Modern Thanatopsis

One of my favorite longform pieces I’ve ever read is about Madison Holleran, a young woman who died by suicide about halfway through her freshman year of college. It discusses how her Instagram feed served as a façade for her true feelings and experiences, so those who viewed it could see the type of life she wanted them to see. After reading it again more recently in light of the book about her that was recently published by the same author of the article, Kate Fagan, I ventured to her Instagram account. It likely has quite a few more followers than it did before she died: more than 14,000. As a result, many of the likes and comments below each photo are from people who didn’t know Madison, though her story had touched them, like it had for me, to the point that they felt they needed their voices to be heard.

That day, I clicked on one photo, a striking yet heavily-filtered sunset. After the caption, she had posted the hashtags #finals and #someonesaveme. As if on cue, the barrage of over-thinking, over-analyzing, began:

“The hashtags in this picture speak volumes.”

“Like that last hashtag. It wasn’t about finals.”

“God I wish I could’ve saved you and I never even met you.”

“You could have been saved!”

But what are these well-meaning people envisioning exactly? That they would take every (probably) haphazardly-posted hashtag so seriously that they might stage an intervention each time the common and often colloquial “someone save me!” appeared during finals week? That this young woman’s friends weren’t the type of friends she needed to help her fight her mental illness? That if these complete strangers been friends with her, she would still be alive today?

•   •   •

For me, going to Gonzaga University meant proving to myself that I could thrive not just outside my hometown, but far away from the state in which I’d grown up. Almost by default, all the friends I’d make would probably not be from California, but from states in the Pacific Northwest. And for the first few weeks, that’s how it was: my roommate was from Washington, a few other people I met were from the Seattle area, and even the Californians I came into contact with were either from southern California or way northern California – far enough from my hometown that in almost any other part of the country, they would have been from other states. We friended each other on Facebook, tagged each other in photos, and for a while, the illusion I’d wanted so badly, that I could leave my hometown and thrive, was intact.

When my depression that had been festering in some form since the beginning of high school got a lot worse very quickly, it wasn’t like I could let anyone back home know. Admitting that maybe Gonzaga wasn’t the right fit for me, that the friends I’d made those first few weeks of classes had found new friends, that I was more excited than ever for Thanksgiving break or winter break because those vacations came with a trip home, not only meant to me that I wasn’t happy, but that I might even be homesick. And admitting that I was homesick felt like a betrayal to the person I envisioned myself becoming in college: the person that was sad to leave campus because it meant leaving friends behind, who couldn’t want to get back to see those friends, and so on.

So even though inside I knew that being at Gonzaga meant fueling my depression – which wasn’t necessarily related to being homesick, but just being there – I kept up the charade on social media. I posted Facebook status after Facebook status about how excited I was for the next basketball game, how annoying the snow was, how prestigious the theaters downtown that I performed concerts in were. Every time a friend from home posted about their California college, the comment I posted would involve something about Washington, reminding them that I had left the state for no reason other than to justify my decision, to trick myself into believing I was happy.

Of course, I was drowning. But looking at my social feeds, aside from the occasional ambiguous sad song lyrics, even my closest friends from home (or the few friends at school) wouldn’t have guessed how bad my depression had become.

At the end of the fall semester of my sophomore year, after a lengthy hospital stay a few months before had essentially forced me to open up to people on both sides of my life – home and college – I was the most candid I had ever been online in a Facebook note I wrote titled “Ten Things I Learned in 2009”:

Never go to the emergency room on a Sunday night. Ever. Even if you have to. Wait until Monday morning or call an ambulance instead, so you’ll at least bypass the waiting room.

Reach out to someone who can help, even if it’s your professor. Even if they’re not technically allowed to handle the issue themselves, they’ll do everything they can and make sure that they hand you off to someone with whom you feel equally comfortable. Then after your issue is resolved, you can go back to your professor and become best friends and they will buy you coffee.

But while the hospital stay had taught me a lot about my mental illnesses and how to better address them, I wasn’t cured – and I will never be, as the clinical term for “depression that’s a little better now,” just like for cancer, is “remission” – but I still wanted everyone to think I was. Because even though many people had heard by then that things weren’t going well, all they’d have to do is read these items on this list and be content with the fact that things were, at least, better than they were.

In reality, for every #someonesaveme, there’s an #everythingisgoinggreat, and as much as we truly care about the people in our lives, by design, one of those expressions tends to outweigh the other in life, and one tends to outweigh the other after death.

