A lot of people talk about college as “the best four years of your life”. I’ve been known on occasion to wax poetic about my college experience. And it was great – there is no doubt that I was in the right place at the right time and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s nice to think that college was so easy because all we had to do was go to classes and hang out with friends. “No rent to pay!” “No job to go to!” are frequent refrains from those of us who have passed college and made it out into the “real world” where rent and jobs are a reality.
But there is another truth too – it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
When I was in college I went through bouts of severe depression. My father cut me off for the last two and a half years of school, refused to pay my tuition, and we didn’t speak again until a few weeks before my graduation. I was always stressed out about money and I put a load of pressure on myself about getting perfect grades to prove to him (and myself) that I deserved to be in school. I was terribly naive socially and there were plenty of nights when I cried myself to sleep.
While the details may be different, I think this isn’t an uncommon story. It’s easy to look back at that time and think that it was a haven, but the truth is that there was plenty of stress and discomfort. I’m not sure I’d want to relive the pain that girl was in.
Sometimes when we’re living through pain, it can be too difficult to share it in the moment. Recently I re-connected with an old friend from my early teenage years and for the first time we shared what had been going on in our lives then. I was stunned to hear some of her stories. I’d had no idea. I said to her, “I wish I’d known so that I could have supported you.” She said, “I didn’t want you to know. Our friendship was one place where I could forget all that.” And the truth is, I know what she meant. I hadn’t shared with her what was going on in my home either. Sometimes it’s only later that we can gather the courage to share and really understand that we we aren’t alone.
Today I read a stunning piece of writing that really spoke to me. It’s by another alumna of my alma mater, Brandeis University. Her travails were of a different sort – she was living with an undiagnosed case of Asperger’s – but the pain that I hear in her writing is so familiar.
I wrote to Penelope today to say thank you. To my surprise and delight, she wrote back almost immediately.
What a gift to make a new connection – sometimes the honest expression of old pain is all it takes to open new doors.