Editor’s Note: This article contains a graphic description of self-harm and suicide attempt. The reader’s discretion is strongly advised.
During my freshman year at Duke, I had friends and teachers who supported me zealously in times of vulnerability, but I always felt the empty presence of loneliness. To escape, I entered it in the form of the railroad tracks behind the Trinity dormitory. Trees on both sides of the tracks created a visible boundary that gave those inside virtual isolation. I remember slightly hearing a horn while reading my journal entry that afternoon,
“Children fear tripping out of their bicycle seats and onto the sidewalk. Woodshop instructors appreciate their opposable thumbs. However, I feel morbid glee at the sight of the crimson spreading down my legs and on the white tissue paper perpendicular to my hamstrings, or my left elbow, or my eyelids. “
I hated Duke, one of the country’s hottest caricatures of inequality – individuals and families asking for Whole Foods’ seven dollar sandwiches sit along the perimeter of our billion dollar campus. “The people who… taking the lead,” as student Christian Sheerer put it, “will be responsible for countless cases of unnecessary suffering. Students, blinded by the pretty emerald that symbolizes our bad history of economic imperialism, roam Craven and perpetuate the green glow that also blinded our slave-owner ancestors and tobacco tycoons. In essence, Duke is a microcosm of the elite stain of white America.
In Duke and downtown Durham, on the outskirts of Cleveland and everywhere the eight hours in between, too many of my encounters are clichés. Walking behind other students at night causes accelerated gaits and constant glances over the shoulder, purse handles tighten as I get closer, last year’s toxicology report falls into place ‘forgetfulness – the further he goes, the more difficult it becomes to see again. And its roots remain rooted, firm and hibernate until it reappears.
My sanctuary in the railroad tracks, hidden on both sides by thick trees, was my choice, for lack of a better term, to turn into a seclusion finally savored. Since society has veiled and blinded us to our obvious right to fairness while “refusing[ing] to see us, I have become my fury, and the train stalks my heart. I played the roles of prisoner and guard in the panopticon of my mind. My contained rage was allowed to roam freely between the trees. With no one else around, he turned to his owner. It has become a relentless self-questioning: How much did you make for your race? How could you sell and patronize an institution like this? Who are you to look down on for whatever reason in the first place? You can spend hours listing your shortcomings.
I replayed a speech given by my friend James, a discussion of his battle with depression, and a call not to define him by his affliction. What fueled my alienation was animosity towards the “30.7% of respondents [who] agreed that a weak personality causes depression. and pain for the “23 to 67% of depressed employees [who continue] work without taking time off. This blatant and widespread misunderstanding about the various (and sometimes surprising) causes of depression indicates victim blame and, therefore, apathy. The expectation among the afflicted to brave this is a sad circle of discrimination, pain, apathy, and more pain.
The horn grew louder and didn’t stop. I turned left and saw a train coming towards me. I waited. Then I changed my mind and rushed over the rocks next to the slopes. I found my notebook about 30 yards in front of me and in good condition. I checked my watch and went to class.
The summer has been calmer. I felt less panic because the pressure of deadlines and papers no longer contributed. Desperate for consolation, I turned to the sanctuary of literature as I did in my childhood. I particularly attracted the parallel paths of philosophy and religion. I found greater humility in God and the Geetha, the continuation of the writings of Tao and Camus. I cried less, I liked hanging out with my friends more and I really meant it when I said to my parents, I’m fine.
I took a course in public policy writing in the second half of the summer. My Zoom conversations with my teacher, Diane Weddington (as well as my first year teachers, Professors Robert Thompson, Andrew Wagoner, and Adam Hollowell) made me feel at least translucent. I wrote the following journal entry in response to the intro course prompt, “Who are you?” ”
“I didn’t cut myself in a minute. Per minute, I mean all summer (at least so far). University. Take off my shirt while I slid the Van Der Hagan blade over the outside of my thigh, wrist or temple made the process less humiliating.Perhaps I don’t have any other tools to maintain the masculinity that I think escapes me.
I have too often explained the plight of the black human (a question that I do not have intellect, experience and omniscient knowledge, no one knows, to grasp).
Get The Chronicle delivered straight to your inbox
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter organized by an editorial. Cancel anytime.
That salsa dancing with emotional pain that evolved into instinctive self-harm (at nine it was hair-pulling) sat in my bedroom – an air mattress and a glass cabinet – with me. Our relationship has gone from fear of the other to friendly indifference. At this point, cutting is a chore; a chore that I can happily do without (as I did this summer) but diminishes my efficiency and my satisfaction with the various joys that build me. I am to cut what the old professor of history is to light roast. “
Continuing to write diary entries, opinions on ideas I encountered in the library and my classes made me realize a passion for moving the confused and convoluted ideas of my subconscious into my sketchbook by the writing. Although emptiness still fills me sometimes, having a new outlet in The Chronicle is more than satisfying.
The honeymoon phase is over, although the joy of engaging with passion has not died down. Yet my experiences of depression and anxiety made me bloated and filled up like the fan and cigarette smoke in my grandmother’s room, respectively. The next diary entry is the one I wrote at WU after the first week of class.
“That shit feeling that I took a break from over the summer has happened more frequently recently. The dichotomy scale – on the other hand, I feel good and even a little energetic – leans to the side. sad: I feel constant pain in the form of the itching of anxiety which gives me headaches and weakness in my arms and legs. My torso and head volume is fading; my soul cannot wilt faster. At least I eat; my outer shell isn’t as sloppy as last semester. “
To pierce the armor of stigma, to grow a branch on the tree of human experience, and therefore to help normalize the experiences of the mentally ill, I am happy to have shared my complex relationships with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder, a relationship, in my experience, characterized by seclusion, hopelessness, emotional release, and everywhere in between.
Kennon Walton is a sophomore at Trinity. His column is broadcast every other Tuesday.