Pain is the defining characteristic of our generation.
When we were 11 and emotionally overwhelmed, we cut ourselves. When we were suffering through tangled high school, we popped some sort of pill with side effects. When we want to relax, we consume mass quantities of schadenfreude via “The Office” or “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or “Girls.” We survive through struggle. We believe that nothing easy was ever worth it. Yale chose us because we fought and lost sleep and we won. We beat those absurd odds, but not without frying a few nerves. No pain, no gain and thus, no merit.
Yale is, if nothing else, a painfully fictitious meritocracy.
It’s like we’re all sinking, making our way to the bottom of this deep ocean of grief and awkwardness because the Buried Merit-Treasure is all the way down there, and eventually our ears start popping and our rib cages collapse, piercing our lungs, and we’re all laughing maniacally like it’s the end of the world. Because it is.
It is, in some ways, “the end of the world” every time you laugh at another’s misfortune, every time I roll my eyes at an irrelevant comment in seminar, every time a graduate student has sex with an undergraduate and deems it worthless because it was easy. It feels like the end of the world when we walk by former loves and don’t even say hello. It might be the end of the world when you pretend you’ve barely met your freshman year suitemate who seems to hate you. These are our small moments of massive grief.
Why do we suffer? Or rather, why do we keep suffering?
There is sweeping love and happiness here. I have ridden its wave high and let it crash over me, pushing me back into the sad depths. I have been depressed at Yale. And I have been ecstatic at Yale. But when are those times highs and lows, and when does it all get kind of manic?
I remember telling a close friend how very good life was going this year, around mid-January. I hated that his first response was, “Ali, you get depressed sometimes, don’t you? It might not always be this good. Be careful.”
But he was right. Sometimes ex-boyfriends really should ignore you, and ex-suitemates simply owe you nothing.
And sometimes, it’s all worth the struggle.
The inability to tell when it’s all worth it or when it’s not — that is what’s wrong with our generation. We’ve lived through years of televised wars; we’ve watched oil spill and the armed mentally ill kill and the rich get richer and sadder while the poor just get sadder. The juice is our success and the squeeze is our efforts, our sleep loss, our anger, our sweat. Do you get it? Am I clear enough? We have stopped caring when the juice is worth the squeeze, because the squeeze is inevitable and it’s going to hurt so let’s just grin and bear it. Pop an Advil. Or a Xanax. Or an Adderall. Because there are problem sets to be done!
The pills don’t numb us anymore. We dose them to feel. And a senior thesis page count becomes a metric of our personal value. And “making it through midterms” becomes a medal of honor, as though it’s like making it through Baghdad. Every single morning could be a graduate-level problem set. In 1932, John Whitebread Wasp ’33 probably said, “Pish posh midterms, I’m worried about finding a nice wife.” Today, the open pursuit of monogamy is a total and complete unicorn. We’re just worried about getting a decent external hard drive for the price we’re paying.
Pain is the defining characteristic of struggle. Struggle is the defining characteristic of a problem and/or its solution under way. Lena Dunham’s obsessive-compulsive disorder is not my struggle. External hard drives are not my struggle. Medications and mutilation are no longer my struggle.
My struggle is finding love to give and receive, doing my best to be a strong and thoughtful friend, finishing this God-forsaken senior thesis, making enough money to afford New York rent next year, staving off cancer and keeping the peace with my family. My pain is great, constant. But I’ve always been a sensitive kid.
Please tell me. Ask yourself. What’s your pain? Your struggle?
And is it worth it?
Alison Greenberg is a junior in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .