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Letter to a Young RC:

M y grandmother hardly leaves the house nowadays. She cries over almost everything. She is anxious and worried all the time. In short, she’s depressed.

For a long time I thought I was alone in suffering from depression. That is one of the symptoms in fact-to think that no one cares, that no one can possibly be suffering as much as you. This symptom is one of the reasons why depression is such a vicious cycle. It is unbearable to talk to others about your feelings because it seems so futile. And if you are self-aware, then on a certain level you invalidate your own feelings. In your denial and embarrassment, you find yourself incapable of seeking help.

When I got to HBS, I heard the statistic that one out of ten students gets depressed. This summer, after listening to my classmates talk about their RC experiences, I think the number is closer to 50%. Why would so many bright, motivated people get depressed, and what can they do about it?

There are quite a few potential catalysts to getting depressed at HBS. First I’ll state the obvious: you need to make all-new friends, familiarize yourself with unknown surroundings, and accustom yourself to taking classes again. It is a daunting challenge, and for me, it was too much.

I had social anxiety and locked myself in my dorm room a lot of the time. Once I was alone, I would get mad at myself for not socializing. Then, later in the semester, I told myself that I had missed my window of opportunity to make friends and there was no reason to even bother going out. Most people manage to confront their fear of rejection and head out into the HBS social landscape. However, few people meet their best friend on the first day. As you’re thrust into some admittedly awkward and contrived social situations, you wonder if you can ever make as good of friends as you did back in college or high school.

As for the case system, it’s designed to put you under pressure, so there’s no surprise that it stresses everyone out. No one wants to look foolish in front of a roomful of people they desperately want to impress.

Lastly, when it comes to acclimating to Boston, I’ve discovered that a large number of partners and students, including myself, find it impossible. Look at the statistics, and very few students end up working here.

Going to HBS also creates turbulence in your life, which can exacerbate any pre-existing or emerging turmoil. One of the most common reasons I heard for getting depressed was relationship problems. Many students choose to keep long distance relationships that appear to have most of the downsides of intimate relationships without the benefits. Those who are able to convince their partners to move to Boston need to deal with the resentment their partner will inevitably feel toward HBS-not only as the source of their uprooting but also because HBS takes up so much time and is an experience that partners can never fully share in. Many students choose to get married or engaged right before school starts. They are dealing with the pressures of redefining their relationship and for some, living together for the first time. Finally, for those of us who are single, there’s facing the fact that unless your name is Paris, the H-Bomb doesn’t seem to work all that well in Boston.

But there are other sources of turmoil as well. Any illness, death, or divorce seems acutely painful when you are at HBS. Far away from home, your emotions raw from the struggle to succeed, bad news or family tensions can be earth-shatteringly jarring. My parents decided to get divorced a few months before my RC year, and I felt completely deracinated, as if an earthquake had swallowed my entire life into a sinkhole. Even now, entering my EC year, I wonder what I will do with my life and where I will live now that I no longer have an anchor tying me to Houston.

Although you may be aware of what the RC pitfalls are, not everyone can avoid them. What you can do, though, is take care of yourself if you get depressed so you can go back to being you again. I’m going to give you a list of things to consider, and thankfully you only need one of these to work for you to get out of a funk:

Someone out there loves you.
You may be feeling worthless, but at least one person in this world thinks you’re amazing. Call them up. You don’t even have to tell them you’re depressed if you don’t want to. Just hearing the way they talk to you will remind you of why you deserve to be at HBS.

You’re not alone.
A significant percentage of the population experiences depression at some point in their life. It is normal to feel upset and you do not need to hide it if you do not want to. It will take a risk to do it, but opening yourself up to somebody is the fastest way to make a close friend. If you have a gut feeling that someone in your section will understand your experience, then listen to your intuition and ask them out to chat with you over coffee.

Professors care.
It has blown me away. Not since high school had I felt that a teacher gave a damn about their students. I don’t know how HBS has done it, but here, all the professors give a damn. If you are having a problem in a class, don’t wait to talk to your professor. As much as they care about your education, they’re not psychic. If you are like me, even when you’re going through hard times you don’t like making excuses for yourself. That still does not mean that you cannot talk about it. There are a few professors out there who if they were not educators would probably be saints, and when you ask them for their professional or personal advice, you’re giving them an opportunity to do what they love-teaching and mentoring students.

Be authentic.
HBS is a whole new environment, and it can be hard to express your identity here. A lot of us were involved in sports and activities that we might no longer have the time for, can’t seem to find others to participate in, or are virtually impossible to do in Boston. I experienced my RC year as one long bar hop, but that is not how I find fulfillment. By the force of tradition and peer pressure, we all find ourselves becoming part of a culture that, because it tries to be inclusive of everyone, tends toward the monolithic. I had the great fortune of being part of a section that embraces individuality and quirkiness, but it’s a crapshoot as to who ends up in your section and how its norms evolve. If you can’t find people in your section to connect with on certain levels, there is no shame in looking elsewhere. I cannot deny that your sectionmates will notice your absence from section events, but if you do not give yourself the chance to express who you are, you will have to deal with your own absence.

You can seek professional help.
I did. Counselor appointments are held on the fourth floor of the Holyoke center. It is not a far walk from campus, it is completely free, and they will work around your schedule. Going to a counselor lets you dump all your problems on someone without feeling guilty about it. That was important for me because I felt like it was selfish and boring to talk about my problems with my friends and family.

In spite of all the rough times I experienced in the RC, it was one of the best years of my life. I think back to Priscilla Ball, the HBS Show, Spring Break, section retreat, dodge ball, and countless other moments and I cannot help but smile and think fondly about my section and HBS. Earlier this summer I sat on a student panel and I was asked about how HBS was a transformational experience, and I was able to answer that question with a straight face. I hope that after your RC year, you will feel the same way, even if you have to face a fight with depression to get there.

September 10, 2007
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