Take it From Me: Love and Labor

Thanks to everyone's powerful response to the first column, I am eager to share the stories of other alumni filled with their insight and realness about how they, too, felt neurotic, insecure, anxious, disconnected, and under-achieving… and what they wish to tell their younger selves.  For this week, here goes:

1) Go. To. Therapy. More precisely, go earlier. It would have helped me as a student, friend, and an athlete. I was depressed at least half of college, and it’s hard to live your best you when you're a disconnected, anxious mess. Like anyone suffering from depression, I had my reasons; my dad was an absent, narcissistic alcoholic who valued me for my flattering-to-him accomplishments. My mother—to her credit, was very loving and present—is an evangelical Christian who thrust her religion’s regressive morality and her abusive second husband on me. I felt like I was raised to not have needs or feelings. My job was to be some sort of saint and achieve stuff to make everyone around me look good. Go to a fancy school. Get good grades. Be a track star. I was miserable.

I tried Monsour a few times early on. The therapists were either impossibly cheesy or totally passive. I couldn’t take them seriously. No disrespect to the hard and important work they do, but my experience is not uncommon. I found a therapist senior year that I could work with—it can take a few tries—and it changed everything for me. So many of the bad decisions I made in school were a product of gaping emotional wounds. I either didn't open up to people, or I opened up in the wrong ways.

Example: a disastrous, “this-is-out-of-nowhere-since-we’re-friends-but-I’m-gonna-show-up-and-spend-an-hour-telling-you-I’m-in-love-and-we-should-be-together-no pressure” emotional vomit episode to a friend my senior year. It ended badly for both of us, especially me. Don’t ever do that. Ask them on a date. If they’re not into it, let it go and see point 2.

2) Romance: Date people from other campuses. I can’t overstate the utility of distance and mystery in romance—deliberately asking and going out with someone, then going away to your own spaces. It keeps the pressure off and makes breakups and rejections way easier. Going “off-campus” would have made it easier too, in the spirit of the liberal arts, in order to get a more broad education in romance. It’s really easy to feel like one’s romantic options are limited to a) a codependent relationship or b) nihilistic no-strings-attached hookups, which is true if you limit yourself to the hall you live in. Cross the damn street and free yourself.

3) Ask for help, you twit. I never asked for help academically—I was arrogant and ignorant. Like most of us, I had been one of the—if not the—smartest kids in every class before college. I’ve since embraced being an ignorant, bawdy moron, and the freedom is delicious. At the time, though, it felt so vulnerable and taboo to admit shortcomings; I thought asking for help was for the dumb kids, and I was afraid of being judged by others.

Papers are hard. Did I even once go to the writing center? No. I often wasn’t understanding core concepts in a class. Did I ever see a professor to ask for help? Nope. I want to scream at my younger self: “YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING. THAT IS WHY YOU WENT TO SCHOOL, TO LEARN STUFF YOU DON’T KNOW, YOU ARROGANT ASSHOLE.”  Claremont faculty and staff are paid to do exactly this. Go to office hours and be direct about your ignorance. Afraid of judgment? Take comfort that everyone is both messed up in their own way, not to mention totally self-absorbed, so just let that go. Not convinced? Re-read this column.

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