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Portraits of Resilience: Haley's Story

Haley Cope, from a presentation by Haley and Prof. Daniel Jackson

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Haley’s story appears with the stories of other MIT community members in a book called Portraits of Resilience by Professor Daniel Jackson.  When she refers to “Portrait people,” she’s referring to other people whose life stories appear in that book.

Here's the transcript of Haley's story:

It’s interesting because every single time I tell my life story, it seems to get changed and emphasized, so if you listen to this talk and read something completely different, that might be a little why.  So I’m from Pennsylvania – small town, middle of nowhere – it took 20 minutes to drive to school in the morning – the most exciting thing.  And, during my time there, I…my family had parents, two little sisters – young childhood, very idyllic.  My mom stayed at home and took care of us, and taught me how to quilt, for example – so, very beautiful. 

Until it wasn’t.  And about the time where I was in third grade, my parents first filed for divorce.  And whenever you say “first filed for divorce” that’s where you know there’s a problem.  So they would file on and off again until I was a sophomore in high school, and that overall – that tumultuous period of seven years, I suppose, really set the foundation for continuing on my tumultuous life, up til MIT.  I found difficulty finding stability, in particular with religious stability, as well.  I grew up going to church, then stopped going to church, became a very edgy internet atheist who hated religion, came to MIT, and started the process of a conversion to Judaism. 

So all of this is the  kind of background.  Eventually I came here to MIT…and the series of student suicides my freshman year was really in particular what drove me to eventually seek help.  I had gotten help at various points during my high school career, been on and off medication.  It wasn’t until my freshman year here at college when I started drinking, started having problems with other drugs, attending classes – I failed every single class my freshman fall…well that’s not true: I got two D’s and two F’s. But still a blank transcript. 

And that spring I promised to turn things around, and didn’t really make that commitment until, in my dorm, East Campus, one of the freshmen committed suicide.  And that moment was a particular wake-up call of …this person, whom I’ve honestly never met, and who perhaps many people in this dorm haven’t met -- their choice, their loss, the loss of their life impacted all of these people so deeply that 30 people are sitting in a dorm lounge sobbing.  I can’t be the cause of that.

And so, reinvigorated that commitment to make change.   I started going to MIT mental health, I started taking medication again…and still didn’t get better. And that was – that was difficult: to make this commitment to change, to try to change, and then to feel like I couldn’t, even if I wanted to.  I went back to my psychiatrist and said “This medication that you’ve given me is making things worse.  I just want to be done.  I don’t want to do this.  I don’t want to live.  I don’t want to be on this medication.”  And he said “Take another week.”  And I said “Okay. I will try.”  Took another week – didn’t really change much.  He said “One more week.  Come to me Wednesday and Friday.  We’ll see how that works out.” I said “Fine.”  By Friday, when I had talked to him, I said “I can’t do this. I…I want to kill myself.”   And I saw a shift on his face of ‘Oh really’ and ‘Oh, no.’  And I’m like “No, no, no – I don’t want to be sent to the hospital. This is terrible. I promise: I don’t have a plan and I don’t have a way to enact this.  Please, anything but sending me to the hospital.”

Of course, that passionate plea did not work out – or rather, it did work out, in that the best option – of going to the hospital – happened.  And so, by the week before finals my freshman year, a week after my birthday, I was in McLean Psychiatric, where – it was great!  In fact, that probably ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me: one, because I would actually pay attention and focus on the mental health issues that I had to deal with, which I would not have done otherwise; second, I met my best friend there.  It turns out, we were actually in two classes together, but both of us were so depressed that we never showed up to class and never interacted. And … yeah, and eventually after that week’s stay, came back and – I got out on Friday, took my 8.011 remedial Physics final, and got an A in that, and so just kind of focused on this strong turnaround effort.

So then the question that gets asked a couple times is “What motivates someone to kind of put all of that out there?”  In Professor Jackson’s style, his cold email to me said “Hey, I noticed that you’ve been commenting on mental health on MIT “Confessions,” and that you reference your personal experience in these replies.  Would you be interested in just talking with me about that personal experience?”  And of course I was like “Sure. Why not? I’m happy to go have coffee with you in your office and talk about this.”  From my perspective, if something I could have said would have helped even a single person feel less alone, then that was what I wanted to be doing, and among the Portrait people, that is a very common thing to hear.  So definitely this desire to help people.  In particular, I want to destigmatize the idea of hospitalization, as for example, last fall in my dorm, there was a sophomore who was particularly struggling with suicidal ideation, and absolutely had the same feeling of ‘anything but going to the hospital,’ and I was like “Listen, here’s my story; here’s this thing that happened.  Now I’m doing better.  You can have this help too.”  He ended up going to the hospital – I visited him there – and he took the rest of the year off, came back, and is now doing better than ever.

So really, I think something great about these stories is that it provides a kind of example to look at and say “It’ll be okay, even if it takes longer, you’ll be okay, and you’ll make it.”

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