If you have something to hide, you should never live in a sorority house.
I’m good at hiding things. Since my early teens, I’ve hidden everything from relationships to tattoos to school absences, and I’ve seldom been caught.
Another thing I’m good at hiding: my mental health. Throughout high school, endless days spent in bed were just the result of tiredness; crying spells were nothing more than PMS; sleepless nights covered up with caffeine.
Despite my transparency about my history with mental illness, I wasn’t able to open up about my ongoing struggles until this past year — convincing myself that the continuity of my pain invalidated the progress I’d made.
The turning point came when I moved into my sorority house last August.
Going into it, I was already wary about living in the sorority house. I wasn’t close with others in my sorority yet, and I imagined that living among this group of virtual strangers would bring me more anxiety than comfort.
Despite my reservations, I knew that the sorority house would be my best bet at circumventing Berkeley’s housing crisis. At the end of the summer, I put my doubts aside, loaded up my car and moved into my new home on Piedmont Avenue.
Initially, living in the sorority house was a jarring experience. I quickly realized I couldn’t hide anything, my mental health included. Between shared meals, communal bathrooms and constant knocks on my bedroom door, I knew that, when it came, there would be no room for me to keep my depression a secret.
At first, I made an effort. I forced myself into bright tube tops before nightly parties, even when I was shaking with anxiety. I participated enthusiastically in pre-recruitment bonding activities, telling no one what a struggle it had been to drag myself out of bed.
As I did, I grew closer to the people I lived with, forming a group of friends within weeks. To my surprise, I found that I truly loved spending my days with these former strangers.
Even better was the reputation I quickly gained from days of constant partying, a practice I undertook with vigor. To the other girls, I was someone who could be counted on for any minor adventure, from attending a fraternity exchange no one else wanted to go to, to embarking on a last-minute Dead Week trip to Puerto Rico.
Despite my ongoing depression, I was determined to preserve the fun and confident image I had summoned.
Unfortunately, sorority girls are observant. Like I said, there are no secrets beyond our perfectly manicured lawns and Greek letters.
My first depressive episode came at the end of August. Fresh off of the “it’s not you, it’s me” confrontation and overwhelmed by the looming prospect of classes, I sank into a debilitated state. As I trudged around the house, wearing the same pair of sweatpants for days on end and eating obscene quantities of pasta, my housemates began to ask if I was okay. I fended them off with a quick smile — insisting that I was doing fine.
Soon after, at the end of a particularly draining night of fraternity hopping, I finally broke down. It was 3 a.m., and I found myself lying face-down on the living room couch, feeling utterly dejected. I was planning on staying there until morning when a new friend approached me.
“Let’s go up to the roof,” she suggested, and I followed obligingly, dragging a blanket on the floor behind me. When we got there, she immediately queued up a selection of Taylor Swift’s most heart-wrenching songs.
As we sang along, I listened to my friend speak about her own experiences with mental health concerns. Like me, she had been nervous to move into the sorority house, unsure of how to manage her well-being in this unfamiliar environment. Also like me, she felt more comfortable here than she had ever anticipated.
I began to open up in response, describing the intricacies of my depression. We sat on the roof for over an hour, sharing stories of recovery and screaming in tandem with Taylor Swift, before realizing that the door leading downstairs wouldn’t open. We were locked out, and, evidently, I was locked into a friendship that I knew would last my lifetime.
That night, I was introduced to the concept of healing in tandem. As the semester stretched out, I began to let my friends support me through my depression with simple tasks — folding my laundry and bringing my dinner upstairs. Using my years of experience managing my mental health, I returned the favor, holding them while they cried and talking them through breathing exercises.
I thought that, by acknowledging my depression, I would be forced to shed the enticing persona I’d taken on. Instead, accessing emotional vulnerability showed me that my friends and I could help each other and still have fun together. These two things weren’t mutually exclusive and often went hand-in-hand.
I couldn’t hide while living in a sorority house but, as I’ve come to understand, some things don’t need to be hidden away.