There’s no other way to explain it than tendrils holding you down, the sinister strands of memory that bind each limb onto the fabric of your bed. They whisper in your ear that you’ll be okay if you just stay under the covers, and then soon your body tells you to sleep, eyes drooping, breath becoming steady once more, and thoughts blurring until finally all turns black. Then, you wake up, realizing that the sky has turned dark and that you’re hungry. The need to eat is the only thing that strips your chains away from you, and you blearily begin to walk towards the kitchen. It’s a normal Wednesday, and you think to yourself about how you haven’t seen the sun in a while from sleeping all day. Your life is an eternal night, literally and figuratively.
Perhaps that’s a dramatization of how I’ve felt over these past few months, or maybe it’s so accurate that it seems surreal. To keep the bad feelings at bay, I’ve started up a new habit, something that was supposed to make me feel grounded and content: every time I felt happy, I would fold myself a paper star and place it in a mason jar. Over time, the stars would fill the jar one by one, each representing a moment of happiness. It’s a wholesome, hopeful, and wonderful activity to partake in over the next year, and I felt like I was making some really big moves by deciding to be more grateful for the things I have. But, looking at the almost empty mason jar after a month into 2021, I realized my problem: I don’t feel happy.
It started with a lethargy. Every day felt like another slog upstream a rushing river, just daring to sweep me away. I would collapse into bed by the end of the day, all the energy drained out of every muscle in my body, and I would sleep as if placed in a coma. It repeated. Over and over until I got so sick of it that I started to take up new hobbies. I started streaming on Twitch, I recorded covers of my favorite songs, I wrote fanfic, I began to cook more, I even started to learn a new language, but nothing brought me satisfaction. Everything felt like a chore, and the more I did things, the more disappointed I was with them. It turned out that doing absolutely nothing was the best thing to do for me. In exchange for not feeling disappointment and crushing self-doubt, I don’t get the opportunity to experience satisfaction. Almost like a neo-natalist view of life. To be born is to have a trade-off between satisfaction and suffering. To not be born at all is completely null, no satisfaction, no suffering, no life. It’s completely neutral. In fact, if a born-life had more suffering than satisfaction, then maybe a not-born-life is actually more ideal.
Then, I started to lose my taste, and my appetite soon followed. I would take a bite of food, and I’d be able to taste what I ate, I’d be able to feel the sensations of spiciness, saltiness, and sweetness, but whether or not it was delicious wouldn’t register in my mind. Everything tasted the same. The food in front of me, the food that I worked so hard to make, the food that once brought me joy. It all looked gray, and soon the color in my life began to drain away. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t have the energy to, so I would sulk. I would crawl into my bed and tuck my legs into my chest, wrap my arms around them, and stare into dead air, listening to the ring of silence in my ears. After I lost my taste, I began to lose my sight as well, and soon I began to lose my identity. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself, and whenever I moved, I would feel as if I were drawn like a puppet on strings, a marionette dancing his way through life. Every motion was willed by my brain, “Take another step, and one more. Pick up the mug. Place it to your lips. Then sip at the water, hydration is important. Now set it back down. Lay in bed. Close your eyes.” Black out.
I don’t know when the “break” happened. During an initial visit, my psychiatrist asked me, “How has your year gone so far?” And I responded that it was the worst year of my life. It’s made me want to give up countless times. It’s drained me of every bit of humanity I have left in me. I’ve begun to lose interest in the things that I once cared for. All of my goals have been pushed to the side, all of my dreams are put on ice, and I’m left with only my thoughts, buzzing around in my head and daring me to pay them any attention. I’ve realized that I hate talking to myself. Because your worst enemy is someone who knows you all too well.
I realize that I’m not alone in these feelings of hopelessness. Countless others are displaced like me, but I have the privilege of having a roof above my head and of being a student who doesn’t need to (immediately) find work. I have some savings, and I’m able to live off of that at the very least. Although my parents would be disappointed in me for living with them, push comes to shove, I know that they would let me stay with them if I can’t find anything post-graduation. I’m safe, I’m more-or-less in a stable financial situation, and I should cherish these privileges that I have. But that doesn’t replace the loss of what was normal for me.
