I first realized something was wrong last spring after I walked from the West bus stop all the way back to East crying. It had been a long day, and after my 1:25 class, I just wanted to go back to Bell Tower and relax. However, as many Duke students know, leaving the West bus stop at 2:40 is similar to Black Friday shopping – except that the final destination is usually a lecture rather than a new T.V. Not feeling aggressive that day, I was one of the last to step onto the bus. Given that there were so many people waiting, I figured the driver would understand the fullness of the bus, but he made me get off to wait for the next one.
I was absolutely and irrationally furious. Livid. Disgusted. Enraged. I wanted to scream at the man who made me get off the bus. But I didn’t. I just started crying and decided I’d had enough of Duke’s transportation system and made the two-mile walk back to my dorm.
I started thinking about why that had made me so angry, and it wasn’t just because I couldn’t ride the first bus back. It was really about the various aspects of Duke that hadn’t met my expectations, transportation being one of them. I was upset with my financial situation, the limited gluten-free options, the cold and rainy weather, and having only one break in the Spring semester. Among the minor things that bothered me were the pricey yet unreliable laundry machines, the dirty bathrooms, the extreme air conditioning in the library during the middle of winter, and the terrible-tasting water. Overall that semester, I just felt like Duke didn’t care about me. And not only did they seem to overlook my basic human needs, but they were making me pay for it. I felt ripped off and cheated. It took one small act of being forced off a bus to make me realize what had built up over the semester. All the little imperfections of what I had expected to be a perfect place combined to build inside me an intense irritation. I felt helpless and depressed, and I was tired and grouchy all the time. Making it through the day with a positive attitude became a struggle, and from morning until night seemed to last an eternity. I wanted so badly to just be happy and carefree at Duke; after all, it was supposed to be my new home.
I decided I needed to take charge and find myself help, so I went to CAPS, counseling and psychological services. I went in hopeful, believing after a few sessions my mood would turn around and my outlook on life at Duke would become positive. As much as I wanted it to be, CAPS wasn’t the solution for me (although I know it is for others). After three sessions, I never came to any conclusions or found any solutions.
When I attended my third session, there was only one week left until Spring Break. I had paid to go on a beach trip with Cru, so I wasn’t planning to go home. However, the day before Spring break, I called my mom and burst into tears about how homesick I was. I ended up buying a plane ticket that night, and I flew home the next day.
After visiting my family for a week, I returned to school with more motivation and confidence, although my annoyance at Duke still lingered in the back of my mind. The difference was that I felt more in control, not over the problems I faced, but in the way I reacted to them. I saw it as a way for me to be the “bigger person.” I could either be bothered by Duke’s imperfections, or I could make life easier for myself by letting the small things slide. Is it really essential to be back to my dorm by 3:00? Or will I still be alive and well if I am back ten minutes later? I wanted to take back control of my own emotions. Only I can decide when to be optimistic or when to be distraught. I didn’t want Duke to have influence over that anymore.
I am still struggling with this today, and I don’t usually tell people about this story. I feel vulnerable and silly. My problems seem small here at Duke. I haven’t seen anyone die, I’m not failing my classes, I have enough food to eat, and I can breathe clean air. To top it all off, Duke students have mastered the skill of “effortless perfection”- or at least the skill of looking the part. We all pretend to be more than fine. We try to look like we are making good grades, participating in enough clubs and sports, and applying for prestigious summer internships. On the inside, though, I know there are a lot of Duke students who feel like I did – like they don’t belong, they aren’t good enough. They feel lost and out of place at Duke. They weren’t mentioned in the convocation speech, and they didn’t receive academic scholarships. They don’t have a fancy Nike backpack, and they didn’t make the dance team. They just got a D on their Chemistry exam, and now they go back to their rooms only to study and practice to exemplify perfection in their work. And even the students who do have internships, the scholarships, or the grades feel lost. What if they make a mistake? Is their identity threatened?
Duke is definitely a challenging school to attend. Being surrounded by the top students in the country can be encouraging as well as humbling. Sometimes, though, in a moment of crisis, it’s okay to seek out help. My family was my solution, and there are many resources on campus that work for other people. In times of mental stress, whether academic or not, it is crucial to keep searching for help. Even if one person can’t give the right advice, the next person might be able to help. And sometimes, the answers come from simply doing the searching and gaining confidence in being responsible and proactive.