by an anonymous undergraduate student

Darkness. It dawns on people for different reasons, in different ways, with different severity. In its most pure form, its most dangerous form, its unexplainable.  There is no anniversary, no day that it began or experience it stems from. One Monday you look up and on a bright, sunny, 75 degree day, it feels like the middle of winter. It is that moment you realize that for “a while”, no set period of time, just “a while,” it has been dark. Filet mignon doesn’t taste good, parties are useless distractions, your covers in your room are your only shield from the world because people irritate you.  Homework is impossible to complete, mostly because it is useless, dumb, of no value. But then again, nothing has value.  Those little life missions, those moments that everyone lives for — the Friday pre-game, the Saturday football game, Special Dinner, spring break, summer break, sex — are all pointless.  And no one knows. No one gets it. Life goes on around you, everyone has it figured out… moment by moment… day by day… week by week… month by month… year by year.… You? NOPE, you don’t have a clue. You question everything around you, but more importantly, you wonder how no one else is. How do all these people.. ALL THESE FUCKING PEOPLE… not get it? Suddenly, your irritation of people has become anger…

Depression at Stanford is funny. There are panels, discussions, dorm communities to ensure this happy, perfect place remains just that — happy and perfect. Person A comes out in her freshman hall meeting and says they have a history of depression, they have been depressed (everyone goes all silent and concerned), and aren’t scared to tell you and feel comfortable saying it! WOW, HOW AWESOME! Panels are held where students talk about the duck syndrome, and first-hand experience with bi-polar, depression, or mania and how they used the resources available, or were lucky enough to have a community of support, and they overcame and made it! YOU ARE NOT ALONE! PARTICULARLY NOT HERE AT STANFORD!

This anger towards people manifests itself in many different ways. You walk into the dining hall and run into Joe. He is an acquaintance. You make as quick work of the conversation as possible without setting off any troubling alarms. After grabbing an apple and some milk, not being particularly hungry because your appetite has been scarce, you run into your best friend at Stanford. This conversation is a little longer but when he asks you to sit with him, you say you got to run. He wants to study with you later, you tell him no, more briskly. And finally, when he asks if you are going to the party tomorrow night, you look at him pissed off and say no! Finally, you look around and see people laughing… why are they smiling? Why are they laughing? It doesn’t make sense. People don’t make sense. You leave the dining hall to eat in your room and watch Netflix. Somehow everything is even darker — certainly didn’t think that was possible…

Depression at Stanford is funny. People try to relate. “It’s like that time” or “I understand” or “Well if theres anything I can do.” That is the first sign that a person doesn’t have a fucking clue what its like to be depressed. That darkness isn’t like any time you felt, isn’t understood by any experience you had, and no, there is absolutely nothing you can do. For each person, myself included, that darkness is unique, it comes from a set of experiences that YOU have not had. Without that set of experiences and that set of reactions, you are so far gone from my darkness that to pretend you can relate is an affront to my intelligence. Stanford students are go-getters, problem solvers. Well, depression has no solution, so there will never be anything you can do about it. And to acknowledge that is important and is the closest thing to a solution you will ever find.

That anger eventually subsides into a resignation. Do people realize there is something wrong? Well that depends on two things: how talented you are and how perceptive your friends are. Personally, after the anger stage, I went about my business with just a little more flatness to each of my conversations. I avoided people as much as I could but not to the point where people thought I disappeared. I didn’t call out for help. I deceitfully got by everyone… my RA’s, my family, my friends, my girlfriend. And it festered… a feeling of uselessness, emptiness, lifelessness. It all added up to an extended blanket of darkness. Nothing felt good, nothing tasted good, and nothing smelled good. I tried many things, but I could never identify why this darkness existed, why I was covered by a blanket of nothingness. No one noticed because my darkness was real. I felt I had no value in life and that life had no value… period. But why disrupt other people’s world just because I couldn’t see what they saw? So one night, I walked to the top of a building where I would likely not be found for weeks with the pills that I really wanted to taste, to feel… I wanted to die with feeling…

Depression at Stanford is funny. Everyone says the same thing and it makes no sense. If you are lucky enough to know, to be aware, that someone you care about is thinking of suicide, please DO NOT recount why they are valuable. How they got into Stanford, it gets better, remember the old times? How they are privileged to be here, they’ll meet that girl that will make their dreams come true, or to give it time, what do you have to lose? If they are serious about suicide, that stuff doesn’t matter. They have lost touch with the value in themselves, they have come to the very honest, and true realization… that one individual truly DOES NOT provide value in the world except to oneself. If you want to talk someone off the ledge who is really serious about jumping, be fucking selfish. Tell them exactly how your life would change without them. NOTHING ELSE works.

