A Stanford experience, as told through my emotional breakdowns

Nov. 20, 2017, 1:00 a.m.

My time at Stanford could be defined by multiple narratives, but the most unifying storyline has been the one of my emotional breakdowns. All of the phases and identities I’ve taken on since the fall of 2014 have been punctuated by emotional breakdowns and appointments at CAPS to help cope. As I walk around campus, certain benches, trees and bathrooms are painted with memories of my emotional distress. I don’t consider this torture but rather a reminder that I have continued in the face of my depression.

We are all familiar with Lake Lagunita, though each of us for different reasons. I remember it as the place where I had the worst of my depressive episodes during my freshman fall. The quarter had been disaster after disaster, and I was worried that I would have to drop out of Stanford after all the work I had put in to get there. I was anxious, overwhelmed, isolated and terrified of the future, as are most freshman.

I eventually texted the person who is now my best friend to come talk to me, and he quoted Kesha lyrics to me until I felt okay again (of course, I was unaware these were Kesha lyrics at the time). I am so thankful for him and his love of Kesha, as they taught me the power of community and that I was in fact not alone in all of this. I think back to that emotional breakdown and am not shattered by the waves of despair I felt but rather am warmed by the symbol of genuine friendship I experienced.

In my sophomore year, I was sitting in my PSYCH 1 lecture laughing at my friend and freshman roommate climbing over half a row of seated people with her food from Thai Cafe in hand. After she settled, she asked me if I had heard about what had happened in San Bernardino, referring to the shooting. I had not. As Professor Gross began his lecture, my heart stilled — my mother lived in San Bernardino and was supposed to head to an office of a similar nature that week. I panicked. I spent the lecture obsessively reading any article I could find, hoping that one of them would have listed the names of the victims, but none of them did.

As soon as class ended, I went into the bathroom in the basement of the psychology building and broke down after failed attempts at calling home. The last time I had spoken to my mother, I was angry, I had yelled at her about how terrible of a person she is, and I was terrified of the prospect that our relationship would end in such a way. I spent the rest of the day ducking into bathrooms all over campus to break down in private until I got a call at about 8 p.m. that night that she was safe. I felt an immeasurable relief, followed by waves of forgiveness for my mother, sympathy for those families who did lose someone that day and thankfulness. Whenever I see those bathroom stalls I hid behind, I am reminded of the wonderful gifts in my life, like my family, and it gives me strength to continue.

Junior year came with the opportunity that I had always dreamed of: studying abroad at Oxford. I was incredibly hopeful that I’d be accepted. I had worked hard up until then, and I am a firm believer that hard work pays well. Then I was waitlisted, and I was crushed. I was working, filming some MS&E problem session by myself at 9 in the morning. Try as I might to tell myself that it was better than an all-out rejection, I couldn’t help falling apart in that small control room in NVIDIA Auditorium. I had been confident, and that confidence had been punished (hey, I’m dramatic, what can I say). Though I was accepted into the program four months later, I had to spend four months facing the reality that sometimes, no matter how hard you work, your dreams may not come true. It was a reality check that I desperately needed and am continually grateful for.

This brings us to my final year here at Stanford, senior year. At the time of pitching this, I had not yet had my trademark quarterly meltdown. That changed. My previous three years here had been spent collecting friends, as all of us do. By mid-October I had believed that I had friends, so my friend and I decided to throw a joint 21st birthday party, to which not very many people showed. I felt left behind and forgotten — we both did — even though I put so much effort into my friendships.

I, embarrassingly, broke down at my near-empty 21st birthday party in the Narnia lounge, with about $150 worth of alcohol still untouched. As much as I had been angry for the days following, I have slowly come to instead focus my energies on appreciating the friends who did show up, who did tell me beforehand that they weren’t going to show, the ones who took the time to recognize our friendship. I needed this to readjust my perception of my life on campus. It is not about how many people you can name-drop in conversation or the number of people in your Instagram photos, but rather about those who will listen to you fangirl over Cole Sprouse even though they are so not into it, just because they care.

So yes, as I walk around campus I see many spots where I’ve broken down. I’ve been hurt a lot here, but I’ve grown because of it. Each of these significant meltdowns served a purpose, and I can never regret the lessons I have learned and the relationships I have fostered as a result of them. In other words, emotional breakdowns should not be seen as weaknesses, as something to completely avoid. We have emotions for a reason. That being said, if you find yourself consistently struggling with your emotions, reach out to a friend, an RA, a family member, the Bridge or CAPS, and give yourself the support you deserve during this process of growth.


Contact Arianna Lombard at ariannal ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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