Tag Archive: anxiety

  1. Stamps

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    The crash woke Joseph John from his sleep. There was not one but rather several crashes, one primary, jarring thud followed by several tremulous echoes that settled into the emptiness of the blue air just before sun-up.

    Presently the chickens, somewhat recovered from the trauma, began to cluck and gulp once again. John ordered his mother to stay in bed as he tested each wall of the house for cracks. After breakfast he deemed it safe to inspect the outside of the house, at which point he and his mother discovered the object itself. It lay by the chicken coop, nestled in a moist indentation of earth: a white column of some hard smooth casing, tapered at one end and flattened at the other to form a spoonlike cavity. The thicker end was an expensive-looking blue.

    “A shell,” John’s mother suggested. She glanced fearfully skyward.

    “Not a shell,” John frowned.

    He lingered by the coop as his mother squinted at the sky with a hand over her eyes. It was clear by now, John’s mother decided, that the white column was not alive. She had seen a tortoise once, at the Duke’s fair. Its shell was hard, but pebbled with growth, not so smooth as this, and the creature had breathed slow breaths inside its pinched-up skin. The white column did not breathe. She went to touch it but John jerked her back. “Careful!”

    She crossed herself in gratitude that the new chicken coop — paid for by her dear boy’s latest weaving — had not been crushed. John was still quiet, hand on his neck.

    She kicked the white column over with a cautious, rapid cuff of her boot, and the object was still motionless. “It’s not alive, Jack,” she whispered. Its underside was white, too, smooth as an  eggshell, but now smeared with mud and grass. The object was utterly tubular, alien. No chicken could have birthed such a thing.

    Jack could make out the letter R under a glob of dirt. R. I. T. And a small circular glass window, under which rested a white paper inscribed with a light blue cross.


    Marni had picked the curtains for their sunflower print. She had imagined, standing in JoAnn Fabric with the bolt of sunflower-print curtain-cloth in her hands, that the sharp morning sunlight would soften through the yellow fabric and fill her bedroom with butter-light as the sun rose over the mountain of her husband’s back. He slept deeply, but she had always been grateful that he did not snore. His shoulders shuddered with each exhale.

    This morning, Marni had been awake for some minutes — 18, in fact. As she lay on her side, facing away from Pete, with her hand wedged in the under-pillow coolness, she rehearsed the past five minutes, as if to ensure that she had followed proper protocol. Open eyes, pull on robe, drape comforter convincingly over Pete’s back, tiptoe to bathroom, open package, urinate in cup, dip stick into cup, wait two minutes — during which, shuffle quickly back to bedside to grab cell phone and set timer for one minute 40 seconds — close bathroom door and use the flashlight function to read the sign in the yellow-tinged window. A plus sign, as it happened.

    “Oh, fuck.”

    She tied the belt of her robe and marched over to the window, which was slightly open to let in the summer air. Pete grumbled from the bed. She slid her wrist through the open slot of the window and in a quick motion, before she could doubt, she tossed the pregnancy test to the bare earth outside.


    At the sight of the cross Jack’s mother crossed herself reflexively. “God help us,” she muttered.

    “Right,” said Jack.



    “What is it, John?”

    “Riiiiiight … aid.”

    He was reading, her brilliant son. She whipped around and pinched his cheeks.

    Thus gratified she returned to the Eggshell, as she was determined to call it. The Egg of God, of Christ — for did it not bear a cross? She cried, “Joseph John, run to the friary and call them to come. Speed, Joe! Speed!” He ran along the path and she crossed herself once again as he vanished behind the hickories. “Speed, Joe! Speed!” Blessings, Blessings be upon them, a Gift of God!


    “It is out of my hands, literally out of my hands,” Marni muttered to herself in the cafeteria.

    “It’s what?” asked Carolyn Bowers from HR.

    “Nothing,” said Marni. She moved her tray down the line. Each carton on her tray reminded her of him. He could fit in each, his muscled arms draped over the Styrofoam edges, his legs splayed — relaxed, jovial even — across the sliced melon cubes. Her Jack.

    At home she prepared Pete his Scotch and settled him by the television. A quick kiss on the cheek and she had fled to the bedroom, torn open the curtains, pushed up the window. Breathless, she surveyed her sunflowers. Her eyes scanned the green flesh of their roots. As she knew it would be, the white plastic stick was gone.

    “What’s the meaning of this?” He was standing on the windowsill, panting.

    “Jack,” she said. He was glaring, though. His stubble had grown out since she’d seen him last; she imagined the tiny roughness of it on her fingertip.

    “You threw something. Right Aid.”

    ”Rite Aid. Yeah.”

    “She’s sent me to the friary.”

    “The friary? Why?” She scooped him into her palm.

    “It’s of God.”

    “The pregnancy test? Oh. The cross.”

    “You haven’t thrown anything before.”

    True, she had not. She had always been gentler, cognizant of her size. A forceful shove would kill him, a squeeze could crush his ribs. She nearly had crushed him, the first time, when he was climbing up her sunflower curtains like an oversized cockroach all those months ago — at her screech he’d fallen: a man, lithe and dark-haired with delicate eyes and a white linen shirt split to the collarbone, sitting — lounging, really — in the palm of her hand. “Hello,” he’d said.

    Now she set him on the boudoir and sat in her green-upholstered chair (an engagement gift from Pete’s mother).

    “Did you mean to crush the house?” he asked softly. His hand rested on the crescent of her thumbnail, tender. “Did you mean to attack me?”

    “I didn’t attack you.”

    “My mother, then?”

    “No, Jack! Did you even read what it said?”

    “The white stick? Right Aid. The right aid.”

    “Rite Aid. You sounded it out, then, Jack?” She abandoned her severe expression long enough to communicate, through a tiny crinkle by her eye, that she was proud of him. The hours he’d spent in her breast pocket at work had paid off. (“Manaaaaaaagggg,” he would sound out, in her ear, from his perch in the crook of her neck. “Yes, very good,” she’d whisper back, soft enough that Susan, the next cubicle over, could not hear. “Manaaaaaggggmmehhhh…

    managggmen….” a quiet, rumbling drone as he held on, tenderly, to the curve of her ear lobe, balancing on those nimble booted feet. “Management,” she finally revealed. “Management consulting, Jack. Glencorps Management Consulting. See the pear? Our logo.” And he demanded to know what a logo meant, and she told him, in tiny giggles that subsided into stern throat-clearing when Susan glanced over, perplexed).

