Why I Left (Pomona College)

I write this for those with eyes cast outward and those with shallow breaths that shatter your solar plexus. I didn’t write this for me.

When December rolled into my system in 2014, I was wandering through the deepest haze I’d witnessed in my life so far. Some combination of chemicals internal and external mixed with ambitions, with competitive friendships, with it all, pushed me deep into motionlessness. I felt days passing, yet nothing took place. I wrote columns about kindness and empathy in the hope of finding my own. I had become, in many ways, a trope of the white-young-male-in-distress demographic. So much so that one evening, in November, I realized I couldn’t be alone (for safety reasons) so I called up an old friend—I thought this would be best, she knew me well, I could be normal again, I would heal, I needed protection from myself; this was what I had thought. Reality had different plans. She arrived and immediately diagnosed me as my trope (which I was) and said I should stop complaining (which wasn’t bad advice) and saw my invite as something of a pedestal for me to preach (which couldn’t have been further from my intention).

“You don’t own sadness,” she told me, as she got ready to leave the room. I knew this. I really tried to take back everything I said. I knew I needed help, psychic, spiritual, something that felt like friendship; not this. “You don’t own sadness.” This echoed into my depression as further evidence I didn’t deserve to use my brain. I suppose now, in hindsight, when the door closed and I drank myself into submission, I was acting exactly as any good theory of my demographic should. After I woke up and drank into the next evening, I supposed I called the wrong friend.

A black and white graphic with the sentence: "We are all grotesquely sophisticated yet sightless to the poison."
Graphic by Anikka Sophia Villegas

I supposed the haze all around everything I cared for was true. All those previous moments of joy were lies. This is what we know as clinical depression. What we don’t speak of, though, is how “depression” has become a trope in and of itself: it’s been socialized and characterized by public conversation as a marginal group, blanketed in half-truths and almost-scientific answers that are blogged about on Jezebel. It is imagined as a state of mind that is a passage to a greater, more self-conscious land (re: David Foster Wallace). These are fictions that entrench both the depressed and their loved ones into separate worlds—one of happiness, one of sadness. This is further isolation.

We are so damn smart here, yet we can’t see the simple connection between isolation and sadness. We are so caught up in individualism that we rarely follow the river to the sea and understand that our own narcissism, our self-glory, is the addictive poison that builds imaginary walls, isolates us and eventually kills us.

That is not theory. It is the closest I can get at a fact. Somewhere buried under theories of extroversion/introversion, stereotype/authenticity, there is an odd human need to learn to give and to learn to grow. I say “odd” because I have no idea why it is there. It seems to be situated just outside rationality. Life would be easier if it went away. Just imagine that world: psychiatrists could heal all of our ills, we would only communicate via business meetings, and we’d live to old age happily with no genuine friends. (What a world!)

Our odd and terrible and beautiful reality. This value of selfless care, for both self and others, is missing from this place, Pomona. Its absence is vivid and deeply felt.

That was why I left.

So when the year drew to a close and I saw friend after friend fall into a submissive posture, I packed with no real intention to return. I suppose everyone has played with this thought at times. We imagine a better world just outside this bubble and hope to get there and stay. This better world is full of everything lacking in our current one. In my altered state of mind I fantasized that maybe in this other world were the people who loved more deeply. I could barely look at myself in the mirror without imagining all the smart people who thought little of me. They must be right. They are so smart. They know me and I don’t. I spiraled.

In that room, in one moment of many, I broke, I wanted nothing more than to find the exit from this Pomona mentality of ambition and selfishness. Depression had been with me chemically from an early age, but this was a different animal. It was a culture that was built to consume itself. This is a culture that requires discussion events because we are all too proud to talk about identity on our own. Too proud and maybe just too scared of each other nowadays.

With that certain clarity that comes in autumn, I learned too late that this culture had become a part of me. Eyes turned into mirrors, success became relational, and dear friends became the cold theorists of my soul.

If you take nothing else away from this grossly melodramatic stack of text, understand this: We all isolate ourselves within this fiction that our book smarts are enough to care for others and ourselves. We are all grotesquely sophisticated yet unaware to the poison.

So, that was why I left—to see the world again. Not thinking I’d come back. I needed to remind myself of cultures built on compassion rather than greed. I was in need.

This place can be toxic, but it is not without good people. If you are struggling with any form or degree of mental health, seek out support, look for other cultures, and always know you are not alone in this. No matter what this culture tells you: you are not alone, you are not alone.

Conner Roberts PO ’16 is a philosophy of religion major from a few places scattered around the world.

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