This year, I stopped stockpiling transfer application essays, which made me realize that I haven’t been happy here since my freshman year.
Penn was bright and shiny in the beginning, all parties and people glazed with newness. I took shots with strangers, drinking to not living in Hill. All of my class notebooks were emblazoned with a silver Penn logo. I collected club flyers like currency, tiptoeing around the Compass as I went.
A month in, I parked myself in the Huntsman Forum, armed with Wawa coffee and a full battery charge on my laptop. My browser threatened to overflow with Google Forms that asked me to provide 500–word answers to, “If you were a salad, what ingredient would you be?”
A few weeks later, my inbox filled with emails that started with “Thank you for your interest.”
Flu season came, and I was too lazy, or stubborn, or both to get a flu shot in Houston. I missed a lecture on inelastic demand, so I Facebook messaged someone in my hall.
“hey can i have the notes from last class?? I was super sick :(“
"just like don’t pass them around because the curve"
Much like flu season, the curve took me down with it.
One night in a frat basement, a boy who barely filled out his muscle tee grunted at me.
“What sorority are you in?”
“I’m a freshman. I’m not even sure if I’m rushing!”
He lowered his Solo cup. “You need to rush. And you gotta be in, like, one of the right ones.”
He shoved a bottle of Bankers toward me and watched as I took a pull.
I mulled on his heavy handed advice, creating Pinterest boards of sorority recruitment outfits over winter break.
My friend applied her lipstick in a gender neutral Quad bathroom mirror before we headed to Irvine Auditorium.
We lined up on the icy streets, a cultish flock of Canada Geese on Spruce Street. One week and ten conversations later, we didn't get into the “right” sororities. We didn't go to the “right” parties. I watched Gossip Girl to cope, wishing that I was from New York.
Sophomore year started with walking down Locust, clawing at my palms in my big hoodie pocket, feeling the drip of blood, wanting to peel my skin off in layers. I didn't sleep, but when I did, I woke up in fog. I waited fifteen minutes outside CVS for pharmacists to refill my prescription of generic Prozac.
The mental fog rolled over often, shrouding the different lobes of my brain. My roommates hated me, and I lay in the piles of clothing that overwhelmed my twin–sized bed to avoid them. My friends lived far away, but it's okay because they hated me too. I shook when I talked to people, so I confined myself in my high rise single.
The fog consumed me during an exam – the CAPM formula I scribbled on the worksheet starts to warp and I count my breaths to control my dry heaving. I withdrew from Finance a few days later.
"God, you're such a mess." My friends handed me another drink.
I laughed along. I blacked in the next morning and found dozens of missed calls and messages on my phone asking if I was okay. Did I start drunk–crying again? It was becoming a habit. I was too hungover to care.
Finally, I called CAPS. The voice on the other side of the phone told me I have to wait a month for a licensed therapist, three weeks if I want a therapist–in–training to videotape me. Three weeks later, I put on a show for the webcam while my clinician blinked at me.
My therapist at CAPS told me I should consider long term therapy, because the university doesn't fund CAPS enough to support my anxiety and depression in the long term. I couldn't afford for my parents to worry about me or about money, so I just nodded.
These days, I follow a regimen just as prescribed as the pill bottles that used to line my windowsill. Exercise at least four times a week, socialize often, drink much less. Penn hasn’t changed over the last two years, but I have. I'm trying to make Penn work for me, because I'm done with being complicit with its toxic culture. Because losing sleep over, say, a Goldman internship won't cure my depression, research be damned.