•   •   •

It feels like after someone dies by suicide, everyone who knew them – and if their story extends outside of their immediate circles, everyone who wished they knew them – begins philosophizing about what could have been. If their friends had done this differently, then this would have happened instead. If they’d known the person better, had reached out to them at the right time, they might have been able to stop them. Much of this is a natural part of the grieving process and the guilt that comes with it. But for those who simply want to insert themselves into a stranger’s experiences, it can quickly become a circlejerk of living, often able-bodied people proselytizing that they knew what was best for this person they didn’t know. It can quickly turn into a whole new list of grievances for the ones who did know the person, further compounding their guilt: if so many strangers see their dead friend as “saveable” now, how could those close to them not have seen the signs before it was too late?

The further removed you are from a person who’s died by suicide, like the strangers posting comments on Madison’s Instagram, the easier it is to wildly speculate. It is easier to assign meaning to someone’s life, to the hashtags they post with a seemingly benign photo, if the person is no longer here. It’s a morbid game played only by those who see it as such – a true-crime mystery to unravel. It’s House trying to figure out who killed Kutner, when all the signs of a suicide are right there, so simple and therefore so easily ignored.

You can be intimately familiar with the signs of suicide, from personal experience or research or both, and still not foresee this outcome. You can pore through a friend’s social media history, wondering where something shifted, if something shifted, if something could have been done, if there’s something you should have noticed. If there was a singular way to define mental illness, then perhaps fewer people would see suicide as an option, but there isn’t. Because of this, so often in the wake of a death by suicide, there’s only an endless supply of questions left that can never be answered. But equally often, the most authentic realization one can have is when to stop asking these questions and mourn in peace.

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100 Things: Redux (21-40)

Welcome to part 2 of “This 25-year-old revisited her teen years. What she discovered about herself will shock you.” [ Part 1 ]

  1. Parallel parking PERFECTLY (on the 1st try!)
    I’m fairly confident this has never happened to me before.
  2. Powerpoints printed as worksheets
    Still true. However, I originally wrote this question when I had the convenience of “free” (that is, entirely covered by my private school tuition) printing, and I don’t have that anymore. I also prefer to print the slides to take notes when they’re posted before the class, and I’ve only had one professor at Iowa State who’s done that.
  3. Gay rights!
    Good lord, this is embarrassing. I was Jennifer Lawrence before Jennifer Lawrence was Jennifer Lawrence (and I’m older than her, so I can say that). To be clear, I’m not reacting this way because I don’t still enjoy “gay rights,” but that phrasing is so, so painfully shallow.
  4. Apples to Apples
    My first experience with Apples to Apples was actually more about my reluctance to play Apples to Apples when I was hospitalized for mental health issues. Every night on the ward, some group of people would be playing Apples to goddamn Apples and even though I knew it was an open-invitation thing I was still too worried about being rejected to join in. Then I learned it’s actually much more fun to play with people you know, and that’s why it ended up on this list.
  5. Psychology
    Every so often I think about what having a college degree in something means. Purportedly you’ve devoted a significant amount of studying to it, have developed relationships with people in the field, and you could conceivably be considered an expert in it. I don’t really feel like this. My grad school letters of recommendation were written by professors in the rehab & counseling education department (one of my two “second concentrations”) and while I feel like I have an understanding of scientific study design, basic psychological principles, and maybe a few tidbits I can regurgitate to impress people at parties, it still baffles me that I possess a piece of paper recognizing my efforts in psychology.
  6. Professors that are 100% badass
    I know exactly which professor I had on my mind when I added this item, and he wasn’t “badass” in the sense that most people probably use the word. He was a sort of understated, acquired taste-type badass. Sometimes – he never made it a “thing” – he’d have a YouTube video of a Joy Division song or something, and it was clear he was just showing it to us because he wanted to listen to some Joy Division. He was a history professor, and his lectures consisted of him standing in front of the class and talking about whatever was next on the syllabus, no PowerPoint or anything. It was hard to tell if he planned what he was going to talk about, because he was clearly so knowledgeable about history that it felt like he was just casually telling us about each topic. And I learned a lot! I almost added a history minor because of the classes I took with him. He also let me take a midterm late because my depression kept me from coming in on the scheduled exam date, which was nice of him.
  7. Apple crisp
    I made apple crisp for the first time ever about a year ago. It’s still one of my favorite things in the world.
  8. Sneaking outside food into movie theaters
    I didn’t do this at all until high school. When my friends and I would see a movie, we’d generally eat at the Mary’s Pizza Shack across the street, then walk to the gas station next to the theater and buy bags and bags of $1 candy, then unassumingly walk into the theater with our bounty. I doubt that theater would let us get away with that now.
  9. Harry Potter
    If I were to really go into this, it would warrant a post of its own. I have a story for every book, a story for every movie, and even some Stern Thoughts about how disappointing Pottermore ended up being for all the hype it got. It’s genius, it’s problematic, and it would absolutely be on my “100 happy things” list today.
  10. iChat emoticons :)
    I grew up a Mac user, and even after upgrading to OS X, I’d use the regular AIM client instead of iChat. I think I may have preferred the authenticity that came with seeing people’s screen names and custom fonts, as opposed to iChat’s first name/last name buddy lists and customizable-only-insofar-as-other-Apple-users fonts and colors. But when I first got my own Macbook Pro before starting college, it was iChat all the way. And I guess the emoticons were just strange enough to be cool, or something deep-sounding like that.

