When I mention Tufts or college, my intention is not to bash Tufts/the university as an institution/elite, private U.S. education. Although I have my fair share of critiques, my decision to take time off is much more than Tufts. It’s much more than just the time I’ve spent in college. It’s a lot about the years before me coming to the US.
I have to scale it back and consider the four years before college where I spent most of my time repressing all my emotions because feeling them was inconvenient at the time. I was born in London, left around 3 or 4 years old for Hong Kong, where I spent the next ten years, a highly formative period in my life. Then, at the age of 14, my family moved to Beijing, where my grandma and uncle already lived and where I had spent most of my summers since birth.
I had an extremely hard time transitioning to my new school partly because I entered expecting my life in Hong Kong to transplant itself in my new school/life. What ended up happening was quite the opposite… the swim team and sport I used to find so much solace and support in was gone; the warm, humid air was gone; the ocean I woke up to every morning was gone. All of a sudden I was stuck in smog-ridden Beijing—capital of a nation-state with the fastest growing economy in the world.
I used the pollution/weather to let out a lot of my anger towards my difficult transition. I said I hated Beijing. I said I never wanted to come back. I said I couldn’t wait until I said graduated four years later (I learned after those four years to eliminate ‘never’ from my vocabulary because I can never be certain about the future, or anything in the world, really). For the next four years, I tried to stay afloat by distracting myself with all sorts of measures. The second year was the worst and the best, and by the end of it, I realized I just had to live with not being okay. Year after year, I would return to Hong Kong for necessary recharging with people in a city I’ve loved in ways I didn’t even know when I was younger. And every year, I’d get the same array of questions, “So how’s ISB? Do you like it? Which do you like better—ISB or HKIS?” “Has it gotten better?” I’d answer, “It’s okay… but I still like HKIS better.” With closer friends, I tell them, “I don’t think it’s gotten better. I think I’ve just gotten better at being sad all the time.” I think I knew I was depressed but didn’t want to believe it. Because I know depression happens to a lot of people but not me, right?
I remember in my first and second year of high school I spent a lot of time on Tumblr following people who were also in really miserable points in their lives. I listened to a lot of sad music. I didn’t go out to hang out with friends except when I was forced to at school, but this was a constant theme throughout high school, so I guess when it started happening in college I thought this was just the ‘new’ ‘adult’ Claire. What saddens me the most is that this is not Claire. I mean, in some sense it is me because I am a full being and even my low points are part of me. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not all of me, or not the core of me. My closest friends from Hong Kong knew this. They looked at me with sad, longing eyes for the Claire they once knew and kept me laughing, kept me afloat. I am seeing now maybe why we got closer even after I moved away. The depths of our friendship are infinite. I will always hold them in my heart because knowing they were there for me was honestly what kept me going in high school—their laughter, their companionship, their willingness to listen and stand by me no matter what.
This release I’m experiencing now is a release of much more than the last two year. I’m just grateful for the people and communities around me who have supported me and nudged me along the way. Thank you.