    “I sounded it out, Miss Marni,” he replied. “Rrr rabbit Iiii ice Tttt table Eee egg Aaaa apple —”

    “I told you not to call me Miss Marni,” she said. He crossed his arms. It made her feel old, he knew that. She’d be 30 in four days, and he was what? 19? He claimed his mother couldn’t remember but for the rains that accompanied the summer of his birth. It had been months before she could convince him to call her Marnina and even longer — till December, at least — before he called her Marni. She remembered that night, the way he sleepily mumbled “Marni” as he lay in the fold of her nightgown on one of those nights when Pete was far from home.

    “I’ll call you what I please,” he said now.


    “You dropped a holy cross on my house.”

    “It’s not a cross, Jack. It’s — plastic.”


    Rehearsing the moment, Marni had never considered the complications. “I’m pregnant, Jack,” she’d say, matter-of-factly, and then demand — what? They had never really taken his assets into account. Chickens, she knew. And the cow, but he’d sold her to get the alchemist’s sunflower seed that he’d dropped in the wood, that pushed up all verdantly muscular into her sunflower patch one day.

    And here he was, unable to comprehend plastic. Her lover, whose entire body measured the length of the pregnancy test itself.

    “It’s plastic, Jack,” she explained, again. “It’s not eggshell. It’s man-made.”

    That confidence that puffed his small chest up — how she adored it, the way he’d plant his feet on her stomach and recite poetry to her, after one of their Reading sessions sequestered in the corner of her room. She was a goddess, he proclaimed. He listened to her soft descriptions of the tea shop she’d like to have one day, the stamps she’d like to collect. They spent afternoons curled in the warm square of sunlight, her body a castle around his, Jack leaning on his arm, his tiny bicep popping. Every so often he would look up, from The Cat in the Hat, to gaze at her with those limpid eyes. At the end, she’d let him pick a stamp from the glass case. They were the size of paintings in his hands, and his fingers would explore the crenellations. He’d never seen such art. When Pete’s car pulled into the driveway, she would lift him to the windowsill and watch him climb down the sunflower stalk, the stamp blowing over his shoulder like a square and colorful cape.

    “When’s the baby born?” he asked softly. His rage had subsided. He sat, arms crossed, on  her powder box.

    “November, I imagine,” she replied. She’d counted the months on her fingers.


    Pete had been very regretful to be in St. Louis for Valentine’s Day. He tried not to show it to his wife, as he didn’t want to aggravate her anxiety — the therapist had recommended “taking things slowly” after their intake session, during which Marni confessed that she had been talking to herself. Generalized anxiety disorder, the therapist nodded understandingly. He spoke with Pete a few times, separately, and urged him to “be gentle. It seems Marni’s going through a hard time.” Why, Pete could not say. So he’d left her a note on February 13, on his way to the airport, and a box of chocolates on the kitchen counter. She’d been very supportive of his trip, actually. Very affirming. It was a good sign.

    Jack told his mother he was going to the market that day, to sell his latest masterpiece. The Duke had initially thought the spiked white edges of Jack’s tapestries a bit odd, but the Duchess adored them. No one else in the country made such art! The Duke conceded that the “37” in the corner of each had a certain charm. He ordered the tapestries hung along the Great Hall, the better to impress his royal guests. Even when the Duchess pressed him, Jack wouldn’t reveal how he produced such smooth fabric, which increased the allure of his mysterious work. Even the castle weavers could not distinguish one thread from the other. Once he had brought  a tapestry of a green lady, an ancient sculpture, who held a burning torch aloft and wore a crown of daggers. The friar blessed it. “Forever,” Jack had woven into the corner. And on another, “USA First Class.” The friar declared him touched by Christ.

    On the fourteenth of the month, his mother waved goodbye and Jack sprinted to the woods, through the February cold. He wrestled up the great green stem. One mitten fell to the earth, spinning downwards in the freezing wind. In her giant bedroom, Marni had lit candles. She lay on the bed, her breasts draped in red lace. From where he stood on the windowsill, across the room from her warm dusky-shadowed skin, she could be his size.


    By the time the evening news concluded, Pete was quite anxious. Marni’s voice had crescendoed to a point, and he now heard the distinct hiccups that signaled dry sobs. He clicked off the television — CNN spiraled into a white dot — and sighed. Her Xanax was in the bathroom cabinet. Maybe he should encourage her to take some time off work, get ready for the wedding in July. Glencorps could do without her for a time, yes?

    He stood outside the bedroom door.

    “You don’t understand!” she said, her voice trembling. “I can’t do this. I meant it. I meant what I said, that you should go. You should go.”

    Oh, God. He gingerly fingered the doorknob.

    He heard the sound of a pillow being thrown. She gasped. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to throw that.”


    “I can’t have a baby.”

    Pete’s fingers clenched. Marni—?

    A soft noise. Was the radio on? Her sniffles. That sniffle she made after  a long day at work, when her wrists were sore. Marni, Marni.

    “No, I don’t think God would—”

    A pause.

    “He can’t know.”

    A pause.

    “You must go, you must go. You mustn’t come back. No, I won’t throw anything. I won’t do anything. Take them—take them. Take the one with the Canada goose, you’ve always liked that one—” she was babbling now— “and this one, take this one for me, take it, yes, take this 42 cent, this 42 cent, this Forever. Take this Forever for me and go, go, go.”

    The sound of the lock on the glass case—and a long, soft wail from Marni—and then the window shut.


    Pete’s mother took some time to come around to the smaller wedding, which she regarded as rushed. Pete ignored her disapproving glances when the baby arrived a mere seven months later. He paraded the newborn around the maternity wing, admiring his son’s delicate features, the way he was so rounded and smooth-skinned and perfectly proportioned even if he weighed only three and a half pounds. Marni lay in bed and dutifully swallowed her antipsychotic medication. How lucky she had been treated, how lucky. How lucky they all were. A new chapter, a new life. Pete resolved not to hold her episodes against her, or to ask why, when he had been weeding the garden, he had found the sunflower patch outside the bedroom window littered with stamps.

  2. Speaking Out

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    “My amazing psychologist knows that she is willfully violating your rules.”

    Caroline Posner ’17, buoyed by members of a nodding audience, challenged a panel of administrators, including Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway. She explained that she had long since passed the 12-session limit imposed by MH&C.

    MH&C Director Lorraine Siggins pushed against the accusation.

    “We do not have an absolute limit of number of sessions,” she said, adding that each case is handled on an individual basis. “When someone comes back from the fall semester and things are still not going well in January, we would not stop treatment.”

    She asked that patients who have been given this misinformation reach out to her.

    Posner then addressed the audience, asking those same misinformed students to raise their hands. Roughly 50 hands shot up.

    Siggins began to explain that the MH&C website doesn’t mention any such limit, when a voice sounded.

    “My therapist told me in every single meeting where we were in our 12 meetings.”

    “Mine too.”


    “P-Set or Mental Well-Being”

    Eugenia Zhukovsky’s weekend has been a little surreal. She hasn’t been back much on campus since electing to take time off earlier in the semester. She decided she needed to focus full-time on managing her anxiety and depression. Technically a visitor, she has no ID card to access campus buildings.

    Seconds after being guest-swiped into her residential college dining hall, several of her friends materialize, and hug her.

    “How is it, being back in the hellhole?” one asks.

    Zhukovsky squints a little. “Weird.” She says she’s happy with her decision. “But it’s not fun. It sucks.”

    For Zhukovsky, being a Yale student and managing her mental health were mutually exclusive. Panic attacks, medication adjustments, subsequent side effects and bouts of depression — all with little help from relatively infrequent sessions with Yale Mental Health & Counseling — simply took up too much time in an unyielding, rigorous academic environment.

    “No one was explaining how I could do it at Yale,” she said, “We’re not given the ‘our health comes first’ [message] as directly as we have to be.”

    Instead of feeling that her health was of primary concern, she felt like it was another, unsolicited, course or extracurricular. She added that the same has been true for other Yale students; friends have admitted feelings of anxiety to her but added that they “didn’t have time” to see a counselor. Zhukovsky calls this notion absurd.

    Posner and Zhukovsky each described a “P-Set or mental well-being” dilemma: nights when they had to decide between sleep-inducing medication and studying. In other words, they had to choose between missing a deadline and facing the repercussions of a mental illness left untreated.

    In Zhukovsky’s eyes, Yalies are high achieving perfectionists. She likes that: their energy, success and drive drew her to the school to begin with. But that same energy can heighten the effects of anxiety.

    Julie* said that when she arrived on Yale’s campus last fall, she found her brilliant peers inspiring, but that they also caused her high school confidence to shrink. During her freshman fall, she began to doubt herself and started to experience intense anxiety.

    She described her daily routine: class, practice for her varsity sport, and then crying while doing her homework in her single. Meanwhile, she felt that everyone around her was gaining confidence and accolades. Julie felt increasingly inadequate, weak and alone — but she kept her feelings secret.

    Almost all of the students interviewed who have experienced anxiety or depression at Yale said that finding and maintaining a supportive social network was one of the most, if not the very most, important way to cope with mental illness on campus. But several have found that the majority of Yale students seem more focused on their own schedules than on the well-being of their friends.

    Monica Hannush ’16, who has experienced severe depression at Yale, has felt this on a personal level. In moments of profound despair, she has resorted to sending her friends desperate text messages. Those texts, she said, follow less desperate messages. Often, when she texts her friends less urgent messages about feeling sad, she receives ostensibly empathetic but distant responses: “so sorry! writing an essay, sending you hugs.” “About to go on a date, but you’re beautiful!”

    A News survey on mental health resources, completed by 233 students, found that although 61 percent of students have experienced symptoms of depression, anxiety or other psychological conditions, only 28 percent have sought formal treatment, either on campus or elsewhere.

    Julie recalled the moment in her freshman year when she felt like she couldn’t take it anymore. She decided to visit Yale Mental Health & Counseling. On her walk over, she was wracked with paranoia and shame. Afraid of being seen, she kept her head down in the waiting room — but she felt comforted by the presence of other people in nearby chairs. She was not alone.

    Breaking the Stigma

    Once, when Posner went to her chemistry professor to explain why she had been having particular struggles in the class, she ended up in tears. Posner said that when she told him about her severe anxiety and depression, he simply responded, “T.M.I.”

    Although diagnoses have been rising steadily for years — a Harvard study showed that the number of patients in the U.S. increases by about 20 percent each year — many still consider mental illness an uncomfortable, even taboo, subject. While 60 percent of the News survey respondents confirmed that they felt comfortable talking about their own mental health with others at Yale, 27 percent of survey respondents said that they were not at all comfortable with such discussions.

    And that mindset, according to Posner and Zhukovsky, perpetuates a culture of undeserved shame for the suffering. Anxiety disorders affect nearly one out of every five American adults, a 2014 statistic listed by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

    Zhukovsky feels that Yale, specifically, needs to better educate its students.

    “I didn’t really know what depression or anxiety were until I had them,” she said. “There was this time when I felt alone, and like there was nothing I could do about it, and it was the worst time in my life … it’s so important to me to talk about this, and to help people from getting stuck in that place. It can be treated. It can be helped.”

    Following the death of Luchang Wang ’17 in January, members of a shocked and grieving community have resolved to push for the changes they feel are necessary. Concerned students have been speaking up, demanding that Yale reevaluate resources and policies, and that the community take steps to break the stigma surrounding mental illness.

    Many have begun fighting for change on campus — friends like Posner, or like Geoffrey Smith ’15, who co-authored a pledge to boycott the Senior Class Gift along with six other seniors. Smith suggested that alumni and the administration regard participation in the Senior Class Gift as a bellwether for student opinion, and so he called on seniors to abstain from what he sees as an endorsement of University policy. Nearly 97 percent of seniors donated to the Gift in 2014. This year, 78 percent of seniors chose to participate.

    A few days after Wang’s death, Posner, Korbin Richards ’15 and Charlotte Storch ’15 created “Nox Et Veritas,” a Tumblr blog, where they publish stories, sometimes written anonymously, about MH&C, withdrawal and readmission. With this new forum, they hope to bring untold stories of mental illness to light and foster dialogue on campus. Already, seven entries have been posted, and Posner said that the blog has between two and three dozen followers.

    According to Richards, the problem is not that Yalies do not want to talk about mental illness.

    “Once the topic is introduced, everyone wants to join the discussion,” she said.

    Rather, she believes that the problem lies largely with the Yale administration. She feels that the administration has been less open and eager to converse with students. After Wednesday’s forum, she said she was proud of the active and vigorous student participation, but disappointed in the continued administrative distance.

    “If the panel’s job was to not answer questions, then they did exceptionally well,” Richards said.

    Even if students are engaged in the conversation on mental health, Genevieve Simmons ’17 worries the renewed discussion may be short-lived.

    “The prevalence of talking about mental health has been sensationalist — movements when we hear a horrible mistreatment about behind the scenes, or a loss of one of our peers,” she said. “Then the discourse fades into the background.”

    Moments like this have come before. MH&C Director Lorraine Siggins recalled, for instance, student meetings similar to Wednesday’s event that took place in the 1970s. She said that in her more than 40 years of working on campus, she has seen interest in mental health on campus wax and wane.

