Story by | Harrison Linder, he/him, former Managing Editor
Photo credit | Harrison Linder
If you think you met me as an underclassman, you’re probably thinking of someone else; when I was an underclassman, I was miserable, met no one, and had no friends. Today, by contrast, I am your everyday social butterfly—with friends that I truly love, as well as friends that I find just okay. Also, I feel pretty good about myself. If there were a way to quantitatively measure misery, I’d wager that I’m in the top 25% least miserable people on campus. You’re probably thinking to yourself: “Wow, Harrison, you’ve made so much progress! What’s your secret sauce?” To which I’d reply, “It’s the obvious answer… I’ll be working at JP Morgan after I graduate!” Just kidding—I’m still unemployed (but if JP Morgan wants to sponsor me after this shoutout, that would be lit).
Jokes aside, I have learned countless lessons at Yale-NUS College (YNC) that have drastically changed my values, goals, and general outlook on life since I was a miserable underclassman. Most of these lessons came way later in my college experience than I would have hoped for, and so I want to share some with you so that while you’re still at Yale-NUS, you can spend more time chilling with good vibes and less time burning in dumpster-fire vibes.
During Freshman orientation, I made friends surprisingly easily and felt like I truly fit in. In a certain way, the fact that everyone came from different places made people more curious and open-minded. It was a stark contrast to high school, where I had friends but rarely ever had a friend group. I often felt the odd one out at social gatherings, and likely was often excluded from social gatherings in the first place because people knew I wouldn’t fit in. I came to YNC with a fear of loneliness and abandonment issues. Once I got busy with assignments and parties became less frequent, I attached myself to a small group of people, not because I truly connected with them, but because I knew they would be there and that I would never have to worry about being lonely.
I am naturally a very anxious person; without constant self-monitoring, my modus operandi is to constantly doubt myself. The group that I spent a lot of time with as an underclassman, by contrast, appeared to be very self-assured. They seemed to believe that success at all costs is what’s most important, and that you can only trust a select group of people in your lifetime. Me, the self-doubting sucker I was, internalized those ideas, despite them being utterly disconnected from what I now believe to be my true values.
I got used to spending all my time with this group to the point where it was the only thing I knew. If I wasn’t eating with them, I was eating alone. If I wasn’t spending time with them, I was working. I knew that the way I was living didn’t feel good, but I had convinced myself that it was the best alternative. Those were truly the times of dumpster-fire vibes.
It was only in my junior year that I started to see the errors of my ways. I had just gone through the worst depressive episode of my life up to that point in part due to a summer internship that shattered my belief in my own ability and sense of self-worth, and my mental and physical health were in shambles. It was clear that I needed a change, and part of that change would be distancing myself from this group that had encompassed my college social life till that point.
I got back into good habits like exercising regularly and playing the guitar, which have proven to be invaluable stress and anxiety relievers throughout my life. On top of that, I tried to be more social and friendly in all situations. I even did the unthinkable and sat with distant acquaintances—sometimes even strangers—at the dining hall. Contrary to popular belief, when you ask to sit with strangers in the dining hall, they usually say yes and don’t spit in your face or tell you to fuck off. I was slowly but surely gaining friends just by putting myself out there more.
By the time my semester abroad at Sciences Po rolled around, I had built up social skills that made for an amazing time abroad despite it being cut short halfway due to Covid-19. I was friendly and outgoing, and on top of that I started being more expressive with my clothing, something that I never realized I enjoyed. I had this massive black wool coat that went down to my ankles which I got for $15 at a thrift store in San Francisco. While I was in Paris, I found this 8 cm wide, black leather, industrial-looking belt, also at a thrift store, that I wrapped around the coat. They went perfectly together. I looked like the Terminator’s metrosexual prototype. People were drawn to me because of my confidence and eccentricity. I was a node that brought different people together to create new friendships. Crazily enough, I was the type of person that I might have envied and resented in high school.
But all good things must come to an end, and when Covid-19 hit France, I packed my bags and went home to San Francisco. I was stuck at home for the longest time in my life since leaving for college and severely isolated from my peers. Despite coming off over two months of feeling like the King of France, being stuck at home proved to be a slow-moving guillotine, severing me from the heightened sense of self-worth I had during my semester abroad and returning me to my familiar anxious, self-doubting state. Being stuck at home brought out all my worst tendencies and turned them up to 11.
By the time I got back to Yale-NUS in August, I was so anxious and depressed that I literally could not sleep for more than a couple of hours a night. I had no control over my mind or body, and I had no idea what to do. I got a psychiatric appointment at UHC, and after a month of waiting, a psychiatrist prescribed me mild Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which helped enormously. After a few months, I was finally getting a good night’s sleep. I stopped taking the medication without any change to my mood or sleep. At the same time, I was becoming increasingly social, especially with my suitemates.
While never explicitly planning to live with them and only really getting to know them this academic year, my suitemates became some of the best friends I’ve had in college. When I was struggling, they were there to support me, and I built up a kind of trust with them that I never really had with anyone else before. I’ve told them things that I’ve never told anyone, and, with their help, overcome issues that have haunted me for years. Having gone to therapy many times before, I can say with the utmost confidence that for me, simply opening up to and being honest with my friends in the way that I had been with therapists has proven infinitely more helpful than therapy itself.
And despite all the Covid restrictions, this year has proven to be the most fun and rewarding year of my college career. With the help of the friends I’ve made this academic year, I was able to overcome some of my greatest insecurities. I am now my unabashed self in nearly all situations. I feel comfortable in my own skin, and if things don’t go the way I wish for them to, I take it as a learning experience instead of an indictment on my self-worth.
That’s my rant. I hope you found it helpful. If you read the whole thing and you aren’t an editor for The Octant, I appreciate you, but you should probably get more hobbies. If you take umbrage at any of the remarks in this article, please passive-aggressively comment on the article’s Facebook post.
Very well written! Wish I had had something like this to read when I was struggling in college. Thanks for sharing.