Greek Life Pulled Me Out of Depression

My freshman dorm in Mary Markley hall was cozy, but it couldn’t fill the deep void in my life. Within the first semester of my freshman year, it was apparent: I had nowhere to go, no people to see, and virtually nothing exciting or important going on in my college life. So I spent Friday nights within my little box dorm, sprawled out on my tiny black futon, swallowed up in blankets and dressed in enormous pajamas. A movie rented from the library – a classic usually – would shine from the screen, giving me a realm into which I could escape; a bowl of ice cream would provide the remaining distraction I needed to avoid reality. The string lights hanging above my head evoked a sense of warmth, albeit false. It was my makeshift sanctuary, the only therapy I knew how to give myself. There was no one there to fill the room. Just the decorations and me. It was all I had in my college life.

My roommate would come home around 4 a.m. each night. I know this because I would drowsily notice her plug in our dull-but-sufficiently-bright string-lights to illuminate the otherwise pitch-black room as she removed whatever clothing and baggage she had with her from the night’s adventures. Usually she had been studying, but I envied her nonetheless. She had friends who spent time with her, and often. She was never alone. Not that I disliked being alone. I enjoyed it, actually, the sense of freedom and possibility of navigating campus on my own, crafting my own schedule and finishing tasks on my own time. But the hours of alone time became hours of being lonely, and I began to recognize my predicament: I was deeply depressed, in a place where I felt completely alone and overwhelmed. At a loss for solutions, my only thought was: When am I going to transfer?

It astonished me, how easy it was to be anonymous in a place bursting with people. To have a friend, you need to be a friend, my dad kept telling me over the phone. And I was trying, every single day I tried so hard. I smiled at strangers and made conversation with people in my classes. I nearly bent over backward to be the friend I wanted someone to be to me, arranging lunch plans, coffee dates, study sessions and movie outings with a slew of new friends. But somehow, my effort meant nothing.

Because everyone seemed to belong somewhere already. Because they had a place to go on Friday nights, when they stopped caring about their English papers and chem labs and went to be with the people they really loved, the people they would take shots with them and dance with and eat pizza and laugh with them. Because I didn’t have those people – all I had was my blue string lights hanging above from the concrete walls and my black futon in my Mary Markley dorm. They were the ones waiting for me on Friday night – not people who wanted to spend time with me, cherish me, love me or even just like me.

I had some friends. But on a very deep level I knew that they weren’t like me. That they didn’t wonder what it was like to dance outrageously at a wild party, to kiss a stranger, to sky dive, or to learn a new language; they didn’t care to take risks or see things from another’s perspective. They knew who they were already: diligent, hard-working, conservative, resolute rule-followers. And that’s who I had been all of high school. But I didn’t know if that’s who I wanted to be anymore, and so I felt anonymous with my friends and anonymous with my acquaintances and anonymous at this huge university. I was alone, I was no one, and I was desperate to change my circumstances.

By second semester I had implemented some substantial change in my life on campus, and the benefits were visible. I had resolved to lose the freshman 15 that I inevitably gained eating all of those comfort cookies at the dining hall, and followed through on the goal by running, practicing yoga and rock-climbing several times a week. I was more on top of my studies that I had ever been in my life, and this paired with my consistent exercise lent itself to a happier, healthier me. I had made vast strides of progress from the lethargic couch potato that I was the prior semester, but there was still something vital missing in the equation: where do I belong?

At the conclusion of my sophomore year, I had three viable solutions to the central problem of my lackluster college experience. I resolved to either: (a) join a sorority, (b) join an a capella group, (c) begin writing for an on-campus publication or (d) all of the above.

I arrived back on campus in Fall 2014, eager to jump into these new opportunities that appeared to hold such great potential for me. I went to mass meetings, researched positions and qualifications, auditioned and signed-up for everything I could find. While options (b) and (c) fell through rather quickly, on account of my awful sight-reading skills (I hadn’t read sheet music since fifth grade and thus auditioned horribly) and trepidation of prestigious publications, I still had one solution on the table: sorority rush.

The process was long, arduous and at times, awkward. Parading through each house with masses of other eager potential new members felt especially strange, as I was often the same age as the members of the chapter with whom I spoke. But in spite of my prior experience on campus, I still knew nothing about each respective chapter, their reputation, or even how the process of sorority rush (formal recruitment) worked.

All that I was certain of during the chaotic, uncomfortable, grueling process of rush was that I deeply admired the girls at each house and the sisterhood they shared.

This feeling of mine, this deep admiration of these poised, kind sorority women was especially apparent at Alpha Delta Pi on preference night, the final night of formal recruitment.

The ADPi living room was cozy. But it was a different kind of cozy from my Mary Markley dorm, the one I had inhabited just one year prior. It was a kind of cozy that warmed your soul, that made you want to call your grandma just to say hello or tell your brother that you’re proud of him. It was a Friday night – this exciting evening of preference parties – but it was an evening so incredibly opposite of my Fridays alone in my little box room.

The members of the sorority were all elegantly clad in black dresses, accentuated here and there by a pearl necklace or a gold chain. The sisters looked gorgeous. But their attire was only background noise in the atmosphere that they created in that living room. It was their smiles that did it. Their smiles, and their embraces, and their occasional tears as they told us about their sisterhood. We, the wide-eyed peanut gallery of freshman and sophomore girls, listened and watched in awe. They were so radiant; a kind of radiance that emanated from within. I wanted to come back to that living room each Friday night, to have those smiles and embraces and occasional tears waiting for me when I let my responsibilities slip away and wandered over to the people who mattered to me. I wanted to belong there. 

Fast forward over a year, and I am sitting in that very living room, now a sister of Alpha Delta Pi and resident of the beautiful Pi Palace on South Forest Avenue.

My room now at the Pi Palace is no Mary Markley box. It is in fact, quite the opposite, with a beautiful built-in bureau with drawers and closet space that my roommate and new sister, Courtney, shares with me. There is a lovely mirror hanging above it, with a counter cluttered in the books, pictures, homework and textbooks that color my life. There is a string of twinkly lights strung up along the walls, and although it bears much resemblance to those blue lanterns that kept me company on my Friday nights spent in Mary Markley, they are now no longer my only comrade for such evenings.

Now, I spend my Friday nights among the women who love me best, watching movies and munching on M&Ms, comforting a sister in tears over a stupid boy, curling our hair with Beyoncé blasting in the bathroom, prancing and dancing about frat parties on elevated surfaces – and sometimes – grinding through homework at the law library.

Now, I have a group of women who inspire, encourage and support me in my every endeavor, who make me strive to be the best version of myself; who are so very talented, intelligent, kind, funny, beautiful and resilient.

Now, I participate in numerous social, charitable and professional organizations on campus; hold leadership positions, work harder in school, attend more intellectual and cultural events, speak up louder, and participate more.

Now, I am our chapter’s New Member Coordinator, the person responsible for educating, embracing, and supporting each of the wide-eyed new members who walk through our doors – the girls who are me just one year ago.

Now, I belong.

Now, I can honestly say that Greek Life pulled me out of depression, and for that, I am unspeakably grateful.