    To many students, like Zhukovsky, letting this moment of heightened discourse slip away is not an option. She said she could not overstate the importance of creating mental health reform: this, she said, is about quality of life, and life itself.

    Phone Tag

    When Richards was evaluated at MH&C during her freshman year, she only told one lie. She said that she hadn’t been having suicidal thoughts.

    She called this self-defense, as some of her friends had been sent home because they had expressed suicidal thoughts. These stories frightened her  — withdrawal was a financial impossibility for her family, and would worsen her condition. Richards says that the fear of MH&C forcing students to leave campus, or keeping them from returning, prevents those with suicidal thoughts from expressing them. And that, she believes, is dangerous.

    Holloway agrees that the fear surrounding the treatment policies of MH&C is unsafe. Before Wednesday’s panel, he told the News that he worries many public perceptions of treatment at MH&C are incorrect, and that he hoped the event would clarify misconceptions and alleviate unfounded fear.

    Richards told the panel about her lie. She explained that the fear she had felt was pervasive on campus — a statement echoed by the snaps around the room — and asked how the panel planned to address it.

    Siggins responded by pointing out that MH&C sees around 2,500 students each year, and that the vast majority of students who withdraw on medical leave do so voluntarily. Later, she described circumstances that might lead to a forced withdrawal. She said that a patient would need to have a plan for self-harm, as well as the means to execute it — “in other words, if we’re concerned imminently that this person in the next 24 hours may be at great risk.” She added that the individual in question would be hospitalized, and never simply sent home, under such circumstances.

    Zhukovsky, for instance, withdrew without any pressure from Yale administrators or MH&C clinicians. She said that MH&C could not provide her with weekly therapy, which she needed, and so she saw no alternative to leaving. It was not until she withdrew that her mental health began to improve.

    The thought of other students continuing to wade through the support provided by MH&C saddens her.

    “I know that they’re struggling, because I struggled through it, and it wasn’t helping,” Zhukovsky said. “The care I was getting was just okay, and ‘just okay’ is not an option.”

    Others remember experiences of MH&C therapy that were worse than mediocre.

    Richards called her first and only appointment after her initial consultation “one of the worst experiences [she’s] ever had with another person,” recalling how her doctor skipped the handshake in their greeting. “He didn’t shake my hand, didn’t ask about how I was doing. He went straight into ‘Why are you here?’ and then ‘When’s the last time you menstruated?’”

    Julie, initially comforted by the presence of other students in the MH&C waiting room, gave up on MH&C after a couple of unsuccessful visits. She said that the therapist she was assigned to was cold, clinical and impossible to open up to, and so she turned to long-distance communication with a therapist from home.

    Still, others have had positive experiences at MH&C.

    Adriana Miele ’16 has been regularly seeing the same therapist since the beginning of her freshman year, an experience that she said has “kept her afloat in a lot of ways.”

    MH&C also allows patients to request a change in therapist if they are dissatisfied, a process Posner went through at the beginning of this academic year. She’d seen a therapist throughout her freshman year, but found their sessions unproductive, so requested a change. Even though she had to wait for six weeks for MH&C to process her request, Posner said that her new therapist has made a tremendously positive impact on her mental health.

    On Wednesday, when Posner publicly praised her new therapist’s violation of the supposed 12-session protocol, snaps and murmurs of accordance echoed throughout the forum: evidence, perhaps, of her belief that MH&C’s largest problems have less to do with the quality of therapy that most of its practitioners provide than with its difficult bureaucratic system.

    As the MH&C system stands now, according to Posner, students must advocate for themselves in order to obtain quality care. She equated communicating with MH&C to a game of “phone tag,” with constant missed calls and miscommunications. At the forum, when Šimon Podhajskỳ ’16 asked why MH&C does not utilize email communication, students banged their desks in agreement.

    Siggins responded that she “couldn’t agree more” with students that communication between MH&C and patients needs to be improved. She explained that the system currently does not allow email correspondence because MH&C had been concerned about the security of emails, but that it was currently pursuing ways of legally incorporating email communication.

    She and Genecin have announced their commitment to reforms at MH&C. In an attempt to hear student voices, they held a series of “listening sessions” in the residential colleges last spring. Last week, Genecin sent an email to the College with a set of MH&C improvements, including an increased staff size and expediting the period of time between a consultation visit and a first appointment.

    In the News survey, 54 percent said they believed that Yale’s mental health resources are insufficient for those who use them, and 30 percent of students responded that they felt dissatisfied with the reforms described in Genecin’s email. One survey respondent commented that “there were no concrete numbers given to the proposals, which makes me deeply skeptical.”

    Indeed, it appears that students crave more numbers and facts from MH&C. At the forum, multiple students asked the panel for more statistics and greater transparency from administrators.

    Holloway and Genecin emphasized, though, that many specifics cannot be discussed because federal law mandates strict confidentiality. Holloway told the News that his inability to be fully forthcoming is “totally appropriate,” though he added that he is always as transparent as possible.

    For instance, Holloway said that the withdrawal and readmission committee he formed in January cannot disclose information about its discussions until the committee finalizes its recommendations. He expects this to happen in four to six weeks.

    Given such legal constraints, Holloway said that he did not believe assertions that the administration has been silent or unresponsive were fair.

    At Wednesday’s forum, English professor John Rogers, the chair of the committee, mentioned that one of its six members was a student. He also pledged to take seriously the recommendations and complaints that students had expressed to him.

    Zhukovsky worried that administrators would view Wednesday’s event as a way for complaints to be aired, rather than attempt to get to the roots of the grievances. She simultaneously felt that complaints alone would not lead administrators to make changes.

    “I’m all for talking,” she said. “I just think that there has to be more push from students to make a specific change. There’s been a lot of reaction, and a lot of opinion, but there needs also to be initiative.”

    Alternatives, and new options

    Natalie Wolff ’14 suffered from depression between the ages of 13 and 21, and credits her recovery in large part to the care she received at MH&C while she was an undergraduate. At Wednesday’s event, she presented a list of 10 recommendations to streamline MH&C’s system — recommendations that included using the medical program MyChart to schedule appointments, administering screening questionnaires and hiring more secretaries to field more phone calls.

    The panelists expressed gratitude for Wolff’s recommendations, asking for her written list, but Siggins noted that some of the items, such as mandatory follow-up phone calls if a patient misses an appointment, are already MH&C policy. She encouraged students whose therapists have broken MH&C policy by sharing misinformation to contact her. She said that, in those cases, she would remedy the misunderstanding.

