Admissions blogger Lydia A. Krasilnikova ’14 is no stranger to life as a hosed MIT student. Her Oct. 29 admissions blog post “Meltdown” quickly went viral, with over 4000 likes on Facebook and coverage by WBUR (Boston’s NPR branch). The Tech sat down with Lydia to ask her what she thought about stress and her additional reflections after writing the piece.
The Tech: What inspired you to put your experience online?
Lydia Krasilnikova: I was actually working on another writing assignment, and I was experiencing some writer’s block. I wanted to get through the writer’s block but without stopping writing, because I found that’s what helps me most. When I’m going through an experience, I will outline it in a lot of detail, and then I’ll come back to it later and arrange it into a logical form — delete things that I don’t think should be there and change it into sentences and paragraphs. So I already had this outline, and I went and turned it into an actual blog post. It was something that I had been meaning to post ever since I had the meltdown.
TT: Were you expecting the type of response and attention the blog post elicited?
LK: Of course not. I expected some nice responses being like, “Oh, poor Lydia,” and I did get those, mostly from fellow bloggers in the first span of time after the blog got posted. I was really astounded that so many other people felt the same way. It was really nice — it helped me get through things because I had been really stressed. Sometime after that, I had a bad exam. I came home, and instead of being really upset about it, I just sat down and reread some of the comments and said, “You know what? Everything’s going to be ok.” I did not get that many comments saying, “You whiny little child,” which is surprising because I was expecting a lot more of that.
TT: What were some of your favorite and/or memorable comments that you received about the post?
LK: Of the two forms of comments that I liked the most, the first was from people who commented who were alumni. The post got forwarded out to the Educational Counselors (alumni that interview MIT applicants), and a lot of them sent me really amazing emails about how they went through the same thing.
The second form of comments was from individual people. I got emailed by S3 [Student Support Services] on Nov. 16, and they said that in the past week alone the office had had three times the number of walk-ins that they did last year. I don’t know if that’s all because of the blog post, but I think that’s fantastic. Some people have emailed me, commented, or came up to me and said, “I wasn’t going to go S3, but now I think I will.”
Primarily, knowing that so many people went through this and survived is really important. It really changed the way I view my experience here. I went from feeling very much alone and feeling like everything I was going through was a very big deal, to feeling that this is okay and that I’m not alone and that I will get through this. People have gone through this, and they are successful, happy, well-adjusted people.
TT: Do you feel like your experience with your meltdown was unique to MIT? Would things have been different if you were elsewhere?
LK: I feel like the things I’m experiencing — the unhappiness, depression, the feeling overwhelmed — that’s not just a part of MIT; that’s a part of life. I’m a perfectionist, and I take on too much. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Here at MIT, I’m forced to face the failure modes of that. If I wasn’t going to MIT, I would face it actually alone, in a big scary world with high stakes where when I fail, I really fail. Whereas here, [if] I have a bad semester, I’ll recover — it’s ok. … I have the support of the entire MIT community — and, in fact, college students from all over. I feel much less alone. I think the most important thing to read in the blog post is the comments to see the overwhelming “not aloneness” of this feeling.
TT: What do you think the most important lesson is that you will take out of this ordeal?
LK: We’re animals, we have a body, and the body requires certain things: good food, exercising, taking a break, and going outside. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our education and getting our work done that we don’t give our bodies that, and the mind is part of the body. Then we get upset, we get unhappy, we don’t give ourselves time, we don’t give ourselves space that we need. A big thing that I learned this semester is that it’s very important to … step back a little and give myself a break because I’m not just an academic machine — as much as I’d like to be. I’m still a human being that needs a break.
TT: Have you changed anything about how you do things as a result of the experience?
LK: I’ve changed how I prioritize, completely. Before I came to MIT, I would prioritize work over everything, but now, honestly, work is my last priority. Family, my health, and being happy come first. Work is fantastic — it’s very important to me, but not nearly as much as my health and happiness. I hope that someday I will get out in the real world and I will think, “This is hard, but it’s not nearly as hard as that one semester at MIT.”
TT: Is there anything in specific you’d like to see the administration do to improve the quality of student life?
LK: The fact that the number of S3 visits increased says that perhaps there are a lot more students that need help than are getting it, and furthermore, if the students who need help were to go and get it, we would not have the resources to help them. When I went to S3, my dean seemed absolutely exhausted and I imagine how that could be if your workload suddenly tripled. I think that it would be good to increase the S3 staff to give Student Support Services some support of their own, preferably to the point that they could have walk-in hours all day. When I’m stressed out and really need to go to S3, 9–10 a.m. [S3’s current walk-in hours] is not a good time for me. It’s very rarely less than a week between the time when I decide to go to S3 and I actually go — it just takes me that long to get there at 9 a.m. I also think we don’t have nearly enough people in Mental Health for the same reason.
TT: Do you feel like there exists a stigma in where you live for going out to get the help that you need?
LK: I feel like I know a lot of people who have been sent away to McLean [Hospital] or who have gone away on medical leave or who are depressed. Chancellor Grimson said that the number of students who go away on medical leave or get sent to McLean every year is 25–30, but I feel like that’s disproportionate to the number of people that I know and its presence in my life is disproportionately large. His theory is that there are pockets of depression at MIT, and that I happen to be in one of those pockets, which is awfully unfortunate. I’m trying to figure out if the place that I exist at MIT is a pocket of depression, or if it does not have greater depression, but has people with more willingness and openness to getting help. Among the people I’m close with there is no stigma for going to S3 or Mental Health.