Editor’s Note: On Oct. 19, 2014, Professor Fisher emailed the students in the physics department a copy of a hand-written note. It is transcribed here with his permission, sharing his thoughts with the wider student body.
I am writing to you in response to our recent losses. Now is a good time for us to all stop for a moment and remind ourselves who we are, where we are and what we are doing.
We have all come to MIT because we are seeking some deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. This quest is not an easy one and, very frequently, challenging in ways we do not expect. Sometimes our response to challenges makes us feel we have failed or are unworthy. In the normal course of life, these unwarranted feelings usually diminish.
Sometimes, however, they don’t go away. The pace of life at MIT is fast and challenges can mount, amplifying feelings of despair. When this happens, tragedy may result.
I want you all to know that there is no shame in feeling overwhelmed or despairing at the challenge life throws at us — these feelings are a problem, but a surmountable one, and many, many people, most people, have been there before. Even though you may feel there is no way out, this is not the truth: feeling trapped is a result of being depressed or troubled, and there is always help even when things seem bleakest.
The most important thing you can do when you have fallen in despair is thus to spend more time around people. It does not matter who, but of course it is best if it is someone who knows and cares about you. Don’t isolate yourself, which you may feel like doing. If you cannot find someone, contact me.
Getting help from Mental Health will also make a big difference. There is no shame in this — in fact, it is a sign of courage and strength. I have had help, weekly for 35 years. I came to this, as many did, from a desperate state, but making my way through these various crises has made me who I am.
I hope this helps and I know all of you can make your way through MIT. If I can help in any way, please let me know.
Department Head, Physics