I am sorry that after my first semester away, I had to try my best to explain to you why sometimes people kill themselves at college. I’m sorry about the emails that remind you that I am alone at a place where people sometimes kill themselves. I am sorry that after you open these emails, you have to call me and ask me if I am OK. I’m sorry that it ever has to cross your mind that you could lose me while I am away and alone at college. I am sorry that every time I come home, you have to sit me down and remind me that you would rather I fail out of school than ever consider suicide. I am sorry that this conversation has become a normal part of our lives.
I’m sorry that I probably made that fear worse by calling you crying every night for my first few months at Columbia. I’m sorry that I sobbed for nights on end about not feeling good enough and months later explained that sometimes people kill themselves because they do not feel good enough. I am sorry that there is no tidy way to tell you that here, everyone feels that way sometimes. I am sorry that I am running out of ways to reassure you that it’s not as bad as it sounds. I’m sorry that sometimes it really is as bad as it sounds.
I am sorry that because I am the first in the family to go away for college, you are alone in the task of navigating my mental health from halfway across the country. I am sorry that you do not have anyone to talk to about whether it is normal that I am not happy at college. I’m sorry that when the family asks how I’m doing, you do not know what to say. I am sorry that when you ask why I don’t just come home, I choke out half-hearted excuses about elite schools and financial security. I am sorry that I am too afraid to tell you that I can’t leave because I am doing this all for you. I know you will tell me that’s not necessary. Maybe not, but you deserve it anyway.
I am sorry I can’t do a better job of hiding my discomfort at Columbia. I’m sorry that I write this column (and I’m sorry that sometimes I swear in this column). I’m sorry that the most meaningful moments I’ve had at this school are always centered around my alienation at this school. I’m sorry that you have to realize some new obstacle of mine nearly everyday that I am away. I’m sorry that some nights, I still call you asking if it’s OK if I come home. I’m sorry that I don’t just come home. I’m sorry that even when you say it’s OK , I still dwell on the years I spent idealizing this opportunity. I’m sorry that idea was so far from where I am now.
I hope you know that I hold your reminders that life will be beautiful again someday like gold in my hands. I hope you know that your reassurance is all I have sometimes, but it has always been enough. There is no question that we have both been suckerpunched by the idea that no matter how much we have been through together, our strength shakes in the face of feelings. My time at Columbia has forced us both to look at health in a way we have never considered. But no matter how foreign, uncomfortable, or challenging this might be, we have already come out on top of much worse.
I am learning to be brave like you. I am learning to be strong like you. I am doing this all for you.
Alexa Roman is a sophomore in Columbia College studying neuroscience. When she’s not on the phone with her mom, she works with the First-Generation Student Advisory Board to address prominent issues in the low-income community on campus. You’re Not Middle Class runs every alternate Monday.
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