    At the same time, several students said that MH&C policy was so obscure that they would not know if their therapist had misrepresented it. Siggins admitted that MH&C has not done an adequate job in the past of educating Yale students on its policies, but she added that administrators are working to increase transparency. She then cited the MH&C advisory committee, a liaison between the department and students convened at the beginning of the spring semester in 2014.

    Corinne Ruth ’15 and Olivia Pollak ’16, currently serving on the committee, seconded Siggins’ view. Pollak recognizes that communication between students and MH&C can often seem “starkly two-sided,” but hopes that both sides can listen to each other.

    “They [MH&C] want students to be happy, they want them to be successful, they want them to come back. The discussion then comes to … how do we best listen to each other?” Ruth said.

    The Mental Health Advisory Committee began at the end of last spring, as part of the Coalition for Mental Health and Well Being, a larger umbrella student organization. The committee members convey to the administration their impressions of campus culture.

    She cites the coalition as key, a way to bring together students in organizations concerned with wellbeing. Last year, the committee updated the YCC resource sheet and the FAQ section of the MH&C website.

    Ruth and Pollak assert that the relationship between MH&C and students is a difficult one to navigate — they echoed Holloway’s comment on confidentiality, as did the forum’s panelists, but asserted that some channels between the administration and students have opened in the past few years.  Ruth cited last year’s listening sessions with Dr. Genecin, which fewer students attended than was expected.

    Ruth and Pollak also pointed to resources outside of MH&C that they feel are underutilized, notably Walden Peer Counseling, the Chaplain’s Office and the Peer Liaisons.

    One day in the fall of 2014, as Natalie Rose Schwartz ’17 wrestled with new symptoms of depression amid long-standing anxiety, her mother told her over the phone that she had to find someone to be with, if she could. Schwartz’s dean, who had been very helpful during regular weekly meetings, was unavailable, so she walked into the Chaplain’s Office. Schwartz knew Sharon Kugler, the University chaplain, from “Cookies and Coloring,” a weekly study break held in the Welch basement.

    “I just went to her office, and she happened to be free, and she immediately took me in, and hugged me, and let me talk,” Schwartz said.

    In the News survey, only nine students reported they had used the Chaplain’s Office as resource, while 72 students had gone to MH&C and 82 had relied on residential college deans, masters and freshman counselors. Twelve students had gone to Walden Peer Counseling as a resource.

    Pollak believes Walden’s minimal visibility on campus is a necessary result of its policy of anonymity. Because confidentiality restricts peer counselors from reaching out and putting a face to their services, students may have misconceptions about the issues that Walden addresses. Pollak worries that students think they shouldn’t call Walden unless they have a very acute problem, although she asserts that this is not the case.

    Zhukovsky, on the other hand, said that while Walden allows students to reach out to peers, peer counselors could not and should not replace mental health professionals. She has suggested that Yale implement a its own version of “Let’s Talk,” a drop-in program started at Cornell University, and that 25 other universities have adopted.

    Like Walden, “Let’s Talk” offers drop-in hours for students to talk or seek advice. Unlike Walden, though, “Let’s Talk” employs certified counselors. This would provide immediate professional advice — on medication, for instance — that Zhukovsky believes MH&C does not currently offer and that a peer counselor cannot give.

    Other students are also considering ways to widen the University’s network of resources. Joseph Cornett ’17 has recently proposed an initiative in a News column to implement mental health fellows in residential colleges. Representatives from MH&C, masters and deans would select upperclassmen to serve as fellows. The main job of a mental health fellow would be to refer students to mental health resources, explaining their nature and functions.

    “The mental health fellows should be someone who everyone knows they can talk to about emotional health.” Cornett said. “It will end up normalizing discussion about mental health and destigmatizing it, much in the way CCE’s have destigmatized discussion about sexual health.”

    At the forum, Wolff proposed a safe space to discuss mental health, in the vein of the Sexual Education Literacy Forum, a suggestion greeted with snaps and applause.

    Ruth and Pollak believe that friends sharing correct information with each other may be the most long-lasting, effective improvement to the current mental health climate.

    Smith believes that while friends can complement professional help, they cannot replace it.

    “Friends will ideally be capable of listening and providing love and kindness, but it is too much to expect them to … provide serious help with a specific condition,” he said.


    After reading out her ten recommendations at Wednesday’s forum, Wolff turned to the audience.

    “Anyone can be an advocate. You also need to be an advocate for yourself. So when they tell you that it’s going to take two months to switch your therapist, say no,” she said. “Just don’t give up.”

    The applause was deafening.

    But before Wolff’s recommendations, and before the applause, Holloway opened the forum. He explained that he wants to close an information gap between students and the administration, to make sure that students have enough faith in the system to get help when they need it, instead of being afraid.

    “The floor is now yours,” he said. “Raise your hand. Speak loudly.”

  3. CRAZY

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    “Oh, she’s crazy.”

    “Fuck her but don’t date her, she’s crazy.”

    “She’s my friend, but she’s completely batshit.”

    I don’t remember when I first started to notice, but it was hard to stop hearing these things once I did. I was hearing this word, I was hearing it everywhere and I had next to no idea what it actually meant. On a campus full of people with bizarre study habits and sleep schedules, what does it take to get called “crazy”?

    In an unscientific survey conducted in Blue States and dining halls, students told me they think we’re all very sensitive when it comes to talking about our peers’ mental health. Conversations about mental illness take place in hushed tones, full of sympathy and euphemisms. They do not involve big, loud words like “crazy.”

    “I think in my experience when I talk about people with mental illnesses, it’s pretty sympathetic,” said Maggie Zhou ’15, a member of my random sample. “The enemy is always Yale Health.”

    Students I spoke with had a wide range of horror stories about Yale Mental Health Services: waiting up to four months for an appointment, encountering therapists who didn’t recognize their patients, who cut them off in the middle of sentences when their time was up, who pushed medication on them after two sessions, who prescribed the wrong kind of medication, who made them feel judged.

    On the surface, we’re trying to fix this. Every Yale College Council presidential candidate in recent memory has made improving Yale’s mental health resources a prominent part of his or her platform. When Cameron Dabaghi ’11 jumped off the Empire State Building in the March of 2010, we wrote op-eds and talked about boosting access to mental health services. When Zachary Brunt ’15 committed suicide two years later, we did much the same thing.

    We hear that Yale’s mental health services are failing us. The failures are big and gaping and scary.

    But we also hear about the stigma that makes so many students reluctant to seek help, or even articulate their suffering in the first place. The source of this stigma seemed a little mysterious to me at first. Yale is famously inclusive, extremely PC. But then there’s the hard truth that based on the numbers, at least one in every two people we have no problem calling crazy on this campus have visited Yale Mental Health at least once during their Yale careers.