  11. Finishing a really long book
    I’m awful at remembering book titles and even plots unless they really stuck with me, so I can’t remember what book(s) I might have been talking about here. I assume either something by Italo Calvino or maybe W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, which I may have finished by the time I wrote my original list. Or maybe I was just thinking of a 500-page young adult novel that wasn’t great so much as it was long. That is a satisfying feeling, though, especially when you close a hardcover book and it makes that satisfying thunk.
  12. Reading outside in the sun
    When did I ever do this? I know for a fact I stopped going outside as soon as I discovered the Internet.
  13. Hugging people who smell nice
    I was thinking of a specific person when I wrote this. We don’t talk anymore.
  14. Pokémon
    My 2007 high school music department trip to Anaheim was all Pokémon, all the time. Pearl and Diamond had just come out for DS, and I was the only person who had Pearl, so everyone else with Diamond wanted to trade version-specific Pokémon with me to complete our Pokédexes, and the person I alluded to in #33 helped me beat the game that weekend, and, and, and.
  15. Finding old photos of myself I don’t remember taking
    I have Photobucket accounts filled with hundreds photos dating back to 2004, so this happens quite a bit whenever I remember my old passwords and feel like logging into them. And because I’d be an awful, unkind person if I didn’t share at least one, here you go (it’s probably from around the time I wrote the original “100 things” list – note the Rockstar can collection in the background):
  16. The way I make my lowercase “F”s
    Here’s a good example from my original, handwritten list. I just enjoy how clean they look. (And yes, I do dot my “I”s now.)
  17. Alan Zweibel
    I started watching the Late Show with David Letterman every night when I was a junior or senior in high school (but only during the summers – I was asleep by 9:30 on school nights). Alan Zweibel was on one night talking about his novel, The Other Shulman, which ended up being quite good. Here’s the video from his appearance:
  18. Teen lit that’s actually quality literature
    Today, there are a bevy of articles with a title similar to (or exactly) “In Defense of Reading Young Adult Fiction.” I’m not going to link to any of them, but just know they’re there. I think my view on this has changed quite a bit since I wrote this in 2010, because I think I was trying to “cover up” (in a sense) my love of YA when I didn’t really need to. Some “regular” literature is great and some is terrible, and the same is true of YA. I still read a ton of YA, and some of it is great, and some of it is terrible. But it’s not inherently worse because it’s YA. That’s all.
  19. My nostalgia drawer
    I know of two different drawers this could be, and thinking of either of them is not stirring any nostalgia. Sad!
  20. When things just make sense
    Deep, 19-year-old Christine. Very deep.

Final Sentences

This mess is inspired by this McSweeney’s post, in which the author reproduces final sentences of essays they wrote in college. Ever-so-creatively, I’ve done the same here. They are somewhat in chronological order, from freshman year in 2008 to graduation in 2012.

A few things that are worth mentioning: (1) I apologize in advance for the likely errors in the French sentences; (2) trying to guess for which classes these essays were written could be a fun game; and (3) I attended a Catholic school for the first three semesters of undergrad. Enjoy!


I am proud to be here and eager to begin my college education.

The fact alone that I may act independently of them is reason enough for me to want to live without them.

She breaks from my grasp and dances into the next chapter of her life without vertigo.

It is this symbiotic relationship that is the foundation of my entire association with my parents and I take pride in maintaining my part of this valuable connection.

Based on this evidence, it is obvious that China should invest more into its space program.

It is only then that the answers to the unrequited questions will expose themselves.

