continue to struggle with my feelings of insignificance, loneliness, and sadness. I will judge others and fall short time and time again. But no other relationship than that with God will be able to fill this void. And God, in turn, responds by blessing our relationships with others. If we all strive for a community where we will not be judged, where we can make mistakes and still be encouraged, not pushed away, by our brothers and sisters, then I firmly believe that we can create a healthier, God-centered environment to freely express ourselves in a healthy manner.
I want to encourage others, and myself, to reach out to one person today. To truly consider how we interact and treat those we call our closest friends. To ask the hard questions and delve deeper into our relationships. To forgive others for not living up to our expectations, and to remember that we, too, have many shortcomings that can only be fully embraced by God. To forgive ourselves, too, when we don’t meet the high expectations we set for ourselves. Embrace the fact that life is more than just our grades and jobs. Learn to live in the present, not just the future. Forget medical school interviews, graduate school applications, and job searching for just one minute; sit down and call a friend or your parents or sister or brother, and be there for them before they even realize they, too, need the community that God blessed us with. And finally, cherish every relationship – especially our relationships with God. There are so many people at Harvard who may look so different from how they really feel. By reaching out to them prayerfully, taking the initiative to open up and risk hurt – this is how we can show the love of God, and this is how we can truly encourage others to grow in Christ in a God-centered community.