"They taught me that in an environment which rewards productivity and efficiency, it is an act of rebellion to simply be..."Leia Zhao

Content note: This article contains detailed discussion of death, mental illness and self-harm.

My dearest friend died of an overdose the year before I started at Cambridge.

I have thought about her every day since she passed. She was good and kind. She supported me throughout episodes of depression and self-harm, for which I owe her my life, all while struggling with similar issues herself. I held her within my heart and loved her quietly, but failed to reciprocate the kindness I received from her whilst she was around. It hurts to think that perhaps she didn’t know how grateful I was for her friendship, during what were otherwise fairly miserable years.

After she died, I internalised the belief that emotional detachment is the ultimate sign of inner strength, so I decided to continue with my studies at school instead of processing her death. For a long time, I thought that my mental health was improving: I secured a place at Cambridge and stopped hurting myself, all signs of an apparent recovery.

“She has taught me so much about finding strength in vulnerability and loving selflessly.”

Unfortunately, near the end of my first year, my delayed grief started manifesting in insidious self-destructive impulses. I hated myself for being unable to feel happier. I would punch my mirror until my knuckles turned purple: a transfer of pain, from mental to physical. By Michaelmas term of second year, I relapsed on what would have been my friend’s 20th birthday, overwhelmed by the crushing reality that she had not reached this milestone. Shortly afterwards, I was diagnosed with depression and started taking antidepressants.

Cambridge was an unforgiving environment in which to try and recover, and I functioned on a relatively low level for the next several weeks, a blur of rotational mechanics and psych med-induced nightmares. I took depression naps in the middle of physics lectures and ate cereal for dinner more times than I care to admit. I hated being awake and everything tasted the same. In this light, the anger that I had felt during my first year had instead transformed into a dull sadness, a drowning but comfortable quiet. Slowly, I convinced myself that I deserved to feel like this and sabotaged several of my attempts to get better.

"While my friends at Cambridge have different names and faces and stories to my childhood friend, I am just as grateful for them and continue to think of them even when I’m no longer physically at Cambridge..."Nadia Singh

But amidst these feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, I remained a receiver of much love. I only (nearly) completed Lent term due to the many diverse expressions of love and support which I received from my friends.

“We love you”.

They made me breakfast at 4 pm when I was too sad to get out of bed and made me laugh when I felt like a shell of a person. They taught me to love poetry and art. They helped me to reach out when I believed I was beyond helping.

“We love you”.

They let me sleep on their floor when I felt like hurting myself and took me to A&E when I did, waiting with me throughout the night into the early morning. We talked about music and dreams and Tory austerity and how hungry we were but how everything was ok, really.

“We love you”.

They held onto my medication when I wanted to gobble them up like sweets and took me to Addenbrooke’s when I did. They gave me one of their stuffed animals to keep me company while I stayed in the CDU overnight. When my doctor woke me up at 5 am to tell me that my ECG was abnormal, I hugged it and felt a little less scared.

“We love you”.

They taught me that in an environment which rewards productivity and efficiency, it is an act of rebellion to simply be: to sit by a window and feel the sun’s warmth after several days with the curtains drawn, to listen to birdsong for hours, to draw, badly. Most importantly, they taught me that these soft and gentle actions can be conducive to recovery and that a relapse (or three) does not erase all my previous efforts to get better.

However, just before second year finished, I was advised by my college to intermit. Whilst this was difficult, I now look back at these moments, where I was a recipient of my friends’ love and generosity, with happiness.

Now, as I think of the future, I look forward to finger painting and pressing flowers and going to therapy. Most of all, I will tell those close to me that I love them, sincerely and without restraint. I only wish I had told this to my friend before she passed.


Mountain View

I will gain closure through my friends

Ultimately, I miss her a lot. Everything she cherished was an extension of herself, and now myself, so I still feel strange when I hear Gold by Spandau Ballet, or when someone talks about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. She has taught me so much about finding strength in vulnerability and loving selflessly. I will continue to learn from the way that she lived her life by being equally good and kind, and reminding my friends and family that I have infinite love for them too.

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