It is not pleasant to ponder this, so we should merely hope for the best in Obama’s campaign — and hope for the worst in the aftermath of the Palin disaster.

Overall, America will focus its attention on the common good, and following the election, has great potential to advance culturally and socially as a country.

It is in these lines where one understands that the entire sonnet is a compliment to the speaker’s beloved and that his peace should entirely resolve any issues with the situation.

However, this mixture of metrical patterns helps the poem flow in a more colloquial, almost childlike manner.

The pain of death that plagued Jesus between his death and resurrection are what elicits the angel’s appearance and his rise into heaven.

At my next poetry reading, I will not enter expecting it to follow a certain set of guidelines; I will instead sit comfortably and wait for the environment to demonstrate its full potential.

From sorrow, the hope for the journey to a better place upon death emerges and the grieving process that is all too necessary in order to live is finally assuaged.

Just as the association between the speaker and his surroundings is not altogether clear upon a brief glance of the situation illustrated, the personal connections between the speaker and his natural surroundings and the speaker and the people on the ferry are not evident without detecting the similar vowel sounds within each key word associated with this major correlation between the living and the inanimate.

Where “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” communicates the hope of a new beginning, “Sailing to Byzantium” conveys the inevitability of the end of the thoughts and emotions that drove the first poem, death.

The speaker’s self-deprecation, driven by his self-created surrounding darkness, eventually causes his downfall.

Without a belief in oneself, one’s outward qualities may not be truly embraced by others.

The answer as of yet eludes me.

Albeit simple, it is indeed simplicity that governs life and we must live simply in order to best experience life.

This is not to discount Descartes’ entire philosophy on the subject (i.e. by calling it crazy), but it does not make sense on its own.

If death brings the pleasure that one could not realize in life, then death is yet another neutrality: it does not put one at peace, it is merely a final fix for one’s lifelong struggle with pain.

But who am I to judge based on my own beliefs?

Perhaps he is leaving it up to those who come after him to complete his philosophy for him, so that if his philosophy follows through and his soul returns, he may look upon the world and its beliefs and finally be at peace.

Although I believe myself to be somewhat tolerant of organized religion and its tenets, an argument like this is impossible to accept with its multiple exasperating flaws.

Nous adorons aller au cinéma, danser, passer la soirée ensemble, et rigoler beaucoup.

Ma chambre à coucher à Gonzaga est plus grande que ma chambre à coucher dans le logement de ma famille, mais je ne partage pas de chambre à coucher dans le logement de ma famille, et je partage ma chambre à coucher avec ma camarade de chambre à Gonzaga.

C’est génial !

This motion blindness is not a terribly common phenomenon, with only one good case being presented in published literature, but awareness of it may allow doctors, like Dr. House, to better diagnose patients and allow them the proper course of action.

This ironic conclusion reinforces the apparent normality of CIPA patients and prevents many others from understanding their massive internal differences.

“And,” Bereta reminds us, “there is always Ninja Warrior.”

Make checks payable to “GU Choral Music” and note “GU Choral Activities” on your check’s memo line.

“Trust, commitment, and love. Have these, and you will get through life.”

The director provides necessary tools; all people must do is recognize and apply them to their lives.

Students remember its final words long after orientation and wear their Creed shirts bearing the message that unifies Gonzaga: “I choose to be a member of the Gonzaga Community. I am a ZAG. I am a Bulldog. Together, WE ARE GONZAGA!”

Perhaps a “Second Industrial Revolution” is upon us, but with it comes ignorance of all that is real and worship of artificial intelligence in all its human-driven glory.

Whether the problems driving its supporters are merely unknown to the world or unbelievable, it must either demobilize some other way or face defeat.

The super rich will always exist, for they are who inherently define all who fall below.

Although Dwayne’s initial problems were family-based, the love his relatives have for him could be the only thing he needs to get better.

Judging by the bleak turn that the songs and the plot take as Berlin falls to the Nazis, the master of ceremonies’ final “Good night” is perhaps our only indication of the events to take place after the final curtain.

This is a choice left up to the viewer, perhaps the final question remaining at the end of this thrilling film.

A shifted perspective of the Dickens novel, one that favors Oliver and his allies throughout, is what this film used to its vast advantage.

Neuroscience and music therapy are an important pair in the field of medicine, especially in rehabilitation, and scientists should investigate this relationship further in order for more breakthroughs to occur.

Until globalization effectively “modernizes” the rest of the world, these differences will continue to affect decisions referring to sex and reproduction.

