93: Diagnosing the Problem

93: Diagnosing the Problem

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Diagnosing the Problem

You must have control of the authorship of your own destiny. The pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand.

~Irene C. Kassorla

The envelope was finally in my hand.

I had applied as a joke, not thinking anything would happen, but now the envelope was in my hand. My brother had just been accepted to a college in Chicago and my parents were ecstatic — so I applied to another school in Chicago just to humor them. I thought, “There’s no way they have enough money to send me there,” and “there’s no way they’ll accept me with my grades.”

“We are please to inform you that Joel Alonzo has been accepted to study Journalism at Columbia College Chicago.”

I had been accepted — my heart hit the floor.

I had heard stories of people getting accepted to college and dropping to their knees, screaming praise to the heavens, but all I felt was fear. I didn’t want to tell anyone but I didn’t want to leave home.

The day finally came. My mom’s minivan was packed to the top with clothes and boxes. Somewhere between Springfield and Bloomington, in the middle of our five-hour drive, I started crying. My mom looked at me and put her hand on my leg.

“You’ll be fine, and your dad and I will always be just a phone call away,” she said. I looked out the window to hide my tears. I kept crying until we pulled off the highway at Wendy’s. We were halfway there, but I was already gone.

A few months later, I was slowly getting into the routine of things, but the feeling of homesickness hadn’t gone away — it had only grown. Chicago is a big city with many things to see, but I had withdrawn into the small comfort of my dorm room. Even on weekends, I would stay home on my computer.

“Hey man,” my roommate Brian, from Vermont, would say. “We’re all going bowling — you want to come with us?”

“No thanks,” I would reply. “I’m just going to stay around here, do some homework.”

“Dude, it’s the weekend, you can do that later.”

I faked laughter. “Ha ha, no thanks man, maybe some other time.”

“All right,” Brian would say. “Suit yourself.”

Suddenly, the kid who loved nothing more than going out and having a blast had turned into a home-bodied introvert, staying home and watching re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond. If only I knew that was just the beginning.

It’s difficult to describe to people how I felt on the inside. During those years of my life, I wasn’t in control of my body — it was like watching myself in a movie, completely unable to control what I said or did. My speech was tightly regulated along with my slang. Whatever was cool to say at the moment was what usually came out of my mouth. The same was true for my laughter — a canned kind of laughter, the kind of laugh a boss gives one of his employees after telling a joke just to shoo him out of the room.

It seemed no matter what I said or what I did, I was destined to come off as inauthentic, so I just kept my mouth shut. I started toying with the idea of suicide.

Everyone I met seemed to have a different solution:

My grandma would say, “You’re in a new town — it’s the jitters, it’ll go away. Have you met a nice girl yet?”

My buddies would say, “Screw it man, whatever. Have a beer.”

My mom would say, “You miss your mom, that’s what it is.”

But nothing seemed to fit. As much as I wanted to jump off the nearest skyscraper, I had to figure out why I felt this way.

I immersed myself in psychology literature. I would identify with some things:

Manic-depressive — that sounds like me, sort of. I do get “depressive” sometimes and at other times feel a little crazy.

Attention deficit disorder — maybe that’s it. I can’t focus at all.

It wasn’t until late at night, while on the Internet, that I found a website dedicated to people suffering from depersonalization. It fit me exactly, and I cried three times that night.

I woke up the next morning and called a doctor I had found listed on the website.

“Hi, this is Bobbie,” a woman answered.

“Hi Bobbie,” I said, anxiously. “I was wondering if you could, um, schedule me an appointment.” I was so nervous I could hear my teeth grinding into one another.

“Yes of course, how about tomorrow at noon?”

“That’s perfect, I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said.

“Yes — we’ll take care of everything then.”

I got off the phone and took a breath. She said that everything would be taken care of. It felt like I had surfaced for air for the first time in years.

That night I slept like a baby.

~Joel Alonzo

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