Park: Vox Clamantis

A case for not being afraid to say it the way it is.

by Annika Park | 4/11/17 12:15am

“Hey, how are you?” “I’m good!” “How was your off term?” “It was really nice. It feels good to be back though.” “That’s good. Grab a meal?” “Yes! What’s your class schedule?” “I have a 10, an 11 and a 3B.” “How about lunch after 11s next Wednesday?” “Sure!”

We never grabbed that meal. Social interactions are my favorite part of the day, but I spent my first week back at Dartmouth after my off term in a full daze, overcome with homesickness and anxiety about running into familiar faces.

After a couple of awkward “hellos” and halfhearted hugs, I realized that I was wasting my time. I had missed Dartmouth during my time away; I missed my friends so much that I was counting down the days until I’d be back. This surprised me, given that I had left school for the winter both emotionally drained and mentally unwhole.

At Dartmouth, surrounded by people who are much smarter, much more successful, much more beautiful and much more privileged than I am, my sense of inadequacy was eating me alive. There were other concerns that stood in the way of my happiness at Dartmouth as well, such as family problems that had gotten exponentially worse from freshman year onward. I always thought of myself as a strong person, but at times I felt anything but. Yet some of my lowest points at Dartmouth taught me that weakness is not the absence of strength — it’s your body’s way of telling you that your mind is stretched to the extent of snapping.

And so, a few days into this term, I made an executive decision. I was going to tell people how I felt; I was going to tell people how happy I was to see them. I was not going to be afraid of how I would be presenting myself to them when they saw me. The term immediately got better; I realized it was because I no longer feared showing too much and making a fool of myself.

“Annika, good to see you!” “Hey! Oh my god, I missed you so much!” “How was your off term?” “It was nice to be home, but it got really stressful after a while. Spending every moment after work with my parents was a little tough. Work was fun; I learned a lot and got to work on a couple of my weaknesses, like attention to detail, but I’m not sure if I’d ever want to work a nine-to-five job again. We’ll see about that.” “Yeah, I totally feel that. My job was so stressful, but it was definitely nice to be home.” “By the way, you look good. Like, really really good.” (Here, there’s usually an awkward laughter when the person is taken aback by what I just said.) “Thanks. You do too.”

It’s astonishing how much sadness pervades a college as idyllic as Dartmouth. In an activity my sorority ran during sophomore summer, each sister received a jar of compliments that other sisters in the house filled for them. Most of mine were about the big smile I greet everyone with, how fun I am at parties, how I manage to go on runs every day and how put together I look on a daily basis. This was during a time when I barely made it to class, ate less than one meal a day and lay strung out on my couch every night, half asleep, half awake, pushed to my breaking point.

I can’t say that I am better, but I can attest with confidence that I have more moments when I feel better than I did before. This came from one realization: I cannot blame my friends, my sorority or my school for not being there for me when I did not make the effort to let them know that I was tired, hurt and sick.

Don’t be afraid. Spit it out. Don’t hold it in. Go for the hug. Are you angry? Are you tired? Are you sick? We’re here for you. I’m here for you – but we can only be here for you if you let us know. So Dartmouth – tell us how you feel.

“How was your day?” “Really terrible.” “Same. Come here, let me give you a hug.”