Friday, May 29, 2015

She was convinced she was a failure

I spent an entire morning crying over this ESPN story of Madison Holleran, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who killed herself last year, leaping off the ninth level of a parking garage in downtown Philadelphia.

She was convinced she was a failure. And if you have never experienced depression, you will probably be incredibly confused when you read the article, because you will think, "But she's so loved, so talented, so beautiful - how can that be?" But do read it. Please read it.

There was no widespread Internet connectivity back in the 1980s, but back then, high school yearbooks and morning school announcement and even the local newspaper did what Facebook and Instagram do now: present an upbeat image of the lives of teenagers, where everyone is happy and successful and talented and beautiful. And if you aren't, you aren't pictured at all.

It's only been now, in my late 40s, that I've learned just how unhappy so many beautiful people around me were in high school, how much they were struggling. And it's only now that some of my closest friends have learned just how unhappy I was in my first two years at university, how much I struggled, how much I felt like I was on the verge of a colossal failure. As I read this story, of how afraid Madison Holleran was of failure, of disappointing people, it brought back so many memories of my own struggles. It's mind-boggling that she could feel this way when it's obvious she is SO loved, that people around her would do ANYTHING for her - I didn't have nearly so much support. But, of course, that's what depression does, it twists your mind, it twists reality. You cannot be reasoned-with - your mind isn't working right.

And the most pressing thought of all: If she quit, wasn't she just a failure? Wouldn't that be the first in what would become a lifetime of letdowns?

Throughout my freshman and sophomore years, I felt like I was one failure away from being exposed as the total loser I believed I was, the utter fraud I believed myself to be. If I couldn't make it at a public state university that took anyone with a heartbeat and ability to pay, I had no backup for somewhere else - the university I was attending, the one I could afford, was my backup, when I realized I couldn't attend my first choice, in another state, nor my second choice, in California, because the person I was going to go there with backed out.

I could not grasp the idea that things would get better, that I could survive it, and that people around me probably were NOT judging me - and if they were, screw 'em.

But things did get better, I did survive it, and I gradually stopped constantly comparing myself to other people (though I do still compare sometimes). And it was time, more than anything, that got me through it. I still grapple with insecurity and fears of failure, but nothing - NOTHING - like I did in high school and at university. I so wish Madison Holleran could have held out - even for just one year, because I think she would have realized all this as well.

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