The Daily Tar Heel
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The Daily Tar Heel

A week into August, I knew something was different.

It was as if I was looking at senior year through sea glass — a deep, blurry blue. I found myself uninterested in being with people and tearful at every temperature change — which is to say, I felt depressed.

It is easy to make assumptions about other students, as if they live inside UNC pamphlets, frozen in postures of perpetual Frisbee joy.

Believing this fiction makes vulnerability difficult.

While I was walking down Cameron Avenue with a classmate last year, she described sadnesses I never could have guessed. We’d sat beside each other for months, but it was that mutual admission — that life, even at a place we love, can be painful — that allowed for a close friendship.

Months later I, in turn, felt comfortable expressing discontentment to her. She was sympathetic but able to point me toward epicenters of goodness: Remember that late night we ran and plunged into the lake? And I was reminded of the purpose of community — of this community.

Acknowledging depression doesn’t solve anything straightaway. Some days I wake up eager to welcome daily life. Other days, I have to spoon-feed myself perfunctory rituals (eat toast, go to class). Mornings become a complicated emotional calculus.

But acknowledging it is also a relief. When we let our walls down, we are better equipped to both offer and receive help.

A 2009 study reports that 30 percent of college students felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. Psychologists say that one of the roots of depression is rumination, the process of obsessively recycling thoughts.

It’s no surprise, then, that in years of constant thinking — relentlessly pushing ourselves to think better, broader — we become lodged in disempowering cycles of rumination.

We’re afraid to talk about depression in a University where struggle seems a vast shortfall. Because we’re young. Because we’re taught that excellence means projecting infallibility, not vulnerability.

But what is college, the slick advertisement of four perfect years, when not mediated with the parts that make us human? Let’s give each other chances.

There is not an adequate word to levy the ground between kindness and honesty, but if there were, it would be the best response to both depression and daily life.

It’s a response — drawn, often, into the sea-glass case of my own emotions — that I am not the best at. But I am learning that kindness is its own peculiar palindrome: When we extend it, when we assume other people are fighting battles we can’t see, we are more apt to believe their kindness.

To paraphrase Zora Neale Hurston: There are semesters that ask questions, and there are semesters that give answers. Community means being present during both.

And I hope we will be able to remember our college community as a place ready to accept the deep humanity and complexity of one another.

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