    We hear that we don’t talk about mental health enough. But maybe we need to listen to what we’re saying.

    * * *

    Abigail*, a junior who has struggled with clinical depression, insomnia and anxiety during her time at Yale, can describe, immediately and at length, the kinds of qualities that comprise craziness here.

    “I hear the words ‘chill’ and ‘crazy’ so much at Yale, and it’s a problem I have had for a very long time,” she told me. “Crazy has the connotation of a girl who doesn’t really have a handle over her emotions … and chill is the positive way to be, if you can be chill and act like things don’t affect you.”

    Thirteen students interviewed were unanimous about one aspect of “crazy”: Girls get called crazy more often and more casually than boys do. Many identified strikingly similar characteristics that mark a “crazy” Yale woman. Eleanor Michotte ’15 said it can mean going out too much or not enough. But she said that it’s applied especially often to girls who exhibit too much “clinginess” in romantic situations. Andrea Villena ’15 told me “crazy” is typically used to refer to girls who seem overly dramatic in dealing with their relationships. Abigail said these are girls who seem immature or insecure, who publicly and dynamically react to things. They are clearly socially anxious. They don’t seem chill.

    Jay Pabarue ’14 said the word is used so much and so generally that it’s hard to identify just one meaning. But he too associates the term with girls who seem to have a “pathological way of dealing with social scenes.”

    The only guy Abigail has heard called crazy at Yale is “legitimately crazy,” she said. Several students said that calling a boy crazy is more serious than calling a girl crazy: It suggests more about their actual psychological state. When asked why they think so many girls do get called “crazy,” many blamed unjustified cultural stereotypes about girls being more neurotic and hysterical.

    But the World Health Organization tells us women are far more likely to be afflicted with anxiety and depression. And they are twice as likely to develop generalized anxiety and panic disorders as men, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

    These disorders are also more tied to external influences than any genetic or internal predisposition, which means the environment we collectively create on campus each day matters. Psychology professor Tyrone Cannon, who is presently teaching a course on the neuroscience of mental disorders, said that depression and anxiety are only 35 percent determined by genetic factors, with environmental influences accounting for the remaining 65 percent. He contrasted this with disorders not particularly associated with one gender over another, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which are 85 percent determined by genetic factors.

    “I think the mechanisms are similar across men and women,” Cannon told me. “The question is, are those environmental factors experienced differently by genders, and the answer is probably yes.”

    According to June Gruber, one of Cannon’s colleagues in Yale’s Psychology Department, girls begin to experience the social world differently at a very young age. Their parents encourage them to express their emotions. Girls mature more quickly and develop a strong social orientation earlier. They tend to be more ruminative. But all this introspection comes at a cost: Girls are much more likely to become depressed as they grow.

    All through high school, 2013 grad Jessica* dealt with anxiety and insomnia. The summer after her freshman year at Yale, she found herself having panic attacks and even more extreme anxiety. She took a year off. Jessica doesn’t think her experience of depression and anxiety can be divorced from her gender and the way she grew up because of it. It’s something she’s been thinking about a lot post-Yale.

    Jessica began feeling “very body conscious” at age 10 — and the feeling never went away. She believes those concerns helped feed her anxiety at Yale. When she was 20, she went to the beach and a male friend made a rude comment about her body. Jessica remembers going home, sitting on the floor of her bathroom and crying for hours.

    “I think there are these social expectations for girls to be a certain way, to act a certain way, to not be weird, to be attractive. A part of the education as a preteen girl is to learn how to be attractive to boys. A lot of my friends and I are going through this experience where we’re unlearning that,” she said. “Definitely there is a direct physiological connection to my mood and my body consciousness and anxieties about being a woman.”

    Such feelings may be exacerbated on campus. Michotte said people at Yale, and girls especially, seem much more intense about their appearance than in her native England (an issue she discussed in one of her “Crit from the Brit” columns for WEEKEND). “I think there’s appearance inflation. As everyone grooms more, works out more … suddenly everyone falling short of that standard stands out, and the collective average creeps up and up,” she said.

    Abigail thinks a lot of the girls she knows who get “crazy” thrown at them probably have mental health issues that people too easily overlook. She doesn’t think she’s crazy; she thinks she’s someone who feels things deeply and has problems with her brain chemistry that she’s working hard on.

    “I’m sure people call me crazy, though no one’s ever called me crazy to my face,” Abigail tells me suddenly, 20 minutes into our conversation at the Hall of Graduate Studies dining hall. She sounds as though she is articulating this thought to herself for the first time.

    In a culture where there’s so much silence about people’s diagnoses, it’s hard to know who might be suffering. Pabarue cited one girl he knows who often gets called crazy in an unsympathetic way by people not aware that she has a problem.

    After a bad breakup her freshman year, Abigail found herself breaking down and crying multiple times a day, for several months. It never occurred to her that she was “actually depressed”; she thought she was just another girl who had been dumped. She’s always been someone who experiences higher highs and lower lows than other people, and the line between grief and illness wasn’t obvious.

    “When your boyfriend and you have a really bad breakup, the time when you’re crying and mourning that’s not called clinical depression,” she said. “I thought I was just really sad.”

    But though few students interviewed believed girls were legitimately at a greater risk for developing any mental disorder, society has no problem making judgment calls based on gender when it comes to one commonly reported disorder: eating issues.

    When Sally*, now a junior, developed Crohn’s disease her freshman year, she lost 18 pounds in a month and was constantly vomiting. Yet as she sought treatment, she found herself under attack from all sides.

    “Everyone was saying I was anorexic,” Sally said. “People at Yale Health, people at Yale. People just wouldn’t believe me when I was saying I was in pain.”

    Sally had friends trying to force her to eat, commenting on how skinny she was and telling her that it “didn’t look good.” She knew that people were talking about her behind her back. The experience made her close down and withdraw into herself. She began simply avoiding people altogether.

    Pabarue experienced the opposite problem when he developed anorexia as a freshman in high school. For months, he saw his pediatrician in a clearly unhealthy state. He remembers being told to drink more Boost and Ensure and that it seemed like his metabolism was simply getting faster. He was 6 foot 1 and 112 pounds when he fainted in the shower and was rushed to the emergency room.

    * * *

    In her first year at Yale Law School, Elyn Saks LAW ’86 remembers thinking that she could kill hundreds of thousands of people with her thoughts alone. The TV was giving her commands. Throughout all this, she believed that she alone had a “special premium on the truth.”

