Author: LionSubmissions

With as much energy as I could muster, I held my cell phone up to my face and told Public Safety that I was locked in a stairwell in the Barnard Library. Weak and exhausted, I had been locked inside for over two hours. After two hours of being curled up in the corner, I finally was conscious and alert enough to pick up the phone and string my thoughts together so I could tell the guard where I was.  

After quaffing half a bottle of Merlot with a meal of anti-anxiety tranquilizers, pain pills, and heart rate lowering medication—all to help quell the intense maelstrom of anxiety I was feeling in an anticipation of a routine meeting with my adviser—I had wandered into a Do Not Enter stairwell, with doors that only open from the outside. For two hours, I was so drugged out that I couldn’t type my password into my phone to unlock it to call for help. This was at 2pm on a Monday.

Public safety came and freed me.

That was one of the many incidents I had during my first year on campus. My first semester, I self-medicated my anxiety constantly. From being too drugged up to remember what professors said during office hours, to missing classes because of severe hangovers, the semester stretched out in a blur of assignments, readings, wine from International, and a cocktail of whatever anxiety medications I could crib from friends and acquaintances.  

Consequently, I had trips to St. Luke’s my first year here, and even managed to give myself a concussion that forced me to defer some of my exams. I could have accidentally killed myself multiple times. In my drunken and high revelry, I did everything from accidentally steal books from Butler to drug myself up so much for an oral presentation that I have no recollection of giving it.

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As early as I can remember, I’ve been a neurotic mess—prone to exploding in a paroxysm of anxiety and panic at any moment.  Although I hesitate to use formal labels, I’ve had varying degrees of panic attacks, social anxiety, general anxiety, and since I could remember (kindergarten). I’ve also had extreme, paralyzing fear of public speaking, oral presentations,  interviews, and authority figures. From chest pain and heart palpitations, to vomiting from the feeling of impending doom, anxiety has permeated every day of my life for the last 12 or so years.

In my fear, I’ve turned down  public speaking opportunities, ignored interviews for scholarships I had applied to, declined to be interviewed by my favorite publication when I had the opportunity, ignored job interview requests, and schedule my classes based off of whether oral presentations count for the grade.

And I’ve done an equal amount of things to cope: diet, exercise, meditation, yoga,  deep breathing, medication from friends—usually downers, wine, hard liquor, weed, ‘natural herbs,’ avoidance, compulsive book reading (salvation from my fear of not being intelligent enough to succeed in life), attempting to hijack my fight-or-flight response by  forcing myself to be even more anxious, and self harm.

What’s helped? Everything, to a certain extent. But most of what I’ve done is wildly unhealthy, dangerous, and unsustainable.

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After an unsuccessful series of meetings with the counselors at Furman during my first semester,  I temporarily gave up on seeking traditional therapeutic help. It wasn’t until I had a day where I had multiple panic attacks and drunkenly self-harmed in the stacks with a pencil sharpener, spent 4 hours walking around Morningside trying to figure out whether I should go to the hospital, and then slept in Butler because I was too afraid to sleep in my room alone that I finally acquiesced to the demands of my friend to try to seek help again. I should have tried to seek help sooner.  

When I’ve told friends about my first year, all but one had ever thought there was a problem. No one knew, and thus, my ability to be evasive and operate with such stealth actually helped me avoid the need to get help. If no-one knew, there was no safety net that could be activated.

Although I won’t attempt to posit that therapy or psychiatry is a panacea, that’s where I started. I was too recalcitrant with Furman staff and demanded an outside referral. Eventually, towards the end of my first year at Barnard, I was able to figure out how to manage my mental illnesses without putting my life at risk and flouting social convention.  But that was only because I intentionally positioned myself in a way that would allow me to seek help.   

Seeking help for mental illness is difficult. There a numerous reasons people don’t seek help: social stigma, stigma from family, fear that the school would force you to take a medical leave, insurance problems, the cost of treatment being prohibitive, scheduling conflicts, etc. But if you wait too long to get treatment (the type that involves seeking help from professionals, and not buying weed with Venmo), you could end up in a dangerous spiral of self-medication and self-injury,  too drugged and dysfunctional to be able to ask for help at all.

