- This blog post was written by Jack Davis. -
I remember lying in bed, completely immobile, feeling as if I could do nothing but watch the ceiling fan go round and round as I felt the world rush toward me. The room was dull, and so was the steady pounding in my head. It was difficult to discern whether I couldn’t move or just didn’t want to. Thoughts were incomplete and blurry, yet still strong and consuming. I was sweating under the thick blankets, but couldn’t salvage the energy to remove them.
That was the first time I officially said to myself those three words that would not only change, but save, my life: “I need help.”
Simple things become difficult when you’re depressed. Depression makes big questions seem impossible to answer — questions like, “What am I going to do when I grow up,” “Who am I going to love,” and “How do I achieve personal happiness?”
I should add that everything you’ve read so far was written in the crisis ward of the neurological hospital after my admission in September. You could say things took a turn for the worst.
So how did a college student — a college student who began a hospital nonprofit nonetheless — end up in the hospital himself?
The summer out of my first year of undergrad, I probably would have written a blog post about my perfectly happy life. I was one of many D.C. summer interns, sweating my ass off in a suit, sneaking into bars and pretending to be an adult. I reveled in the “yo-pro” (young professional), urban-tribe-vibe. I woke up in a perfect D.C. apartment (with a perfect view of the Washington Monument), and had a perfect job and perfect boyfriend waiting for me to return home.
My summer was like the best kind of party: outrageous, too heightened for its own good and followed by nauseating regret. My return to North Carolina was met with profound apathy about life. It startled me. I felt generally unmotivated about the start of school, my relationship came to an abrupt end and I dipped into the worst depression I have ever encountered in my life. To quote Emily Dickinson, a favorite poet of mine, “I dropped down, and down / And hit a World, at every plunge.”
When it came the time to stuff my belongings into a dorm room and begin a new year of school, an unexpected giant stood in the face of my depression: a campus full of unrelenting happiness. My college campus is boisterous and filled with life;keg parties, music and friends smushing their faces together for Instagram photos define the first few days of each semester. And there I was, in the middle of it all, bewildered at how numb I felt.
“Why?” was the question that swarmed my mind. Why was I so sad? Why was I the only sad one in this sea of smiles? I started to become unhappy simply as a result of my unhappiness. I felt trapped attempting to act like I was satisfied in my current situation.
Another task I held in the midst of this noise: build a non-profit from scratch, The Superhero Project. Ellie Lewis, my beautiful co-director, and I had worked tirelessly throughout the summer to draw the blue-prints for this project. But suddenly, the spark The Superhero Project previously lit within me was dimmer than ever. Both she and I noticed it, and it took a toll on the start-up process and our friendship.
I like to think that there were two “starting points,” or two beginnings of this project. The first you may have heard me tell before. I was sitting in the UNC Children’s Hospital, when a patient came up to me and began drawing on my notebook. This ultimately inspired me to start The Superhero Project. The second also occurred in the hospital. But this time, I was the patient.
There’s a little known fact about being in a hospital: it’s extremely boring. To my delight, I eventually found an old, dirty keyboard (the kind that would make real musicians cringe). But it was something to play, so I played it. Bach Piano Prelude in C.
As I was playing, a woman who had been admitted shortly after me pulled her chair beside mine.
“Can I listen?”
As I played Bach’s simplistic masterpiece, I watched her eyes. They were fixated on the ground below her and they began to puddle with tears.
The Superhero Hero is founded on the idea of strength and what it means in relation to our personal struggles. While I watched the woman cry in response to my playing, I didn’t see weakness. I saw empowerment. I saw momentum. I saw inspiration and courage. I saw strength. Her reaction gave me a new context and perspective to The Superhero Project, and refreshed my heart to accept a very important truth: there is strength in admitting weakness. Which is why, as I sit here on my dorm room bed, sinking in the stress of exam season and the emotions of writing this post, I admit, proudly, that I am weak. Aren’t we all? Aren’t we all broken? Vulnerable? Fragile?
I like to think that there is some hidden significance in that aspect of human nature. If we aren’t weak, who would need rescuing? In other words—what would all of the superheroes do?
May we admit to our weakness, and find strength tucked into doing so.
Supported by a Robert E. Bryan Fellowship from the APPLES Service-Learning Program, an offering of the Carolina Center for Public Service at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.