I sat down on the roof of the SIEPR building and looked out into the sky. I could hear drunk people below singing and laughing. I honestly just did not understand. What is there to be happy for? Life is pointless and no one person can bring value to the world. Yet at Stanford, everyone is so directed and driven… but for what? There is nothing but selfishness. A desire to feel important and to do something of value… when neither is truly possible. My phone rang, while I was staring at the bottle. I decided, against my better judgment to answer it… “Hey! I just booked your flight for winter break! We are excited to see you…” My mom’s voice. She’ll never know it, but she saved me.

There are no solutions to depression. But you can always be a more perceptive friend, a better person, and make time for those you care about. Because when darkness hits your friend or family member, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be lucky enough to realize it… and know what to say. 

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7 thoughts on “Darkness

  1. anonymous melancholy says:

    Gave me shivers. It seems some of us really do feel the same, you write the sentences as I think them. Being selfish is the cure, because there’s a point where practicing selflessness and caring for others is a detriment. I find, though horrible, a temporary fix is to be sleep deprived. Prevent your thoughts from seeking to much further.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been there; I know how it is. Thank you for this article, it describes a lot of people very well.

  3. Dan says:

    Strange, but often the most insightful person, the most caring person, the most sensitive person suffers from the deeper levels of depression. The wisdom of the ages reveals that the dark night of the soul will open to the dawn if the depressed person can only hang on. But how to hang on, that is the question. Most of us have to walk the path of darkness at some level of intensity before we can stop at a vista of light. It’s not the walk; it’s how the walk is done. Sometimes crawling on the knees is the only way forward. I didn’t realize that until after the end of the journey.

  4. Anonymous says:

    As someone who has not personally experienced depression and does not have much experience with close friends or family with depression, I find some of the things you say a bit disconcerting.

    “Depression has no solution, so there will never be anything you can do about it.” So what am I supposed to do? Just sit here?

    “Everyone says the same thing and it makes no sense.” Because I don’t have experience, I don’t know what makes sense. And it probably differs from person to person. I am afraid, seriously seriously afraid, that because I don’t know what to say I just shouldn’t help anyone. I might make things much worse instead of a little bit better. I often feel like it’s not my place to be supportive because I don’t know how to be supportive in the “right” way. And I know that’s completely stupid, but it’s how it feels.

    “Tell them exactly how your life would change without them. NOTHING ELSE works.” This may be the case for you, but it might not be the case for everyone. The one person I’ve helped (or whatever you might call it) work through depressive thoughts and feelings seriously believed my life and the world would be better without him.

    Please, help potential allies learn to be allies. At times this piece feels like an attack on those who are trying hard to be supportive. It’s just going to make things worse.

    • somewhat anonymous i guess says:

      I get how this piece could come off as aggressive: things like “pretending to relate is an affront to my intelligence” etc. are aggressive. I get that it makes general statements based on one experience. That said, I think it’s a really valuable piece, and, as it describes in the beginning, does a good job of characterizing one particular manifestation of “darkness”.

      I think the totalizing vein running throughout the piece is a very real expression of someone’s experience of depression. To soften it with a layer of qualification would do a disservice to someone’s very real experience. I think this is a much more honest portrayal.

      With regards to the treatment of people who try and help: it’s unfair. It’s an unfair illness. Oftentimes everything can seem subordinate to it, just as this article described, and sometimes people just don’t help, try as they might, just as this article described. Sometimes, maybe even a lot of the time, the solution is being selfish, in one way or another. I think it’s wrong to read this as a piece that’s meant to change policy or provide a universal account of depression. I think that, instead, it should be respected as a very legitimate experience and accommodated. Part of respecting someone’s experience and helping is coming to them on their terms, not your own, even when it hurts.

  5. Anonymous says:

    There are resources on campus available if you’re depressed or thinking of taking your own life. People who care are here to help!!

    The Bridge Peer Counseling center is open 24/7 at 650-723-3392, or you can drop by 9am-midnight at Rogers House.

    The Stanford Psychological and Counseling Services (CAPS) also has a 24-hr hotline at (650) 723-3785.

  6. ABCrane says:

    Beautiful prose. I have been there many years ago and totally understand. Older now, and a great deal healed, I can say this to you: you have a tremendously deep and meaningful soul, and therefore sense the (seemingly) meaninglessness of existence. However, all is meaningful and your true purpose will soon enough reveal itself to you. I promise. When you hear the crowing of the hawk, it is begging you to be present, and when you are present, you will know the very meaning of life. Patience, my friend, and the universe will be yours to make better, grander, in your own way and at your own pace. The world needs you. You need the world. Peace.

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