Though correlations between aggression and being of a certain ethnicity or gender exist, the causation of these is still up for debate, and neither of these reasons should be the sole motive for explaining aggression.

Le passage en Haïti sera apprécié par beaucoup de gens et je serai satisfait.

J’espère que votre compagnon appartement est meilleure que la mienne.

Voir le film deux fois !

The age at which a child attends preschool is a vital time for establishing a rudimentary awareness of basic skills that will remain with them for their entire life.

Though it remained undiscussed, we were both aware of one fact: we would never be alone at the bottom of the pack again.

I’ve never known him to stray when he has the chance to learn something new.

I sat down on the couch and began to write…

And as I’m helped up off the ground and taken to an ambulance, my heart pounds and I feel guilty that mine can and his can’t and I want to give some of my heart pounds to him, I can live on just a few a minute, please no I was joking don’t take my life too

DeLillo’s simple tweaks, such as adding the hijackers as affected characters, incorporating art as a coping mechanism, and providing untrustworthy psychological stressors, illustrate in great detail the effects of “the culture of the easy edit” and how a few minute details can shake up an individual’s views of a horrific event.

Indeed, “what world is this” in which love can endure but not truly exist?

As irrelevant as this work is, so too is it a failed attempt to help the country heal from the September 11 attacks.

The push for “perfection” must continue if the human race is to succeed, even if it means giving natural selection a push in the right direction.

This increases external validity and provides an opportunity for expansion in the field not only of music therapy, but of trauma therapy as a whole.

Knowing that there is a place where no new bad things can happen induces immense relief in the client and makes them not only more likely to return to therapy, but also more comfortable in their lives outside of therapy.

And in the end, this class as a whole is leaving me stronger, more scholarly, and with insurmountable knowledge that will facilitate my triumph over my anxieties for years to come.

The decision was purely my own, and I chose the option that would not involve possible negative involvement by my professor.

The only part of this article that was altogether comforting was the reference to “future research” at the very end, something that will hopefully follow very soon.

Now I embrace my differences, and do relish the extra sleep I can get because it does not take me an hour or more to get ready in the morning.

However, if research on this were to be conducted, it would surely fill in many of the holes left by the current research, including the possibility that researchers today are accidentally misgendering children in research.

In a logical society, lies like these would not be able to sustain themselves.

Farmers and consumers alike could see a real positive change if the runoff problem was addressed at the federal level.

It is an extremely treatable condition, but only if doctors and patients alike are willing and able to work through the appropriate treatment.

Protecting the bobolink means protecting Iowa.

Quel journée !

Breaking my silence

This project has been on my mind for a long time, and after sorting some things out, I’ve decided to talk about it a little bit.

When I was 18, I was severely mentally ill. I think there had been spurts of it throughout high school, but I thought they were totally normal occurrences and attributed them to being a stressed-out high school student. I had my first panic attack (and two ER visits in 12 hours) a few weeks before leaving for college in Washington, was prescribed some anti-anxiety medication, and thought that was it. During the spring semester of that school year, after cruising through freshman classes in the previous semester that were nowhere near as challenging as the ones I’d taken in high school, my brain decided it could only hold out for so long and quit on me. For about four months, I rarely went to class and spent most of my time asleep. At the end of April, I had another panic attack — The Big One — and instructed my roommate to call 911. I spent the next week in the psychiatric unit of the hospital, where I was formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety, put on new medication, and left with a slightly better outlook on life.

That’s the short story. That’s the story that I’ll share if someone I trust asks about my history with mental illness. But I don’t think that’s the story I want to tell anymore.

While I was in the hospital, I wrote a lot. Aside from group activities, meals, meetings with several psychologists, and visits from my aforementioned roommate, there were still several hours of the day where I had nothing to do except write. I wrote journal-style entries, letters to friends, and loads more in a journal I try to keep in a safe place wherever I live.

I think I’m finally ready to adapt those entries, along with events leading up to their writing, into something. An autobiography, a memoir, a novel, something. I’ve tried in the past to write about that point in my life from memory because I didn’t think I was strong enough to reread that journal, but I know now that I am.

I’m not saying to expect anything concrete soon. I’m not even sure if it’ll happen. Hell, I don’t even know what “it” is yet. All I know now is that there is a forceful stigma on mental illness and the mentally ill, and one way to break through is by talking about it. It takes a strong person to be able to discuss their own struggles with mental illness, and I think I am finally at the point where I can share it with the detail and emotion it deserves.