As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.
Jackie Chan, MCAS ‘18
“I don’t want to go back to school. I just want to stay at home,” I said to my parents, uncontrollably crying into my dad’s collarbone. I was finally admitting to them and to myself that I was depressed.
My parents are two of the most hard-working human beings I know. They were born in Taishan, China when Chairman Mao was still the ruler. As a result, their lifestyles were limited, devoid of true freedom. Money-wise, my parents were neither poor nor wealthy. They were minimally comfortable. My mom went to an undergraduate school in China for engineering before she came to Boston, while my dad moved here around the age of 16. He worked as a busboy at his uncle’s restaurant in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Through his diligence and optimism, he owned his own establishment in Rhode Island a decade later.
My parents’ unending dedication to their respective work allowed them to provide me and my brother with a lifestyle that they never even dreamed of when they were younger. My brother, Alex, and I were able to pursue extracurriculars and college majors of our own choosing. In addition to the security provided to me by parents' finances, I inherited my mom’s book smarts, artistic talents, generosity, and sociability, and my dad gave me his humor, confidence, athleticism, and altruism. My childhood and teenage years were consumed by honors classes, sports, dance classes, music lessons, studio art classes, and involvement in school clubs. Even with so many things going on, I was able to pull all of it off tremendously without any repercussions to my physical and mental health. My relationships with my friends, my boyfriend, and my family members were great as well.
During these years of being “perfect,” I unconsciously molded myself into this super-human: one who could do anything, even try something totally new, and be really good at it. I didn’t anticipate struggle.
When I entered BC in the fall of 2013, I tried to recreate my wonderful high school experience by joining organizations that were similar to the ones I was a part of in high school. I auditioned for the Dynamics but was rejected after callbacks. I signed up for Habitat for Humanity but only attended the first couple of meetings. I didn’t end up participating in any extracurriculars my first semester at BC. Instead, I spent a lot of time napping and snacking when I wasn’t even hungry.
During the first several weeks, I grew homesick, despite home being only an hour away, and experienced minor hyperventilation. At the time, these two factors didn’t feel like a major problem, but something felt different. I prioritized school work above everything. Whenever I was given an assignment, it was all I could think about until I finished it. My mentality was, “If I don’t get this done as soon as possible, I’m going to fall behind on my work and not get straight As, like I’ve always achieved.” I know, crazy.
One weekend in October 2013 I went home to Rhode Island for a big family dinner. My cousin Vinny made a comment about my weight.
“Looks like you gained a few pounds,” he teased light-heartedly.
“Yeah, your face looks a little chubbier!” My auntie Wendy chimed in. Was I embarrassed? Yes. Did I let it get to me? No…well, at least not right away.
I finished freshman year with straight As, joined the Residential Hall Association, and made a solid group of girlfriends. I picked up not only a math minor to add to my communication major, but also 10 to 15 pounds. When I came home for summer vacation, more of my family members noticed my weight and made even more comments. I knew that they weren’t trying to hurt me, but I don’t take any type of judgment well. I tried doing a juice cleanse but that failed after one day. I picked up running and also trained for a Tough Mudder, a 10-to-12-mile obstacle course that tests your physical endurance. My top priorities were to work out and lose weight, even though my BMI was normal.
That summer was the first time I let body image take over my thoughts. Whenever I used the bathroom, I would turn to my side and look down at my stomach to see if it had gotten any flatter. This became an obsession that I couldn’t shake. The molding of my “perfect” self was beginning to deteriorate as I turned to self-criticism.
My sophomore year at BC was shaped by my obsession with losing weight. I tried being a vegetarian for one month, and it worked out pretty well for the most part. Every other day, I would visit the Plex and go on the elliptical or treadmill for as long as it took for me to burn exactly 300 calories. I also started eating less carb-heavy foods. By the end of the first semester, I lost six to eight pounds. When I went back home, my family members commented on my weight loss but also the color of my face. My mom, in particular, noticed that there was less color in my cheeks. “Are you sure you’re eating enough of the right things?” she would ask me regularly. I dismissed her concern for my wellbeing as I began to feel like the old me again, the “perfect” me.
Sophomore year finished, and I received nearly all As, continued to hang out with my friend group from freshman year, and joined Camp Kesem Chestnut Hill (CKCH), a nationwide organization which supports kids affected by a parent’s cancer. To top it all off, I attended Halftime, where I realized I needed to bring two of my favorite hobbies back into my life: music and art.
By junior year I picked up two more minors: music and studio art: a grand total of one major plus three minors. I even made a post on Facebook that said something along the lines of, “I am officially a communications major with minors in math, studio art, and music. Well, here goes nothing.” That post got a lot of likes, which made me happy. My body image and breathing problems subsided as I busied myself with new courses I genuinely enjoyed and threw myself into more extracurriculars, such as leading Halftime and singing in the University Chorale. I made some of my closest friends in Chorale and ended up spending more time with them than with the friend group I made freshman year. I felt that Jackie Chan was back and more confident than ever.