Sifting through the pages of pictures on my phone, I began to remember the old memories that I had left behind when moving across the country to live with my parents for almost a year during a global crisis. Without meaning to, I started to feel tears trickle down my cheek before I eventually broke into a complete sob. My chest clenching with each breath as hot globs of tears fell onto the blankets of my bed. The picture that triggered it all depicts some trees standing along a walkway in New Haven. Their leaves were turning red and framed the edges as dappled sunlight filtered through the branches. I took it while on the way to my lab shift, and I just thought it was so beautiful. How summer turns to autumn and autumn turns to winter. How the leaves grow green and then bloom into the most vivid colors before shriveling into brown. How the cold of late fall brings memories of warm hot chocolate, friends gathered in a common room, and the fear of piled snow falling from a branch and hitting you right on the head (it’s happened before). “Maybe that’s how life is,” I thought to myself, “the nostalgia of summer’s heat and the chill of the ensuing winter.”
I thought about the times I would rush through the crisp autumn air every Monday morning during my first year, barely making it on time to my Korean class in LC. I would barrel into class, breathless and still a little sleepy, but ready to learn and begin my day with that youthful glow that first-years always have. In sophomore year, I would trudge into Bass and run into my friends, usually ordering late night pizza and procrastinating on assignments. I even met new ones along the way who I still talk to today. In junior year, I began to work as a peer liaison at the AACC, and it was the most rewarding experience of my college life. I wanted to get closer to my first-years, and I loved seeing the smiles light up their faces whenever we would share memories together. A night of making Korean pancakes, a gift-exchange during the holiday season, a final rice bowl shared in our favorite campus location before saying goodbye.
My senior year is a flat line, dead and lifeless, without a pulse. It’s difficult to even imagine what life was like before the pandemic, and I’ve realized that I don’t miss the extravagant first-year dinner or the antiquated halls of Sterling Memorial Library. I don’t miss my residential college or Bass, nor do I necessarily miss having in-person classes.
I miss the small things. Going with a friend to the AACC to brew coffee and study a little bit before our lecture together. Sitting in the buttery and ordering chicken tenders because I can and then feeling guilty afterwards. Laying on the floor of my friend’s suite, playing Pokemon and not thinking about my paper due Friday. Having the bells wake me up from my midday nap. Four Pasta Day, those Fridays when the dining halls would just serve four pastas, all different variations of tomato sauce. Sharing poems with some of my favorite people on campus. Showing up at the doors of my first-years with goodie bags in hand while wearing a panda onesie for Halloween. Petting dogs and making small talk with owners while on my lab shift. Shivering while walking down Prospect Street, I’ve begun to miss the cold. Late night Junzi runs. Getting a note wrong during rehearsal and shrugging it off while hoping no one notices. Impromptu karaoke at the AACC. Naps at the AACC. Events at the AACC. Coming back to my suite and turning on the string lights even though I’m alone, just to feel like I have some ambience. Hanging pictures and small notes received from friends on those string lights. Planting a basil plant and then watching it grow. Walking along the walkways of Old Campus while staring up at the stars, looking for Orion. I miss being dragged into things I didn’t sign up for (Model Congress, Splash, etc.). I miss running into new faces and hearing gossip about things that don’t really matter to me. I miss free food. I miss snow.
I’ve cried a lot over these past few months, sometimes every two or three days, but I never cried over the grand things I was promised as a Yale student. I cried over the small forgettable moments that I still cherish deep in my heart. They’re the memories that gave color to my life, they’re the things that made my life livable. I even cried about not being able to play ping pong anymore. I played ping pong once (one time), and I was terrible.
I think that there’s a certain romanticization of the college experience. My college even shoves it into our heads that these are the “shortest gladdest years of life,” and although I believe that to an extent, we (I) have to realize that there’s so much more life ahead. This is only the beginning.