Every now and then, another name of a college students appears in the news for having committed suicide. While I cannot claim to know what will help everyone, whether you’re having panic attacks, depression, hallucinations, delusions, suicidal thoughts, or other problems—asking for help is the first step in getting better. And pursuing that help, well that’s the best way to stay alive in the long term. Not to say that traditional therapy or psychopharmacology is always the answer, but it’s a start.

Disclaimer: Author is a junior majoring in a social science field, happily medicated and mentally stable now.

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Congratulations! You’re at Columbia! Now brace yourself for a deluge of substandard teaching practices.

But seriously, what does it take to get some quality education around here? As a senior, I have taken way too many classes where either I or the TA end up teaching me how to pass the test. What’s the point in having a professor if he or she is not going to teach us anything?

Change We Can Believe In

I don’t need technology in my lectures. I know everyone’s excited about bringing Powerpoints and videos into the classroom (my high school was obsessed with SmartBoards), but have you ever taken a Gulati class? The man is brilliant with a chalkboard.

Anyways, if there is technology in a lecture, I demand a copy. Because a) it’s easier to annotate a lecture that’s already written out than copy the whole thing over again, and b) it’s like showing a kid candy and saying you can’t have any.

Post the lectures. Online. Ahead of time. Please and thank you.

Regardless of whether a class has a chalkboard, whiteboard, or Powerpoint, I need my lectures to be organized. I want you to lay out a framework, and talk about each point, in order. I do not need you to skip around, or zoom ahead so fast that no one has a chance to write anything down.

This is not conducive to learning, and it makes the whole room hate you.

Finally, let’s talk about style – public speaking skills and such. Here’s a few don’ts: do not interrupt yourself mid-sentence right when you’re coming to your point. Do not mumble in a way that makes you impossible to understand. And for the love of God, do not speak in a monotone for 2 hours.

Conspiracy Theories

It’s rumored that professors have literally no incentive to teach (other than with grade inflation). That is, tenure at Columbia depends almost exclusively on things other than teaching – we’re assuming this is published research and/or papers. If you win the Nobel Prize, you get tenure. If you have a gold nugget on CULPA, no one cares.

In this kind of system, do the student evaluations even mean anything? Furthermore, do students even mean anything? Or are classes just seen as a necessary evil on the way to a pinnacle of academia? Food for thought.

Moving on, let’s talk hypotheticals. Maybe this is all some dastardly plan to force us to teach ourselves. I mean, if you have to learn it on your own (or risk failing), then maybe students learn it better. Maybe this is supposed to teach us independence, working in ambiguity, and all of those middle school goals we were supposed to achieve.

Maybe professors think that, by handing us things, like clear formulas and logical explanations, they’re making it too easy on us. After all, we are Columbia. We’re one of the best schools in the country – maybe dealing with nonsensical lectures is how we got there.

Maybe not.

The Lion is the only campus publication that pledges to post all submissions that meet our open submissions policy. To respond to this piece or submit a piece of your own, email submissions@columbialion.com

Consider the following exchange:

First student: Hey, man. What’d you do this weekend?

Second student:  Not much… we went to Brooklyn. You know.

No, I don’t know (and chances are good that I don’t want to). So stop fishing for me to ask what an “eclectic” weekend you had. Because do you know what? You don’t sound as cool as you think you do. You sound like another goddamn hipster Columbia student. (It’s the sense I get.)

Why? Because when you tell me, “We went to Brooklyn,” you haven’t told told me anything.

This is because the phrase, “We went to Brooklyn,” doesn’t convey whether you cut lines with your feces-artist friend in his Bed-Stuy garret or crunched kale with your Lit Hum classmate’s parents in their $3 million Park Slope townhouse. Both of those obnoxious possibilities are contained within the phrase, “We went to Brooklyn.”

This is because Brooklyn is not a neighborhood. It is a borough.

So, please: shut up about “going to Brooklyn.”

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