Abby Hevert, ’15
A few weeks ago, I posted an article about a new social experiment at Providence College. I asked my PC peers to anonymously submit secrets to me so that we can all have a better understanding about who we really are, and not just who we pretend to be. I heard from many different students, and some of their secrets are presented in this article. These secrets display the unique struggles that we go through every day and, more importantly, the striking reality of our immense efforts to hide these troubles. PC is often thought to be a kind of “bubble” where we all live, safe from the evils of this world. And, while this is partly true, we all bring more to the metaphorical table than we probably realize. At this table sit those who struggle with self-hatred, family problems, and battles with addiction. Here at this table, sit those who disguise, hide, and pretend to be perfect.
One of our peers says this: “I am a typical, PC girl. Dress in J. Crew, drive a nice car, and have a great group of friends. One of my parents has a severe addiction problem, and I have been dealing with him/her going in and out of rehab/homelessness the last 18 years of my life.” She is not alone as many of her peers also have difficult family lives. One says: “I met my uncle for the first time months before he was sent to jail for murder.” Still more admit to secret divorces within their family, one senior admitting that his or her parents divorced two years ago, and that his or her friends still do not know. Our families can make us cry, and calling home is often difficult, either because of relationship issues or because of underlying abuses: “Every time my stepmom calls me, her words cut through me like a knife and I’m brought to tears.” Another one of your peers admits to the instability in her home. Her mother “verbally and physically abused [her] for 3 years and it took a broken arm, even after 8 police and Child Protective Services visits, to get [her] out of [her mother’s] custody.” Our siblings can even cause concern: “Manic depression consumes an otherwise happy sibling.” Sometimes, we just want to save ourselves and each other: “My father’s mental illness has torn my family apart everyday since I was in the fourth grade. I wish everyday I could save him.” Some of our families also do not share in the affluence that many of our PC peers demonstrate: “Last week, I checked my bank account and found that I had only $15 left. Many people at PC can joke around and call themselves ‘broke college students,’ but it’s a different story when you go to Alumni to get a sandwich and realize you can’t afford it.”
Often, though, we struggle with our own mental health issues. Too many of us struggle with actual and real self-hatred and self-discomfort. One of us says: “I set very high expectations for myself. When I don’t meet those expectations I purposely punish myself, like skipping a meal or not getting enough sleep.” We are very, very concerned about not only what we think of ourselves, but what others think of us: “I have to pretend to drink more than I actually can when I go out because I don’t know how to tell my friends about my anxiety disorder and medication.” This is partly because many of us have a preoccupation with pleasing others: “I can’t handle letting people down.” Unfortunately, sometimes these internal battles within ourselves lead us to extremes: “I’ve attempted suicide twice.” “Nobody can see the cuts…I go to counseling and even check myself into Butler [Hospital] when I feel unsafe. I want to be better but my biggest secret and my biggest fear is that I’ll always be unhappy and no amount of help will get me out of it.” We sometimes have illnesses that make us doubt ourselves and those around us: “I think I have an Anxiety Disorder but am too afraid to tell my parents because I think they will think I am being ‘over-dramatic.’” And, so, we do not tell each other. And, instead, we let our secrets morph into paralyzing doubt. Too many of us have trouble getting through every day activities because of these issues. Some of us even have complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and cannot get out of bed on certain days. Some of the people closest to us often do not understand the things that plague us: “My roommates always joke about what I eat and how I eat so specifically but they don’t know I eat so little because I’m still recovering from bulimia/ I’m still bulimic.”
We often compare ourselves to others: “I only got offered the job after someone else turned it down. Everyone else got their first pick on the first try. Now I don’t know if I want to work for someone where I wasn’t the first choice.” This idea of being a “first choice,” or any choice for that matter, afflicts many of us. A few peers confessed: “I am so scared of being alone.” In fact, some of think that if we have not yet been in a romantic relationship, then no one will ever want us: “I feel like I’m the only one of my friends who hasn’t dated someone or isn’t dating anybody in college. It makes me feel unwanted and alone.” Also, the people we love sometimes don’t necessarily love us back: “The person that I’ve had unrequited feelings for [during] the past two years is hooking up with my best friend who knows how I feel about her.” We get afraid of somehow falling behind the rest of our peers and that scares us as well. Some of us are embarrassed about our virginity: “I am still a virgin and I get scared that no one will ever want me because of it.” The idea of not fitting certain molds often disturbs us. A few people wrote that they are gay and they have not told a soul, for fear of what people may think. As a result, many people are living secret lives, caught between a desire to be accepted and a desire to be happy.
And this is the ultimate tragedy. Many of us consider happiness to be a “catch twenty-two.” We sometimes believe that we have to keep our secrets in order to be happy. I am here to tell you, finally, that this is not the case. I also am here to tell you that you are not alone. Find the safe people with whom you can have the tough conversations. If our secrets die with us, then we deprive the world our whole selves as we offer only our seemingly “best” parts. I hope that we can be more aware of not only our whole selves, but about the secret plights that others undergo. So, the next time I become frustrated with a friend, a family member, or a stranger, I vow to consider the possibility that the person may be experiencing something I cannot fathom. We all bring something concealed to our Providence College table- I promise that the next dish I bring will be a huge plate of acceptance and compassion. I hope you can bring some too.
I think we are all starving for it.