Fragnance Conchord, Contributor
I like my depression now; it makes people laugh…sometimes.
The first time I remember being really depressed, to the extent of crying almost every night before going to bed, was in high school. My best friend at the time had started being passive aggressively mean to me, supposedly because she was jealous of how many male friends I had and how I was doing in school. It was extremely confusing and I knew I felt betrayed, but I did not understand why it was all happening. I came to understand it slowly over that year, and once I did, I decided I didn’t need any more friends. And my parents’ marriage seemed to be generally rocky all the time, so I decided that a relationship wasn’t necessary, either.
By the time I turned 17, I’d sworn to keep all my human interactions generally superficial. I’d never be hurt again; it was a perfect plan.
It worked out pretty well, especially since I had a professional goal that I wanted to achieve at all costs: conduct research in a lab, which I assumed would depend on honesty, constant questioning, being able to accept that one could be wrong sometimes, and learning from my mistakes. All I had to do was work hard. That was simple enough. Also, there were several family issues going on, so if I played the role of a perfect daughter, my loved ones would have one fewer thing to worry about. Again, it was a perfect plan. I am good at plans that follow logic only I understand.
This obsession – of abstaining from fun and working on one goal for years on end – seriously fed my isolation, OCD and anxiety. In high school, I used to align all my books perfectly parallel to the desk sides they were on. It was really important for me to do that. I only used one brand of pen to write; it was almost impossible to have any confidence in my test-taking abilities if I didn’t have the right pen. Wonderful.
Tetris was my favorite game; finding the best possible solution to a complicated problem? Mmmm, yes! So satisfying. Let me reassure you that I’m a nerd.
By the time I came to the US to pursue my Masters/PhD, things had improved as far as my OCD was concerned. I had learned to logic my way out of being obsessive. It was by no means gone, but I was at least generally functional. But then I became more acquainted with the thing called Depression, that sad low feeling I had first experienced as a teenager, when my supposed friend started being mean to me. All my perfectly laid plans were falling apart. There was very little I could do to fix any issues that were going on at home as I was so far away. Even though I worked really hard, grad school seemed really unpredictable. My boss did not know how to stand up for his students, leading to several financial issues on my end and very little academic support. It was still okay, I told myself, and I was working on my dream of getting a PhD. In all honesty, it more or less *was* okay. I know people who have had much worse experiences, but it was just too much for me to handle; I was reaching my limits.
But under all this rationalization of my situation was a deep-rooted depression. I became disenchanted with the world. I’d observed that even if you work hard, you might not get to where you want to be. And that even though two people were supposed to be perfect for each other, they (my folks) can suck so hard at their marriage that they almost bring down their kids with it.
Then came the lowest point in my life, when someone very close to me expressed that they did not want to live any longer. It was too painful to believe that I was unaware of their sadness for so long. I was lucky enough to talk to them for hours and discuss how life is too precious to be treated as disposable. I was 25 at the time. I did what I had to do and had that difficult talk, and maybe improved someone’s perspective on life while doing so; but I did not realize it would throw me into existential despair so deeply.
It was the middle of my PhD and I had still not let myself know how sad I was. I was drinking and smoking my emotions away. And superficially, everything was fine. I was doing what I needed to do – experiments, publishing, etc. – and slowly as I got closer to finishing and graduating, I felt more and more like myself.
I am more open about the difficult experiences I have had, and have realized the once you talk about things, they will start to get better. Nothing truly is the end of the world until you actually die, I guess. Comedy has helped a lot, as writing helps me think through my opinions and find a balanced outlook. Improv has helped a ton as well, as I get to laugh for hours on end watching my friends navigate learning experiences in classes. Overall, comedy has helped me meet so many people who are open about their issues, while academia doesn’t really support that. You are supposed to be a super human as an academic. You should be able to do well on exams, be excellent at research, and all the while be very emotionally stable. Though the “emotionally stable” part remains outside my comfort zone, my current OCD is limited to trying my best to not use public restrooms…which is a win? I know things aren’t perfect, but I also know I have to keep trying.