When Dorm Rooms are Prisons

I still see Virginia Tech in my dreams. Not often, probably not more than once or twice a year. Nothing significant ever happens, at least nothing I remember, making the dreams feel more like a mood than anything symbolic. Unlike dreaming about snakes, or fire, or a helicopter crashing, when I dream about Virginia I am not in any rush to my computer after I wake up in search of the meaning. It’s self-explanatory, I’d say.

February of ten years ago was the longest month of my life. Depression set in, and in just a month’s time I went from weighing 165 pounds down to somewhere in the low-130’s. Needless to say I could hardly eat anything; in lieu of going out to dinner with my friends every night, I’d usually just sit around in my dorm room and fuck off watching pirated movies on the Internet. In the small window when my body told me to eat, I would munch on Cheez It’s or Fruit Roll-Ups — whatever was available from the care packages my mom sent me.

It was also in February that I stopped going to most of my classes. Before I fell asleep I would tell myself this is it, tomorrow you are going to get your ass up and go to class and see your friends and start being normal again. But by the time I woke up I found myself in the same position I was in the day before. I couldn’t muster the energy to get out of bed; I couldn’t pry myself up to go to dinner with my friends; save for some phone time with my mom, or my best friend, I completely isolated myself from the outside world.

It’s pretty comical, looking back on it all. I mean, on my weekends nowadays I am no stranger to watching TV or playing video games. But when I think about February, 2009, and how I basically turned TV and video games into my life, it was the worst. The only reasonable thing I can compare it to is the two dates I had with a jail cell, where I was stripped of any technology and forced to sit around and contemplate the whole time. The peace of being in jail was knowing the situation was out of my control; there was nothing I could do. In my dorm room it felt like the opposite: the situation was completely in my control, I had all the distractions in the world at my disposal, and it was my choice to proceed with inaction. I guess I just compared two things that were completely opposite. Whatever. The point was being in relative isolation.

The feeling of depression is hard to describe, but I can only assume everyone has experienced it at one point or another. Emotionally you are in the dark. The pit of your stomach carries everything that haunts you, and it keeps you from being able to eat or sleep with any consistency. Your mind is fixated on what you cannot control, and it eats you. All you want is to stop being confused, and get rid of that sick feeling in your stomach, and the thoughts that plague you. The sweet cherry on top was that I happened to be 3,000 miles away everything that mattered.

Strangely, even after a month I never really found the proper way to deal with any of my problems. The best I could do was each night I started doing push ups and sit ups in my dorm while I listened to Parkway Drive on my little old iPod (back when those were still getting use). I would just go and go until I was too tired to keep going, then I would retreat to the showers before spending the rest of the night alone. It was the worst of times, but I can’t deny that — even though I was gaunt — I was certainly in the best shape of my life.

The lasting gift of February was that I picked up a nasty cigarette habit. It began the way things usually begin, where I was just smoking three or four a night while I was on the phone with my best friend. Then it turned into smoking one on the way to and from class (when I did decide to show up). Then before I knew it, just a handful of months later, I looked like some goddamn Humphrey Bogart wannabe. And here we are in 2019.

The past doesn’t pain me anymore, even if I do jump in and relive all these happy memories now and again. I feel a compulsion to bring it all back to life, albeit in small doses, in fear that none of it will be real if I don’t remind myself. Was my time at Virginia Tech just a dream? Did any of it matter? Now that we know what came of it, what was the point?

I look back only to help me while I’m looking ahead. That’s the only positive that can come from it. I’ve written before, and at some length, that without February, 2009, it would have been impossible to grow up. Without understanding my own pain, I never would have been able to empathize with anyone else’s. So I hurt, I cried, I kicked myself, again and again, and ultimately did what I had to to survive long enough to make it back home on spring break.

Okay, that was February, 2009. It’s ten years later, and I’m just stopping in to make it real again. Just to let me know where I’m at, and where I’ve come from. Just so I can think back, and put myself in those shoes again, wishing I had the foresight to know it wasn’t always going to be that way. It didn’t have to be that way, even then.

That’s what life is all about. You make some money, you sleep with some people, you go to the casino and lose several thousand dollars, you spend time with your friends and family and tell them how much you love them, and everything’s going to be okay. There will be better days.

And as a pro-tip: pretty much everything I did in February 2009 was the opposite of what you should do when you’re depressed. Even when every inkling tells you that you don’t want to do anything, the best way to help yourself is to do something. I get annoyed whenever other people try to tell me how I should live my life, so that’s not what I’m trying to do here, but I think it’s worth saying. Because mental health is pretty fucking important, and there aren’t many healthy alternatives to right the situation. (That’s for another blog, though.)

Anyway, it’s February, 2019.

We made it.