Lindsey Taing: Chill out

Guest Columnist
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This article is part of the series Commencement Magazine 2017

I entered Brown with big aspirations, wide eyes and a hope for something incredible. Like many of my peers, I was the valedictorian and president of many different clubs in high school. But after my freshman year, I soon realized that almost every Brown student was accustomed to past success. Brown was a community engulfed in talent, passion and drive. I felt lost trying to find my own personal success in a pool of common achievement. I wondered how I could make any substantial impact on such a vibrant community.

My parents are Cambodian genocide refugees who ingrained in me a drive to become the absolute best version of myself and prioritized education as a privilege for which they were once persecuted. With that drive rooted in my mind, I wanted to excel in every facet of life. I had high expectations for myself, as so many other students at Brown do. I pushed myself; I saw my peers push themselves. Everyone I knew worked incredibly hard to meet their own expectations. It was all too common for someone outside the community to assume Brown was “chill” and even lacked “real” grades.

As Brown students, we could all collectively sigh over those assumptions. We definitely had grades — you can check my transcript for proof. Though Brown is known for being stereotypically “chill,” our all-nighters at the Sci Li, crying in the stacks and mental breakdowns would argue otherwise. We worked tirelessly. I was plagued by the idea of being chill even as so many of us had studied 50 hours for a final exam or paper and still received a grade that felt inadequate. My close friends and I often felt like we lacked a definitive achievement. Many times we would question if we belonged here and if our accomplishments mattered. I had thought Brown was chill, but it seemed taboo to talk to anyone if you were struggling.

After my freshman spring, I felt inadequate and lost at Brown. It felt like a mistake to be among so many brilliant and successful peers. I thought I would transfer to another school where my perceived lack of success would be less burdensome. I filled out a transfer form and stared at it for days. I never told anyone.

Sophomore year, I was determined to find a version of success that would be satisfying. I took five classes for the next five semesters, feeling like I had to prove myself. I pushed myself — far from the supposed “chill” Brown was supposed to have. I spent almost 13 hours studying in the Sci Li basement every day. I worked the hardest my body physically could. Even if my body suffered, I continued. The one instance in which I sought help, I contacted a dean. I had three exams on the same day, and none of them could be moved. The dean suggested I “time manage.” I cried in the fifth floor stacks. I cried almost every day of sophomore year, and my health deteriorated. I was miserable, but no one knew as I kept the darkness locked inside.

As I continued to see a lack of success in myself, I began to lose self-worth and the motivation to continue my education. Despite my crumbling mental state, no one knew the extent to which I suffered. I was notoriously perky and smiley; I donned a resting “nice face.” I was an upbeat and caring individual, so it seemed simple to pretend I was “okay” on the outside. The facade I had created hid all pain. I did not want anyone to know about my feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness. I did not want pity; I wanted to deal with it myself. I could not imagine how many other students related to me and felt uncomfortable talking about it.

Finally, I realized I was not okay. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety. At first, I even struggled to tell my family. For the next three years, I continued to battle with my mental health and the image that I was supposed to be “relaxed” and “chill” while succeeding in all aspects of life. I painted this image to show others that I had it all together, but I did not. Every day felt dark, as if there were no escape. I had completely lost myself. Junior year, I still probably cried every other day.

Before I knew it, I was a senior, jaded and unexcited about things that used to grab my attention. After three years on campus, I finally sought out open discussions with peers about my mental health. I was tired of letting critical views of failure take over my life. I started allowing myself to see what made Brown a facilitating, encouraging learning environment. I was able to see how many people related to me and how receptive students on campus could be to truthfully talking about the implications of mental health. The topic did not have to be taboo. I came to appreciate the impact that this campus has had on my life. I was not alone, and I never was. I could acknowledge that maybe I was not okay, but I did belong here.

Throughout the debilitating mental illness, Brown has allowed me to become resilient while connecting me with passionate, caring people whom I consider lifelong friends. I am incredibly thankful that I never submitted that college transfer form and made it through this journey along with my classmates. You are never alone at Brown, and maybe we are considered “chill” because we are driven yet also enthusiastic, empathetic and excited. Maybe I am not inherently chill and am all too Type A, but I am myself. And after three years of what seemed impossible to escape, I am genuinely happy. Thank you, Brown.

One Comment

  1. Frankie Leung says:

    You are lucky that in the USA mental illness is not stymatized to the same extent as elsewhere. I have seen cases of nervous breakdown in competitive academic environment.

Leave a Reply to Frankie Leung Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *