My Freshman Year as an Acting Student at Syracuse University is a Constant Cycle of Anxiety and Depression
Earlier this week, I wrote about how I acquire an addiction to weight loss pills when I am 17 because I am admitted in the acting program at Syracuse University and I feel immediate pressure to become a better version of myself, or perhaps just a different person entirely.
Once I am accepted into SU, I hear over and over again that university students “over there” love to “party”.
I have never been to a party but I have watched the entire American Pie series and Animal House and I am certain, beyond certain, that I am ill-equipped to ”party”.
For example, I am afraid of men. What will I do when I am pressured to party with men? I did not know (I still don’t know) and I preemptively respond to the pressure by taking a bunch of drugs.
I am also too well aware of how expensive this entire education will be, how rare it is for a Canadian to even get into the program, and how badly I will have to work to prove that I am Good at This.
If you’ll recall, in the first day, I have a panic attack, run back to my dorm and throw away the pills, deciding that they make me maniacal, weird, anxious, and they just aren’t functional here.
And now: Three weeks of detox.
This is the part of my Syracuse story where I change my world irrevocably and have to deal with the consequences by making decisions for myself, something that I am ill equipped to do. This is the part of my story where…
Drug Withdrawal Conquers My Ego
For three straight weeks, I barely eat, barely drink anything, I drag myself along the carpeted floor, whining about lead in my bones, shaking, I sweating, shitting constantly.
I feel an un-pivoting shame and I don’t know what to do. How did I do this? How am I this person? “This Person” as in, this sick person, addicted and mental and withering and sad.
I keep judging myself and judging myself and deciding things about myself. I am obsessed with myself.
Remember, I am surrounded by strangers. This is my first week of university. I am a slithering waste-drenched loser and I can’t even seem to help it.
But, acting school is strange.
I start smoking, maybe to help my oral-fixation or maybe because I am developing the obsessed image of Sick Girl. I am Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted. I am a Keseyian anti-hero. I am smoking. A pack and a half a day. Why not.
I meet friends while I am smoking. I smoked in high school to make friends but that was only when my drug dealer offered me smokes. It was never this fun! I am starting to have actual conversations, which are still awkward but at least they are happening.
I gain comfort in this new ego of mine: Dark Canadian Mental Patient. It works for me.
The more comfort I gain, the more my mood uplifts.
Suddenly I am feeling normal.
A Better Attitude Proves To Be Unsustainable
As my mood picks up, I feel motivated to dive into school.
But, the first month has flown by and I have no idea what is going on.
I am not prepared for University, maybe that’s needless to say. Not only was I on drugs but I hadn’t asked anyone what would be required of me once I actually started going to class.
What is a syllabus? What do you mean I have to read things? I don’t even know how the hell I am enrolled in any classes? It should be obvious that studying and homework is required for success at school but for some reason (anxiety, hi) I can’t wrap my panicked head around it.
I begin to feel that Twilight Zone feeling, that feeling that there is a glass wall between me and the rest of the world, that I am in a room alone with nothing but air and a surrealist projection of my apparent circumstance. I am floating. I am alone. I am not safe.
It doesn’t help that I live in a dorm. I have one roommate who is extremely on top of her shit and I have another roommate who only speaks Korean. We live in a tiny room with three beds. I can’t sit and cry, there’s no where I can do that. I wake up every day without a plan, with only the faintest concept of personal agency, tethered to my anxiety I am slave to dizzy disaster.
I co-operate as best as I can but I never catch up. A good attitude just isn’t good enough. Good enough for what? I have no idea what is going on.
I Go Home and Can’t Smoke and Withdraw Again
Winter break comes. I am living with my parents for a month. I can’t smoke here because I am too young to buy cigarettes in Canada and my parents will kill me if they learn that I smoke.
I go from smoking a pack and a half a day to smoking absolutely nothing.
“Dopamine? Can you Hear me?”
“Not without Nicotine, Rachel, Fuck you”
I detox from the cigarettes which is physically mild but, mentally, it’s a huge flush of depression.
I lie on carpet, back on carpet again, face down, whispering pleas of “swallow me, please swallow me”.
I start to research nicotine, trying to help myself not crave cigarettes with quite so much enthusiasm.
I learn that tobacco farming is an extreme contributor to climate change.
I learn about climate change.
I learn…a lot…about climate change.
And now I really hate myself.
I cannot not believe how the world is suffering and I jumped right out of high school and studied acting as if there was nothing else in the world I could focus on?
I gradually overwhelm myself with the divine responsibility of rescuing the planet.
I enamour my parent’s house with signage about waste management and reminders to turn off lights, make sure your laundry load is really as big as it could be, do you really have to drive today, do you really have to watch TV?
My parents probably think that I am just bored. I don’t notice any concern.
Exhaustion and Depression Drive Me To Drop Out
Returning to school is just awful. I cannot help myself. I do not know why I de-value theatre so suddenly when I had previously obsessed over it, over my future in the industry, over the promise I gave myself of moving countries to fulfill my dream of being heard.
No, I don’t care anymore.
I cry constantly, I am heavy, I am unlovable, I am walking harm.
I become a terrible friend to the wonderful people I have met, and I haven’t yet mentioned that I meet the most beautiful people I have ever met in my life during my first semester at Syracuse. I meet them and they treat me with outrageous kindness and care. I am unprepared for that. I fail them but I can’t help it, I’m unprepared for everything.
My parents try to help me make an informed decision.
What happens to me if I leave the school? Do I lose my visa? Can I come back?
We meet with the faculty. We try to make it better. My parents really try to make it better.
It is so hard to remember being so disappointing.
I take a leave of absence from the school.
I never go back.
It takes me five years to return to theatre.