Academically and socially my junior year was my best yet. I overloaded each semester and ended up with a 3.91 GPA. Pieces of my art were featured on the BC Art Twitter page, I traveled to Budapest and Vienna with Chorale, led Halftime, joined Alpha Sigma Nu, and accepted an internship at FableVision Learning. With all of these positive gains there was a pretty dramatic change in my love life: I broke up with my boyfriend of seven and a half years; three months later, I started dating someone new. That summer I stayed in Boston to be closer to my internship and my new boyfriend, who I ended up seeing almost every day. Our relationship was like a summer dream, highly romanticized, super quirky, and completely saturated in happiness. I rarely thought about body image.
Fall 2016 quickly approached. It was my last first semester at BC. I was enrolled in six classes total, one of which I was a TA for. I also landed an internship at FableVision, the sister company of FableVision Learning, where I would shadow Tone Thyne. Good things laid ahead of me.
In the middle of October, I had a family dinner at my brother’s new apartment. My boyfriend was there too. When my grandma saw my face, she made a comment, in Chinese. “Ni ge men yuan na” (Your face is rounder). After that dinner, I told my boyfriend what my grandmother had said. He responded by saying I looked fine, but that maybe going to the Plex on a regular basis would help make me feel better. I wanted to restart my sophomore year diet again.
The next couple of months, I began to feel less motivated about my schoolwork and more motivated to lose weight. Attending Chorale was becoming more of a hassle than a musical escape. I remember skipping one rehearsal to go on a run with my boyfriend to both burn some calories and clear my head. My role as a CKCH E-board member overly stressed me out. I kept up with my social butterfly persona, and yet I could not concentrate during conversations with people. The only person I felt at ease with was my boyfriend.
Day after day my self-esteem gradually declined. I was anxious about any assignment. I longed for the happiness I felt during summer and junior year. I began to feel a slight pain in the back of my head every time I encountered one of my friends or was placed in a social setting. Something wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what it was.
I began to make sense of all this when I started having irrational thoughts about harming myself. I’m not the type of person to even think about something like this, or so I thought. Graphic images would run through my mind on a daily basis, and come November I wasn’t able to sleep well or use the bathroom regularly. I had an inkling of what was happening to me, but still I googled what all of these symptoms meant. My assumptions were confirmed; I was depressed.
My first instinct was to tell my boyfriend. So I did. He was surprised since I looked happy on the outside. But he heard me out. A week later I met with a therapist at University Counseling Services. It didn’t really help.
Afterwards I talked to one of my roommates who had gone through something similar. This did help me. The topic of taking a break from school came up in our conversation. I felt selfish even considering this because my parents had already paid for this semester. But even more important to me was public judgment. What were my friends at BC and back home going to think of me if I didn’t graduate “on time” with them? I hated the thought of people gossiping to one another about me. I felt like if I took a break now, all of my hard work of getting to where I was now would all amount to nothing.
Nonetheless, I knew that in my heart I needed to get away from campus. My sleep was terrible. Going to the bathroom was terrible. I was terrible. I needed to seek professional help. I needed to get better. I felt all I needed was two months, and I would be back on my feet next semester. It would be like nothing had happened, nothing would be out of the ordinary.
Luckily, my parents supported my choice. They’ve always thought I pushed myself too hard. It was time for me to slow down and breathe. My mom and I met with the Dean. We were able to get my full tuition back for that semester, but that meant I had to withdraw from all of my classes, even though I was getting As in them. Even bigger than that, it meant that I was going to graduate later. I only told my closest friends about my choice to take a break and focus on my mental health. I refused to make it a public announcement because I felt ashamed.
Did I instantly feel renewed right after leaving campus? I wished, but no. Recovering from my depressive episode took more than two months. Unlike most physical injuries, depression and anxiety do not naturally get better. I began seeing both a therapist and a psychiatrist while at home. My therapist helped me come up with ways to get my mind off of my obsession with weight loss and dieting. My psychiatrist prescribed several types of medication to me to help increase my mood and get my sleep back on the right track. I also I found new ways to distract myself from having irrational thoughts and being lethargic.
I took up baking and learned how to make Chinese egg tarts, which I taught both of my grandmothers how to make. I attended an art class at Michael’s with my mom and went to LA Fitness with my dad. I traveled with my family to Texas, Seattle, Vancouver, and China. Days turned to weeks, and weeks turned to months. I could feel my mood improving, but it was a very gradual process. My body image issues bounced back every now and then but as time passed I didn’t feel guilty about not working out or eating carbs.
My leave of absence gave me a lot of time to work on myself instead of my assignments. It gave me the time to reflect on what truly matters: my family, my friends, my passions, and my health. So here I am today: a member of the Class of 2018, typing up a story that I’ve been too afraid to share with you all out of fear of judgment. I still worry about what some of you might think after reading this, but I am now comfortable enough with myself to be vulnerable.