Room to breathe

By RAIN JI

SARAH FAGAN

I went through a breakup, right after Feb break. I promise I don’t intend to use The Campus opinion section as Tinder. I just want to share some reflections from my experience dealing with sadness at this insanely busy place (now, figuratively). 

The break up happened on a Tuesday night. My agenda for the night included finishing newspaper layout, conjugating Arabic verbs and converting Cartesian coordinates. Dealing with grief was not included. Rather than feel sad, I intended to drown myself with work as a distraction. 

It worked. Well, kind of. Wednesday through Friday, my friends and I chatted about stupid TV shows, upcoming primary elections and the weather typical topics. (Looking back now, I miss in-person communications so much.) Whenever my friends checked in with me about the breakup, I said, “I’m over it.” Still, they seemed concerned, wanting to know if I were truly alright and offering to talk if I needed to. In response, I simply waved my hands and joked about being a strong and independent woman.

I thought I would be able to pretend nothing was wrong forever. Fake it ’till you make it, as people say. 

And yet, unfortunately and fortunately, my body finally gave out that weekend, exhausted. It was not the kind of exhaustion which follows a 10k run, but rather emotional vanity. I could barely feel anything. When I tried to talk, a mixture of Chinese and English nonsense would come out, something that tends to happen when I am extremely upset. The more I tried to pretend I wasn’t sad, the more my sorrow festered inside until eventually, while I was trying to print readings for class, the pages fell from my hands scattered everywhere on the Davis floor. I started crying right there, in front of the printer. The person behind me was shocked. Still, they quietly helped me gather the reading and whispered, “It gets better.” (Even though I never learned your name, kind printer person, I’d like to thank you.) 

That’s when I was forced to come face-to-face with my feelings. I recognized how unhealthy my coping mechanisms up until that point had been. I mean, I wasn’t even coping, I was only feigning being okay. 

And so I decided to spend some time alone. Even knowing it would be helpful in the long run, I felt guilty canceling plans with friends. Would they be disappointed if I told them I needed more time to figure out my emotions about my past relationship? What if they thought I was dramatic and weak? No one did. Instead, I got hugs and sweet texts containing words of comfort.

That was the hardest, most rewarding weekend I have ever had. I tried new things: I spent hours listening to podcasts, attended my first ever spin class and went on an aimless, spontaneous walk. Scariest of all, I did all of these activities solo. As I watched “Criminal Minds” alone on Saturday night, I wondered if I was missing out on what could’ve been the best night of the week. And then I realized, I was having the best time. Solitude is not shameful. In fact, often it is enjoyable. (Thanks to that experience, self-quarantine for 14 days at a medical facility upon my return home a month ago became a lot easier). 

The following night, I attended an editorial meeting in which we discussed how some people don’t enjoy J-Term as much for a variety of reasons. I realized that I wasn’t the only one who was obsessed over the thought of being engaged in a variety of activities and to be constantly busy. That night, I learned that other Middlebury students also had those wishes which led to more pressure and stress. It seems that I finally found the reason behind my stubborn determination to hide my pain. I mistakenly felt that I should have been ashamed of my misery since I was supposed to be enjoying myself like everyone else around me. But then, I thought, what if that’s why people around me are only showing happy and smiley faces instead of those of stress and worry? 

As cliche as it sounds, I think sometimes we all need a reminder that we are entitled to our feelings. In the wake of my breakup, I felt anger, shame and guilt. I was too afraid to confront these emotions because I didn’t want to admit to others that I was an emotional wreck. It took an awkward encounter with a stranger to shatter my facade; still, the facade didn’t have to be put on in the first place. 

I’m not suggesting that there is a linear healing process to sadness, because there isn’t. As my math professor has told me on several occasions, linear things are nice, but they rarely exist. I still feel doleful every so often. But, when I do, I stand up to those feelings with strength gained from a mixture of company and solitude. By allocating time for myself, I allow others to help me. By allowing myself to feel bad, I allow myself to feel better. 

Rain Ji ’23 is one of The Campus’s Arts & Academics editors.

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