Project for Open Voices: “Closed Doors”

The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay is titled “Closed Doors,” and was authored anonymously. POV is always accepting new submissions, so if you want to share your story, email openvoicessubmissions@gmail.com. If you would like to remain anonymous you can send us your response by signing into a second email account:projectopenvoices@gmail.com (password: kenyoncollege).

via appstate.edu

via appstate.edu

I spent a lot of time staring at the door, my first year here. It was black with the little plastic shield nailed over the safety instructions. My green towel hung on a silver bar that came uncomfortably close to my roommate’s towel on the wall when the door was open. It was a heavy door; when one of us accidentally slammed it, the whole hall would peak out their doors to see if someone was shot. That was one of the reasons I preferred my door to be closed, but not the most important.

Social anxiety isn’t about being introverted. It’s not about disliking people or being crazy. For me, it’s about all of the eyes on Middle Path.

My high school was huge, more than three times as large as Kenyon. I could walk through the hallways and be completely anonymous. Back then, I didn’t think much of it. People scared me, but there was solace in a crowd. There was always another diversion, something else to look at. And the people that I did talk to were special because we found each other out of so many. It wasn’t perfect, but I could function.

I chose Kenyon, in part, because of the friendliness of the student body. Because on my tour we accidentally stumbled upon a group of people studying and, rather than glaring at us, they all sincerely told me how much they wanted me to come to Kenyon. I was attracted to the attention I received as a prospective student, so different than from back home. I thought I could find a happier me at school. But that attention was the problem.

In all actuality, I probably don’t stick out much. You probably look at me, but barely register me. You go on with your life. But at Kenyon, I see you. I see all of you. I see you looking at me, head-to-toe. I see those vaguely familiar faces, the ones from orientation or your friend’s boyfriend. Everyone is someone. There is no anonymity at Kenyon and it kills me.

Don’t worry, though. It’s not you, it’s me.

It’s the ever-increasing voice in my head. All my own, it tells me that everyone is staring, that they can see through me. They know me and they can see all of the ugliness that I try so desperately to hide. Their eyes find all my insecurities. The depression and self-loathing that I could hide before is on display at Kenyon. There’s always someone there to catch you crying, which makes another pair of eyes you have to avoid, another section of campus you can never go to again. Another group of people who look at you in a different way, rejecting you without having ever spoken a word to you. Every whispering voice could be an acquaintance of an acquaintance, one who saw you walking out from the Counseling Center yesterday, one who looked over your shoulder to check your test grade.

And it suddenly hits you that you’re alone on this hill in Ohio and you’re not good enough. They can all see that—you thought too highly of yourself and now you’re going to fall. And everyone at Kenyon will always hate you for it, so why don’t you just stay in your room, safe behind the closed door with the green towel. That’s the only place you belong on this Hill. You’re not good enough to be with everyone else. You’re a fraud.

This year, my door is made of wood. It’s thinner and on Wednesday and Friday nights, I can hear my neighbors having parties. They laugh and cheer. Their high-energy pop music is a siren song. If I were someone else, someone better, I could open the door. I could stride over and they would grin, hand me a drink and they would welcome me there. If I were someone else, I could have the college experience I had dreamed of, that the movies told me I’d have.

But I tell myself that that can’t happen for me, and it’s safer to stay inside. I don’t want to drown. So I sit on my bed, open a book and try to ignore that closed door.

11 responses

  1. This is so honest. I think that silent mental struggles are something that a lot of people at Kenyon struggle with, even if they don’t say it. Thank you for being brave enough to be a voice. I know that this resonated with me and that others will find comfort in knowing they are not alone. I hope you can know too that you are not alone.

  2. This piece is incredibly poignant and so, so important. I want to echo the ‘thank you’ from the post above. Thank you, thank you, thank you for having the courage to convey what I have never been able to find the words to say myself. For some people, college is truly the time of their lives. For countless students, Kenyon is home. And yet, for many of us, these years are more about surviving than thriving. This campus doesn’t pay enough attention to the anxieties it induces, but POV is the perfect place to start the conversation.

  3. You’re not alone. I spent many, many of my nights while at Kenyon doing exactly what you describe — sitting alone in my room, wondering what was wrong with me, feeling anxious about how much more productive and happy everyone else was and how lazy and bad I was. I think that many many people share your experience.

    My theory is that Kenyon is so small and so homogenous is that it can get incredibly suffocating, especially after the first couple years. If you’re someone who likes their private time, to have their work and home separate, to not have to feel “on” all the time, a residential college is a really hard place to live in.

    Please take care of yourself as best you can — sleeping well, eating well, spending time with your friends (holing up by yourself really does make it worse, even though I know it’s the only thing that probably sounds bearable). Keep going to the counseling center if that helps you. I can tell you as someone who recently graduated that getting off the Hill and back into the greater world has done me worlds of good. I live in a large metropolitan area now and I love to go sit somewhere in public where I don’t know anybody. It’s so nice to be part of the crowd and not feel like all those eyes are on you, that you can be anonymous and finally relax. Just hang in there for however long you have left, and then get the fuck outta there.

  4. I understand your experiences on a deeply personal level- thank you for articulating what so often feels abnormal. There’s a quote that I read once but can’t find at the moment- basically it says that we all think we are fundamentally different from every other person on the planet. Whenever the voice in my head forces me into fear, self-hatred, and solitude, I think that no one else in the world could possibly be living this way, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. I wish that everyone having these experiences could somehow connect and come together- Peer Counselors have been visibly reaching out with this goal in mind, but even that can be a terrifying prospect, especially when it comes to social anxiety.

    I too have felt that Kenyon’s small size amplifies my anxiety (although studying abroad at a large university, I have still not managed to shake it). I plan my routes to class so that I can encounter as few people as possible, and I can’t remember the last time I walked down Middle Path without a sense of dread or even terror. But I think it’s important to try to give yourself credit for small, brave moments that are really not small at all for us- deciding to come to Kenyon in the first place, leaving your room in the morning, joining something new. And not beating yourself up if it doesn’t work out, because nothing will change as long as we stay inside and keep doing the same things, even though that’s often all I want to do. And of course, it’s so important not to live with this in silence- silence that you have broken with this beautiful piece of writing.

  5. Thank you very much for writing this. This piece is honest and relatable, and it was very brave of you to speak out. As a Peer Counselor and someone who has had issues with anxiety, I’m committed to discussing all aspects of well-being in order to destigmatize the issues we all deal with but feel the need to silence. If you ever want to talk, feel free to contact me or any of the PCs. Or if you’d like to speak to someone in a more anonymous manner, the PC hotline is 740-398-3806. I know I may sound like an advertisement, but the Peer Counselors are a genuinely kind group of people. If anyone has any suggestions on ways to make us more accessible please let us know!

    • Echoing Grace’s post – this is so beautiful, and exactly what the Peer Counselors are on campus for. If you would be willing, you should submit this to the Breaking the Silence event we’re hosting on Thursday the 24th. Discussing mental health – and all its functions and disfunctions – is the only way we can start to understand and help each other out. Submit it anonymously for publishing only or as a piece you’d like read by someone else… or don’t at all! But know that there are so many other students (all student on campus, really) who are facing their own struggle with mental health.

  6. Hey, I’ve felt this way. A lot. I have my reasons, and I’m sure you do too. If you (or anyone else who reads this) want to talk, feel free to reach out to me via my Kenyon email. I like you, and as hard as this is to realize, people will like you, despite your every insecurity, because they really aren’t as bad as ypu think, an even if they are, there will still be people (like me) who want to know you.

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