    For years, she struggled against receiving medication for her schizophrenia. She was very reluctant to accept the diagnosis of being mentally ill and “needing a crutch,” but now she looks back on accepting her diagnosis as the key to liberating herself from the disease.

    “For me, a schizophrenic episode is like a waking nightmare, but you can’t just open your eyes and make it go away,” Saks said.

    As a law professor at the University of Southern California studying the treatment and rights of the mentally ill, Saks lives a life her diagnosis had once seemed to preclude. There’s nothing she prefers about her unmedicated state.

    But for others, navigating the threshold between normal and not normal is much less clear, and accepting a diagnosis an ongoing struggle. The language we use to discuss mental illness — or the lack thereof — only makes this process harder. “People who are sensitive and well-meaning and would never use racial slurs, use the words ‘nutcases’ or ‘looneytunes,’” Saks said. “I’m happy to be called a patient. I have an illness; the words people use are hurtful. Even just changing that would be a small change to changing the culture around mental health disorders.”

    Having more precise language to talk about mental health isn’t just about sensitivity — it’s also about helping inform people who may be vulnerable. Jessica did not have the words to describe what was wrong the first time she started crying for no reason. It was the middle of the day and she was sitting in a café. The experience terrified her. After searching her symptoms online, she concluded that she was probably bipolar. This diagnosis did not prove to be correct.

    “I felt like my feelings weren’t justified, and I didn’t have the language to express that,” she told me says. “I didn’t know what was happening, I didn’t have a language for understanding it. I thought something was wrong with me, that something was very, very wrong.”

    Now she realizes that her diagnoses are not at all uncommon. The more she talks to people, the more she realizes how many people have similar stories. She doesn’t feel so abnormal anymore.

    Alison Greenberg ’14, who has struggled with depression at Yale, said the prevalence of terms like “crazy” has to do with the fact that people’s ideas about mental health are vague at best.

    “Crazy is sort of a catch-all term for not normal, and normal at Yale is I think very different from normal in the real world,” Greenberg told me.

    While Jessica was struggling with depression and anxiety at Yale, she found herself constantly worried about trying “to appear normal.” She felt she was doing everything she could to hide: She was seeking help, she was accepting all kinds of medications and therapies. At one point, she was on five types of medication. It seemed excessive, but she did what her doctors told her to so as to appear “alright.”

    Ellen*, a junior who has received many diagnoses over the years, said that the social norm at Yale is to appear high-functioning even when we’re “hanging by a thread.” In a culture of glory tales and desperate work ethics, it’s easy for someone who is really suffering to think that their suffering is normal, too. Among her group of friends, a normal state of mental health could include low-level depression, or mania or suicidal thoughts.

    Within these standards, labeling someone as “crazy” ends the conversation about him or her, Pabarue said. It’s a way to explain someone else’s behavior without engaging with what might be driving it. It lets you put a label on them, and move on with your own, non-crazy life.

    “I think a lot of the failings are among us or born out of the way we talk about things,” Pabarue said. “It’s too easy to blame the institution alone.”

    Ellen says she won’t get offended when someone sad tells her that they’re feeling depressed. She understands words can take on different meaning in a casual context. Still, she has occasionally been upset by the glib way many at Yale discuss mental health.

    “The casual context mental health is treated can hurt, anything that’s internal, anything people can’t see on the outside, can make you feel undercover in enemy waters,” she explained.

    Crazy sets up a dichotomy between normal and everything else. For many at this school, deciding where you fall on this spectrum can be very difficult. Ellen said she feels herself intellectually and emotionally pushing back against the idea that the various mental health diagnoses she has received over the past four years — clinically depressed, bipolar 1, bipolar 2, anxiety — are legitimate. She doesn’t like the idea of the boxes these words create.

    Some abandon the pursuit of normal altogether. For his entire freshman year, Charles* said he threw himself into the prescribed way of experiencing life at Yale. He described buying into the “cultural hegemony” of what a weekend is supposed to look like, of how he should be dealing with drinking, sex and drugs.

    “There’s kind of a dominant narrative of what your first year is supposed to be,” he said. “You’re shopping classes, you’re shopping friends, you’re shopping organizations. You’re kind of walking around the campus consuming everything. … It’s very oppressive. I’m saying all this because I was the first to do it.”

    All through freshman year, Charles was also taking medication which treated his narcolepsy and hypomania (a milder form of bipolar disorder). The medications made him feel dull, productive and “sterile” throughout the year. He did his reading. He did what he was told to do. But when he ran out of pills one week his sophomore year, he decided to see what would happen.

    That spring semester Charles wrote all five final papers — about 80 pages — without sleep, as though in a trance. He described the papers he wrote that semester as “the greatest work I’ve ever done.”

    When he’s in a low phase, he can barely bring himself to do any schoolwork at all.

    Still, he prefers this to the “stale,” consistently productive feeling he had on medication.

    “It makes for a really intense form of existence. I know I suffer because of it. I know I could have a more tranquil, sterile kind of life,” Charles said. “I don’t want to be told that I’m sick; I think my life is so beautiful.”

    After going on and off multiple medications, Ellen said she has come to accept that medicine can improve her quality of life. Now she is on a daily medication that changes her mood and behavior. She said she has had to learn to accept some degree of uncertainty in not knowing if what she’s doing is right.

    “A lot of us have been given diagnoses … but not too many of us trust those diagnoses. There’s this terrible uncertainty in terms of if what you’re doing is right when it comes to your own mental health,” Ellen said. “Finally settling down with a treatment and accepting that as part of who you are is a really adult struggle, one that people don’t really talk about.”

    *Name changed to protect source identity/privacy

  4. Girl Talk: not just for girls

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    As someone who enjoys being around people but collapses into a puddle of nervous palm sweat in a group setting, I’ve always romanticized the notion of one-on-one conversation as a more meaningful, manageable alternative to that most fearsome of social conventions: chitchat. That’s probably why, at some stage in my boyhood, I came to the realization that relating to individuals on a disarmingly more intimate level provided for far more memorable and (for me, at least) enjoyable interactions than I could ever find in large groups. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the kind of conversations I sought out as a furrowed-browed adolescent — sincere, personal, whiny — were precursors to a tradition with which I would become intimately familiar here at Yale: the girl talk.

    “Girl talk,” despite the implied gender specificity, is not always shared by women, nor is it always about women. Instead, it refers to a specific variety of conversation, usually shared by only two or three people, on any of a broad range of topics. Stereotypically, girl talk revolves around relationships, but this probably isn’t giving the majority of girl talkers enough credit. Sure, hookups and dating provide plenty of girl-talk fodder, but these topics are often just gateways to themes like academic stress, insecurity, dissatisfaction with one’s present romantic or social situation, fear of the future, etc. In fact, a major trademark of girl talk is its ability to plumb surprising emotional depths within the context of low-stakes, informal, sometimes drunken environments. I’ve often been surprised at my own ability to tipsily articulate the existential angst I never even knew I felt, moments before abruptly dancing away when a Ke$ha song came on.

