078. Under Water

tldr: catch your breath

Post number 13 on MITAdmissions.

This entire blog has this playlist. Enjoy.

This semester was rough. This sort of sentence has been one I’ve had trouble saying throughout my time at MIT. Some semesters go by better than others, but at this point the number of rough ones about equals the number of purely good ones, which is honestly an okay ratio in my opinion. Especially at a school known for the firehose [the feeling of being overwhelmed by classes, clubs, extracurriculars, life, etc.].

But this semester in particular, was rough.

Because about halfway through, I felt like I was drowning.
And hardly anyone knew.

Way earlier in the semester I had asked my mom if I should spend the extra money to fly home the day after my last final instead of waiting just one more day, and she said yes. So I flew home on the 23rd. On the flight, I thought back to last winter.

Around this time last year, I was writing about how I was doing fun things to keep my mind off of finals and having a really good time with friends. I went to the movies, I waded in the Boston Harbor, I walked the esplanade not once or twice but three times. I was at ease.

This year, I felt like I had one foot out the door. I studied hard for the biology exam right up until the last minute, and passed with a C- woo(!), but still this took up the majority of my finals week. Then I studied for the next exam, cramming in the few details I wanted (and needed) to remember. And immediately afterwards, I went home to Next House to pack my carry-on and leave.

My flight was at 7am the next day, but I left for the airport at 3:30am. I couldn’t bear the feeling of my room anymore. I was ready to be at home and to try and do anything but schoolwork.

The rain was pouring as the flight took off. I picture the rain water submerging the plane creating a flying submarine. And I fell asleep.

When things were at their worst this semester, I talked to a few trusted people in my life about what I needed to do next for my physical and mental health. Nearly everyone emphasized the fact that MIT would still be here when I came back, though it might seem different. [Note: Here I mean the time I took off for an in-person hospitalization, but taking time for mental health can look like many things in college. It can look like taking a semester off, doing an intense outpatient program while continuing classes, and it can look like my case which was simply an in-person inpatient hospitalization that lasted for a week, and then I came back and continued my classes.] Nearly everyone asked if I knew about the resources that MIT offers like S^3 (Student Support Services) and the mental health hotline. And to be frank, I did know about these services. What I was asking these people for, was (almost) permission to take advantage of them.

That– the permission that is– they gave me. They told me I was brave. They told me they were proud of me for getting help. Which at first felt really patronizing. Why should I be “brave” for using resources that MIT provides?

After getting the help from these resources, I finally understood why, at least a little bit: getting help is a bit of a leap of faith. You are trusting another person enough to say “I can’t do this on my own right now,” and hoping they will do the right thing by you.

Because when I reached out, I was a little bit scared of what would come next. If I would be able to finish the semester or if I’d have to complete it later. If I would be able to give my final presentation. If I’d be sunk in medical debt. If I’d be ostracized for being “weak”. But the people I reached out to all fought for me and with me. And I made it through. Just like they all said I would.

In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t let myself reach the point of feeling so scared.

In the months leading up to coming home, my mom asked me to make a list of things I wanted to do in California. The list I made included some of the various food and (singular) coffee place in Fresno I had been craving for the past seven months, a haircut, and a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

A month or two into the fall semester of my junior year, the Class of 2024 got to go on the freshman aquarium trip. By which I mean, the aquarium trip that we would’ve gone on as first years, which wasn’t plausible given COVID etc., had finally transpired my junior year.

I was so pumped to go. I love aquariums. I love being able to sit and see nothing but a wall of water and just catch your breath. But this was because I was used to the Monterey Bay Aquarium with a 1.2 million gallon tank called “The Open Sea”. An entirely dark room with a single tank taking up the entirety of one truly ginormous wall.

This sort of behemoth of an aquarium, simply doesn’t exist at the New England Aquarium. It’s really nice, but it isn’t a “get lost in the silence of your mind” kind of nice, for me at least. But worst of all– after the aquarium trip– as I walked through the dark Boston streets, for the first time at MIT I felt truly alone. And I started to feel like I couldn’t breathe.

On the way to Monterey, I made this playlist of songs that feel like you’re underwater. But not in a painful way, but rather a quiet way. I thought of the opening scene of Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief movie, in which the titular Percy is sitting with ease at the bottom of the pool.

At first, the scene reminded me of my rough semester– the feelings of drowning, isolation, and “just pushing through”. But then, the scene started to feel calm. He just looks so peaceful in that scene. Percy knows that he’s under a lot of pressure. He knows he’s under water. Yet he’s just existing.

After I received the “permission” to get help, I felt like I could exist a little bit easier knowing I’d have help. And sitting in front of The Open Sea, my headphones replacing the noise of the crowd with my playlist, I feel ready to start existing more next semester.

End of Part 1.

Published by Paige Bright

Hi- my name is Paige Alexandria Bright. I am a rising junior at MIT interested in mathematics and philosophy. I have been writing this blog since the beginning of COVID. Lets see where this goes.

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