I wanted to end this piece on a hopeful note, but I wanted to be honest and include that I am, by far, in the worst mental state of my life. These days, I feel a deep sadness. If I’m left with my own thoughts for too long, I begin to cry for no reason. It’s all-encompassing, it’s overwhelming, and it’s scary. I feel like I’m losing myself, and I can feel my old identity slipping away as a new one takes hold. It’s the cynicism, the apathy, the lack of motivation to care about anything. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” and you can’t fill the cup if there isn’t running water.
Life has been… hard. And just to update everyone on how it’s been, I’ve decided to write up a (growing) list of events in pseudo-chronological order:
1. I have yet to apply to law school. I keep telling myself that I’ll do it, but I still have not. Why? Well, it’s a little difficult to think about the future and dream about possibilities when the immediate present sucks.
2. My parents left for Korea because buying two plane tickets to Korea and getting health checkups there is cheaper (and safer and faster) than going to a local hospital in America. (Before you ask, my dad is an American citizen, and it’s still cheaper to go to Korea. My mom is a Korean citizen, and all of her healthcare, all of it, is free.)
3. I cannot drive. I subsisted off of frozen food and ramen until I worked up the courage to get an Uber (which costed $50 roundtrip) to venture out to the local supermarket and come back.
4. I was completely alone. No siblings, no pets, and no plants. I know that many people live alone, but I realized recently that it’s just not good for me :’)
5. The semester finished, and finals happened. This was probably the worst semester for me, both academically and mentally. It was a long slog, but it’s done. I have used my last two remaining Cred/Ds, so next semester = Going to be Rough.
6. My parents told me that my mom is going to have to get surgery for reasons I only vaguely know about. All I know is that the doctor told her that if she had gone to Korea any later, it would’ve been Bad. The surgery went well, but she has lots of other health complications as well. I’m worried.
7. My sleep schedule is now 4 AM to 4 PM. Probably the remnants of a very very bad end to the semester. Or the insomnia I’ve been experiencing. These days, I close my eyes and lay in bed, and then I count until I fall asleep. If I don’t fall asleep by 500, I get out of bed and do something until I feel tired again. I don’t feel tired until I absolutely crash. And honestly? I take so many naps throughout the day that I think I sleep for around ~16 hours every day.
8. The pandemic is still happening, and it isn’t getting much better.
9. I now live in a country that recently experienced an attempted coup.
10. My parents have decided to move to Korea. I do not know if I’m a dual-citizen, but if I am, that would mean that if I were to stay with them for any extended period of time in Korea, I would be conscripted into the Korean military… after having lived in America for all of my life. That is to say, I am now stranded in the U.S of A.
11. My mother’s health condition is getting worse, and that’s why my parents are moving. I’ve learned that she has a few benign tumors, and they need to keep checking on them to make sure that they don’t become malignant.
12. I’m flying back to New Haven today, and I signed a sublease agreement weeks ago for an apartment that was somehow ripped away from me the day before my flight. I’m currently flying into New Haven with no home. A friend is letting me stay at their place (thank you friend), and I’m figuring things out.
Humans can generally hold about 7 +/- 2 items at a time in working memory. That is to say, anything more than this, and I think that I’ll simply explode.
I’ve spent about a month writing this piece. Thirty days to think deeply about it and one plane flight to type it all out. And many many many rambling paragraphs that were thrown away throughout the process. One of those paragraphs said that I wasn’t proud of the writing that I managed to put onto the page, but now that I’m at the end, I realize that I actually am proud. Maybe it isn’t the best, but it’s there, and I want to treat it like a time capsule. I hope that one day I can look back to this, think about how far I’ve come, and remember the fond memories I had at Yale.
Writing like this and producing something that seems worthwhile makes me happy. I fold a paper star and put it in my jar.
In an endeavor to try new things, I recently made a YouTube channel where I post covers. Here’s a link to my English cover of “Thoughtcrime,” originally by Yorushika: https://youtu.be/ieERUl9e_Hc. I made the video about my life and the memories that I have. I thought it was relevant to include here.