“Don’t cry with the people you can’t laugh with.”
The above phrase was shared with TWLOHA’s fall interns during a training session at the beginning of our time here, when the discussion often focused on what made a healthy community. In a place that addresses topics of depression, self-injury, addiction, and suicide, it’s easy for the conversation to be heavy. So, at the very beginning of our internship, we were reminded of the importance of balance—of surrounding yourself with people you could cry with, but friends you could laugh with at the end of the day as well.
I immediately thought back to the spring of 2012, when my time was spent with a core group of friends whom I still consider to be some of the most beautiful people in my life. On the surface, we were the same as we always were: surrounded by friends, succeeding academically, RA’s, tutors, active participants and even leaders of campus clubs. But if anybody looked slightly below the surface, they would’ve realized we were barely holding it together.
It was a hard semester for all of us. One struggling with an eating disorder that would eventually send her to treatment halfway across the country, and the others struggling with depression, anxiety, and the general idea that life can be hard and dark and scary. We put so much energy into trying to save each other, but we couldn’t even help ourselves. It was a vicious cycle, each of us sinking deeper the more we tried to help one another.
It got to the point when someone actually used the phrase “misery loves company” to describe us. We wallowed in our sadness, in our helplessness, and in our inability to save each other. Finally, one particularly miserable day soon after our friend left for treatment, someone pulled a few of us off a couch and made us go to the art center. She made us look at art. She reminded us that we were not breakable. She told us to lean on each other, but to also learn to stand on our own two feet. We tried our hardest to listen, to prioritize ourselves, to look at art more. And as the weeks went by, relief came, little by little.
Toward the end of the semester, a random Facebook comment venting about homework led to an 80-comment conversation that left us doubled over in laughter. We decided to take a break from studying, stress, and our previous priorities to hang out and watch movies. One of our friends was still in treatment, and we were still tired and scared and unsure. But that night, we couldn’t stop smiling. We kept the conversation light. On the walk back, we took a minute to look at the stars and the moon over the ocean, and for the first time in months, we felt alive.
So I return again to this phrase: “Don’t cry with the people you can’t laugh with.”
We had always been able to laugh together—but that semester we’d forgotten how, and we suffered because of it.
There will be days when everything hurts, when there is nothing you can bear to do but sit on the couch and cry. There is beauty in heavy conversation, in telling a friend, “I am scared, I am alone, I need help.” But life is meant to be both heavy and light, and there is also beauty in the latter.
If there is anything I have learned, it’s that self-care means different things on different days. Sometimes it means being alone, letting yourself cry, or venting to a friend. But other days, it means changing your focus. Laughing. Looking at art and sunsets, and remembering the things that make you smile.
The world might feel like a broken place sometimes, but you are not breakable.
—Jessica Cooney, TWLOHA Fall 2013 Intern