    It’s likely that many women actually find this form of conversation insufferable, just as many men like me (both gay and less gay) feel perfectly comfortable with girl talk. Still, media representations of men engaging in introspective conversations on personal topics are relatively sparse, while everything from “The View” to “Sex and the City” have led us to associate this particular form of communication with the feminine sex.

    In an ideal situation, girl talk allows all participating parties to share their feelings openly, often starting with more local topics like failed romances and job applications and escalating to weightier themes. However, it should be noted that the emphasis in any girl talk is on talking, not listening. This may seem like a cynical proposition, but I don’t intend for it to be. The comforting nature of girl talk doesn’t come from hearing others’ advice — it comes, in part, from hearing other peoples’ stories and taking solace in the fact that others are going through similar experiences.

    More importantly, girl talks provide a platform on which venting is not only tolerated, but also encouraged. A good drunken late-night rant is a wonderful way to Drano away the metaphorical bits of clumped-up hair and soap sludge that tend to accumulate in our psyches over the course of a busy week. A conversation consisting of mutual venting may sound tiresome and solipsistic, but sometimes we all just need to get things off our chests, and what’s the point of delivering a monologue with no audience? If you saw a wild-eyed man on the street ranting to no one in particular, you would think him insane. If you saw a wild-eyed man on the street ranting to a bored-looking female companion, you probably saw me last Friday. Next time say hi!

    However, this notion of venting also gets to one of the more unpleasant facets of girl talk. A good deal of social interaction involves relating to others by sharing your own experiences, and an adept storyteller can share a personal anecdote and make it seem entertaining rather than merely self-centered. But not even Homer could spin an interesting yarn about the overwhelming stress of applying for summer internships or the unfairness of having three midterms in the same week. Venting to someone else about how stressed or overworked you feel can, at least momentarily, make you feel a little better about being stressed. But it tends to have the opposite effect on the listener.

    The real danger of girl talk comes when we get so used to it that we can’t help ourselves from falling back on what essentially amounts to complaining when we should be having a conversation. The emphasis on sharing life details, whether personal or banal, makes girl talk generally inappropriate for most social situations. Good friends are great girl-talk partners because they’ve essentially signed up to get to know you on an intimate level, but not every stranger at a party wants to be on the wrong end of your emotional colonic.

    In essence, girl talk may serve a vital therapeutic purpose, but it doesn’t provide for much levity. And sometimes a little levity is far more therapeutic than any late-night emotional reckoning. Consider engaging in girl talks on an “only-when-necessary” basis. Not only will this generously keep your friends from picking up any of your residual anxiety, it’ll keep you from overstepping the fine line separating catharsis and gratuitous mood dampening.

    Thanks for listening.

  5. Getting in the Glass Elevator

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    When does childhood end?

    For me, it was on Jan. 14, 2013. In the drowsy hours of that Monday afternoon, my canine brother and best friend wandered off to wag his ever-thumping blonde tail against the tops of clouds rather than our hardwood floor.

    If you’d asked me that same question about childhood on Sunday the 13th, my answer would have been a quick and simple one: Never. But childhood does have a definite end, and mine came at the advanced age of 21 with the final day of Orwell Wallabell Holmesie’s steadfast friendship of 95 years (13 and a half by human measures). That’s not to say that I’ve lost my inner child, with her incurable curiosity and penchant for eating things off the ground — no, I intend for her to stick around ‘til I’m just as wizened. But Monday marked the end of an era, with a heavy sense of conclusion.

    It’s hard to put the sensation into words, but I suppose in that moment, I felt a bit like Charlie Bucket after his spectacular tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory comes to an abrupt end and he’s just sort of standing there, the only schoolkid left. Charlie — simple, scruffy, bright-eyed Charlie — has reached the end. He’s inhaled the wafting aromas of chocolate waterfalls, eyed with confusion the Squares that look Round and questioned the science behind Everlasting Gobstoppers. Industrious squirrels, Oompa-Loompas and a girl-turned-blueberry blend into the backdrop when all of a sudden you’re just standing in front of Wonka’s executive desk, waiting for the mastermind to look up. Congrats, you’ve made it — but made it where?

    Orwell will always claim a special nook in my left atrium, and at least for a little while longer, large swatches of hair on my sweatpants and fleeces. If you think a puppy can’t substitute for a sibling, you’ve clearly never seen one playing alongside an 8-year-old only child. Over the years, from my first bus ticket closely followed by my first bra, through growth spurts and acne outbursts, Christmases and college applications, Orwell listened as I narrated each phase of growing up. I whispered worries into those soft, golden ears, asked him whether I was making the right decisions, sat on his doggie bed while I embarked on hourlong conversations with whichever invisible guests had lent their company for the afternoon. Friends who did not love Orwell were no friends of mine.

    It’s not just Orwell, though. Recently, many others — humans — have been leaving too, and with them, a bit more of that infectious, unadulterated optimism of childhood. These past few months, I’ve noticed the passing of more grandparents than I have ever before. I lost my last living grandparent in November, and in the months that followed, it seemed as though every fourth person was sitting beside me in the same dinghy, bobbing slightly more slowly and soberly in the waves.

    Once you’re past Augustus Gloop and Violet Beauregarde, the Inventing Room and the Television Room, Wonka will finally look up from his desk. He leans forward, squinting, your eyes caught in his gaze. He tilts his head towards the door. It’s time, then, to get in the glass elevator.

    Many of those around me appear to have made it through Wonka’s factory far more quickly than I did — perhaps they were more eager to reach the end, or didn’t have the luxury of remaining so long. They wipe the chocolate off their chins and tighten their ties, sit down across from Wonka to be sized up and evaluated. Wonka seems to like Yalies; he generally shows them gladly to the elevator door, where they press one of the buttons with a combination of real and feigned conviction and go crashing up through the roof and soaring away. They shoot off, out of childhood and into a new, adult world of employment and voluntarily eaten vegetables — a world equally fantastical, but with less candy and far fewer Oompa-Loompas.

    At some point, I’m going to have to get in the elevator as well. I can’t hang out in Wonka’s office forever, or keep sneaking back to nibble the edible buttercups along the chocolate river. And while I may not be able to take Orwell with me as I wobble and blast into the sky, I’ll be damned if I don’t bring along a few bars of Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delight.