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The Stages of Mo(u)rning

Waking up isn't an event, it's a process

By William L. Adams

Dear Mr. or Ms. Bright Eyed Freshman:

You must be so excited. You’ve only been at Harvard for a few weeks, but you’ve already changed so much. You’re cultured: Wasn’t the a capella jam amazing? You’re independent: Congratulations on doing your own laundry (albeit paid for with Crimson Cash)! And you’re even discovering fine cuisine: isn’t the Kong’s crab rangoon stellar? As you’ve probably figured out, it is written in the stars that you will be successful, popular and one day rich enough to contribute to Harvard’s struggling endowment. Yes, the world really is your oyster.

Well listen up, Bright Eyes: the excitement is going to wear off. As classes proceed you will learn that the happiness of these first weeks in college will not sustain through the semester. The stress, the strain, the lack of sex—it all creates a strange cycle of behavior that starts every morning and ends late into the night. The end result is exhaustion and an inability to get out of bed. Perhaps the inscription above the Gate of Hell in Dante’s Inferno sums it up best: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” As a public service announcement, I write to you to illustrate a typical morning of an upperclassman. By taking note, you can prepare for the inevitable stages of morning that signal the beginning of your long, strenuous days at Harvard.

Denial: an unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts or feelings. In this first stage of morning, students must cope with the reality that summer is over and that they actually have to wake up before 2 p.m. When I enrolled in elementary Vietnamese, I trekked to Van Serg, home of the East Asian studies department, every morning. Perhaps to provide an authentic Asian experience, the building is located halfway to Vietnam, meaning I had to leave at 8:30 a.m. The story was always the same. The alarm goes off at 8, but I pretend not to hear it. I have to pee, but I deny that my bladder is about to pop. I even convince myself it would be better just to wet the bed: I’m freezing and the warmth will do me good.

Anger: a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility. During this second stage, the student grows intensely hostile towards those around him. With my alarm still ringing, my roommate—who lives in the common room—begins banging on the door. Is he kidding me? Why the hell is he so inconsiderate? I’ll admit the alarm is going off, but I’m not going to let him control me and force me out of my bed. I won’t give him the power. Crap. I have to pee. I smack the alarm. I slam open the bathroom door. Release.

Bargaining: seeking an agreement through direct negotiation between yourself and some external force. Here, the irrational belief is that by changing an aspect of your situation, you can change the entire situation. Throughout the bargaining stage, the student presents himself with options. Perhaps If I slip in the bathroom and break my leg University Health Services will write me a note excusing me from class. Or maybe if I e-mail the professor and kill off another relative (miraculously, I had five grandparents die last semester) he’ll pity me. After pacing around my room I have a realization: my bed is uncomfortable, my floor is covered with candy wrappers and I have absolutely no desire to stay here. I grab my book bag. Peace out.

Depression: the condition of feeling sad or despondent. In this stage, the student copes with feelings of loss, anxiety and negativity. Cold, gray and tired—will things ever get better? I can’t believe how awful I look. The deposits of fat beneath my eyelids are puffy. And I’m a pig. I couldn’t find my socks this morning so I’m sure my feet reek. I can’t remember the last time I washed my underwear. Why am I even taking Vietnamese? I live in Georgia. The Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) officer didn’t smile at me just now. Everyone hates me. All I want is to be loved. I arrive in Vietnamese class. “Chào anh! Anh có khoe không? Anh có muon di ngu không?” Uh, what did he just say? Not only am I ugly, dirty and disliked by the masses, I’m also stupid.

Acceptance: the act or process of accepting. Also known as getting over your issues. Class proceeds and the high-pitched Vietnamese tones of the other students initially irritate me. At least they wake me up. After listening to these students who actually do their homework, I’m inspired. What if I work as hard as them and do my reading before class? What if I practice my audio drills and highlight my textbook with hot pink and neon green markers? Could I master this language? Could I master the world? Probably not. But at least I wouldn’t feel so damn lazy. In just a few moments class will be over and I’ll be free to roam from Van Serg, past the HUPD policeman, back to my dorm room or wherever else I fancy. The day will bring more class, more work and more worry, but in sixteen or so hours, I’ll be back in bed. And just think: tomorrow I get to do it all over again.



William Lee Adams ’04-’05 is a psychology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Mondays.

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