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In July 2014, I was spending my third straight summer in Hanover. I was working as a teaching assistant for “Classics 4,” helping with a digital mapping project in the art history department, editing an educational website’s mythology curriculum, kicking off research on my thesis and avoiding the contemplation of the spectre of adulthood which had by this point fully sunk its teeth into my unrelenting existence.
For ’16s, this is the first time we’re all — more or less — on campus together since the 2012-2013 school year. My first night back this fall, fresh off the Dartmouth Coach and still lugging my duffels, I had dinner at Molly’s to celebrate a friend’s birthday. As a closet socially anxious person, this was the perfect way to start the term. I maybe not-so-secretly have the constant niggling worry that nobody likes me, and I should just go eat some worms. So having plans for a social gathering the minute I got here was comforting. After three years, I feel like I have networks — plural — of people to turn to and be with, and that’s a beautiful thing. Surprisingly, though, it’s not togetherness that’s fueled my happiness — it’s separation. It’s the D-Plan.
15F. September. DHMC. I crossed my legs, my laptop precariously balancing on one knee as I frantically scrolled through the form with checkboxes ranging from “depression” to “paying bills.” I had to find the box for “anxiety” before the woman sitting next to me listed another symptom of dementia.
I came to Dartmouth from Taos, a small town in New Mexico, not knowing anyone or what to expect. How could an hour-long campus tour possibly prepare me for such a massive transition? I was moving across the country, living away from home for the first time. I was a mess of nervous excitement. How was I supposed to find my way around campus? Was I going to make friends? How could my small-town public school possibly compare to the prestigious prep and boarding schools of some of my peers? But I was excited too — excited to test myself and try new things, to be able to take control of my life for the first time, to choose my classes based on my real interests, to choose my activities, my friends and what I was going to eat for dinner that night.
To be honest, I thought I had it all figured it out. Being dropped off by my parents in the middle of New Hampshire was definitely nerve-wracking, but every one was in the same boat, right? I had a plan, and it was simple — school, friends, sleep and repeat. That was definitely doable. But I write this from a place of preciously secured wisdom that has been bestowed upon me as a member of the next graduating class. From this vantage point, I see how completely out-of-touch this so-called plan actually was. It did not factor in any kind of living — and by living I mean the sometimes dirty, messy, beautiful, ridiculous life events that occur without warning. At the time, the plan was all I had. I thought college was a neat little formula I could plug myself into and complete within the allotted four years. That first day I was excited about who I was, and I knew exactly where I was going. I saw four years ahead of me, four years and the opportunity to make of them whatever I decided.
I never thought I would be involved in religious life anywhere — much less in college. Growing up as a Conservative Jew while attending a Christian high school, I hated displays of organized religion. Even though chapel services tried to be inclusive, recognizing the various Jewish (and other faiths’) holidays, I still felt out of place. At religious school, I never felt intellectually engaged and felt ostracized by my peers, who attended different schools. While I still maintained a set of Jewish values fostered by my parents, I did not find a group of Jewish peers to whom I could relate.
I avoid going home because I can’t avoid mealtimes. The scene plays out almost exactly the same way each time. My father complains about bills, my mother gossips about her immigrant friends’ children and my 10-year-old brother spills food onto his comic books, ignoring everyone present. I remain silent, not sure which parts of my current life I can share with a family that lives in an entirely different world.
Ashley was a green light I never expected.
Like many of us here, I rage every Saturday. Once 6 p.m. rolls around, I grab dinner with a couple of my friends and then head off for a series of escapades, often stretching into the wee hours of the night. In the interest of transparency, however, I should let you know it is not me, per se, who is raging, but rather my level 12 dwarf-barbarian — he wields a greathammer, name of Einar.
From what I’ve heard, I’ve developed a reputation during my time here for being a really kind, friendly and well-meaning individual. Trust me, I do try. In fact, it’s difficult for me not to. That’s because my earnest friendliness is a tool I use to conceal my actual deep-rooted feelings of anxiety. For much of my life I have been intrinsically stressed out — I’ve believed, quite irrationally, that I am being judged or ridiculed during normal, seemingly friendly interactions. I’ve felt self-conscious and embarrassed when there is really no need.
“Where are you from?” is such a simple question — but I dread it.
I’m facetimey. I enjoy attention, engaging with mainstream social life and being liked. I am the youngest of three, after all. I equate my self-worth to the amount of “likes” I get across social media platforms, and I’m crushed by suffocating insecurity when someone acknowledges my faults. I sang to prospies during Dimensions, dyed my hair for HCroo and wore a speedo in a Mainstage show. I’ve participated in most Dartmouth propagandistic activities in exchange for social capital. These transactions make me happy (see: my above values system). I will, however, defend myself by admitting that climbing the social ladder was not so high on my priorities list as being an accessible upperclassman mentor or finding a group of equally social people with whom I relate. I figured that my closest social connections would be the students who had also successfully infiltrated Dartmouth’s labyrinthine social networks. But I assumed, and made an ass out of you and me.
I never went camping as a child.
Maybe this will help you understand.
My father passed away the summer before my sophomore year. That’s how I always start the explanation, and that’s often how I end it. When people ask about my father, they don’t expect a tragic story as a response, and I truly do not wish to present them with one. Death is already painful and complicated. Loss of a parent is immensely difficult — the story is already sad, regardless of the circumstances.
On the biology foreign study program in Costa Rica and the Cayman Islands this past winter, I was surrounded by some of the most diverse and engaging ecosystems in the world. Spider monkeys cavorted outside the classroom — scorpions lurked under the bathroom sink. As someone who grew up catching insects in Mason jars and playing in the mud, I felt alive. That’s not to say that the program wasn’t challenging. We wrote scientific papers every four to five days and moved to a new field station each week. I stayed up late and woke up early, but I felt happy and fulfilled.
Self-care at Dartmouth is hard, especially as someone who transferred here from an institution that let me count classes like “Math 120: Appreciation of Math” toward a degree my freshman year. I used to have time for two naps, a four-mile run and a Zumba class every day on top of my schoolwork, and I assumed that was just what college was like. It was with this mindset that I arrived in Hanover last fall.