“It Takes Some Cold to Know the Sun”

Facing Perfectionism from Davidson College (Davidson, North Carolina)

An anonymous story

Roughly 40 million Americans, eighteen and older, are affected by anxiety disorders. Mental health is a huge problem, even on Davidson’s campus, and it’s not talked about. If I could, I would tell my story to everybody because it is a very important story to tell. I would tell it myself, but the world still has a stigma around mental illness. I just don’t have the time to be thought of that way right now.

My ninth grade year, January 23, my dad attempted suicide, for the first time. His practice is centered in a not-so-great place in my hometown. He worked everyday for IOUs and “Pay me later”s. But a lot of people took advantage of him and never paid him back. He didn’t have the heart to say he was going bankrupt and didn’t have the money to support our family. I didn’t know anything about it until I saw him in the hospital. I had a feeling though, from the way people were talking around me. My grandmother got me from school and deflected all of my questions with, “he’s where he needs to be.” No one would answer me. He was in the hospital for a week and then did out patient for a month. I remember sitting on his lap at the kitchen table, and he said that if he ever felt like this again, he would drive himself to the hospital. That was his promise to me.

My junior year, he attempted it again. It was Valentine’s Day. He left a note on my bed. My mom and I immediately drove to his office. All of the doors were locked, and we couldn’t get in. We called 911 to break down the door. Before they could, they had to confirm with the owner of the building that they could break in. All I could think was Please break down the door! We will pay for anything! Just get us into the building! There was my dad – barely conscious, having taken all of his medication and all of my medication. I remember seeing him in the emergency room again. He said, “Why didn’t it work?” That was the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I still sometimes get that heart-wrenching feeling when I think about his letter.

After his first attempt, he was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. After he was diagnosed, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder with onset depression.

We were worried about him to say the least. He was also diagnosed with diabetes, and we had to change his diet. He wasn’t working, and my mom had to pick up another job. It was hard on my mom, dealing with both of us. The second time around they had some marital issues. I remember a month and a half before I left for college, my dad woke me up in the middle of the night. “Your mom is leaving me.” Running downstairs, I found my mom crying. “I can’t do it anymore. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I’m making you guys happy anymore.” I never see her cry really. My mom is a good actress in that she never shows emotion. I don’t know how she did it, even in those moments of weakness. I was her rock, and she was my rock. My mother is the strongest woman I know. At that point in my life, my whole family was constantly leaning on each other.

That is why I was so apprehensive to go to Davidson. It was the farthest I’d ever been away from my family. I had no control of what happened in my household when I was away. I felt very vulnerable–not to mention I had horrible service, which made staying in contact with my family even harder. First semester was rough for me. In my mind, my friends seemed to have more fun when I was not there. Even though some of my friends understood my situation, things never felt quite right. You can really tell your true friends when you open up to them about your vulnerabilities. Some don’t have the emotional ability to handle it. At first, I felt like I was bad at making friends, or I was afraid to get close, to open up, with the fear that they might not be able to fully accept me as me. But by second semester, I found friends that I truly felt comfortable around, which is good. I just needed to branch out.

It’s still hard sometimes to take time for myself, to tell people I need to be alone for a while. That’s something that Davidson students don’t do, “being perfect.” Saying no is hard to do, especially at Davidson. First semester, I needed to take time for myself. I think that some people around me thought that I was just pushing them away, which wasn’t what I was intending. You have to enjoy life while you have it –you never know when it might change forever. I try to take advantage of every moment I have, even if that means taking time for myself. But at Davidson, if you are comfortable, something is wrong. You should always be reaching towards a goal. You should have no down time. If you have down time, then you aren’t trying hard enough. Which just isn’t true. Everyone needs down time. Doing to many things makes other things not perfect. We set the habits for the rest of our lives, the way you think about things is probably how you will lead your life later.

When I considered Davidson, I didn’t think it was the place for me. I thought it’s too competitive. It’s too scary. I don’t want all this stress constantly. I don’t need that. I’ve always been a perfectionist. I’ve always been high-achieving. I work really hard in school. Especially with my home life, I thought everything else had to be perfect, and it elevated itself when I got here. But I know I made the right decision. Seeing everyone around me so stressed makes me realize that I don’t want to be like that. I still question if I really do belong here sometimes but then I remember I don’t need to be like everyone else to be my best self.

My personal goal is to be happy with whatever I am doing –whether I’m with my family, dancing on tables, working hard, being with friends, or taking time for myself. All I want is a job where I can play with kids all day and get paid well enough to take care of myself and my family. It’s as simple as that. However, if you go to a place like Davidson, that can’t be your end goal. You have to think bigger. But for me, I guess I’m just not the typical Davidson student.

I approach things with the motto: everything happens for a reason. All these things happened–incredibly awful things–but I’m still here, he’s still here, my family is still together. It honestly opened up a conversation that we needed to have, bringing us closer together.

I have a more positive outlook on life. I remind myself I’m in a new place. I’m here. I have a place to stay. I have people to talk to. It’s all just the adventure of life. I try not to make things negative.

The negative definitely still comes up. It still happens. I still get anxious. I still get depressed. I still struggle to get out of bed and wonder what’s the purpose of it all. It’s still a thing that’s part of my everyday life, which I think a lot of people don’t realize. You may think that I’m given medication and everything’s cured. But that’s not how it works. It’s still a battle you have to fight everyday. I have to get up to go to class. I have to fight to stay focused or motivated to do things.

I’m not depression. Depression isn’t me. It’s just a part of me. It’s still a big part of my character, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for everything I went through. I don’t want to be perfect anymore. That would be too boring. “It takes some cold to know the sun.” And although I hate the cold, I love the sun. I wouldn’t have the same outlook on life if things didn’t happen the way they did; I wouldn’t be the same resilient person I am today.

Vogue By Melissa Chervin 2015
Image by Melissa Chervin

This story originally appeared in Facing Perfectionism, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina.

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