How to Save a Life

I remember this day rather vividly, in contrast to the blur that was freshman year. I can’t remember the exact day, but I only know it was a week night in October of my freshman year. As I often did around 10 p.m., I sat alone in my room in Canaday Hall grasping a bottle of some kind of alcohol, probably Crown Royal whiskey. I had a special attachment to Crown Royal. It was the first liquor I ever drank back in junior year of high school. I could still remember that distant time when I enjoyed the singe of liquor rushing down my throat, the sense of adventure and the fun. Now, it was isolating and depressing.

This one night in particular stands out in my mind for one major reason: suicide. I had often made jokes about suicide and about wanting to die, but they were mostly jokes. This night, however, was different. I had hit rock bottom a few times but this time I felt like I had found an even lower place. I made a connection between the night I was having and a night from a year before when I had a breakdown and found myself on the floor of my home, unable to do anything. My cat and three dogs had stayed by my side until I felt better. But now I was at Harvard. I had no pets to console me and I had no friends that I felt I could open up to on campus. It was just me alone in the room.

As I drank and wallowed, the question, “When did I become a ghost?”—Kid Cudi’s musical explorations of darkness—resonated with me. Music has always been an escape for as long as I could remember, and knowing that somebody else had gone through similar pain and hopelessness was comforting in a way. And on this one night when I, for the first time in my life, legitimately was considering suicide, the music kept me sane until I made a life changing decision: I reached out to a friend.

To be honest, I didn’t really know this “friend” very well. We had hung out maybe three times, but I decided to text her and ask if she was awake. She fortunately was and I found myself pouring out many of my thoughts and feelings even though I thought she would think I was nuts. I told her about how I always felt alone, how I felt out of place at Harvard, how I felt hopeless all the time. I told her I was considering transferring and my fear that nothing would get better in my life and that I would be haunted by the specter of depression for the rest of my life. For some reason, she wasn’t turned away by a breakdown from someone she barely knew. For this I will always be thankful, because I’m not sure if I’d be here today otherwise.

I remember getting a text from my mom that night as well. I don’t remember what the text was about but I remember how depressing it felt to be drunk and contemplating suicide while getting a text from someone who would be devastated by any actions taken. And so I continued texting my friend, repeating the same themes. Near the end of the conversation, I made a joke about suicide and she asked if I was being serious. I replied with something along the lines of “Haha, thanks for listening, I’m going to bed” and that was it.

The next day I was contacted by my proctor. I went to his room and after talking we set up an appointment with the mental health services. I then started seeing someone regularly and began down a long path to getting better. I suspected that my friend had had a part in this, and she later told me that she had been worried and talked to someone else who then emailed the Dean of Freshmen. That all got sent down the chain of command to my proctor. Her decision set in motion a series of events that has put me in a better place now than a year ago.

I am sharing this story because Harvard is a taxing place. You never know when someone may be struggling, especially during finals, an extremely stressful time in students’ lives. So please, reach out. Reach out if you are someone in need of help. There are people who care about you and who are more than willing to dedicate time to help you out. Reach out if you think someone may be struggling. If you haven’t heard from someone and suspect they may be having a rough time, talk to them and check in. Reach out to get proper help if someone comes to you with the thought of harming themselves. They may be upset at first, but there’s a good chance they will appreciate it later on and you just may save a life. I’m forever thankful for what my friend did for me that night. I may not be here today without her, and all it took was for the two of us to reach out.

Kevin R. English ’20 is a Psychology concentrator in Kirkland House.

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