Posted by: thediygeochemist | January 17, 2011

I was so blind

When I moved to this office, I had five officemates. The sole male was hardly here: he had a desk in the lab that he preferred to his office desk. Three of the four ladies were friendly and I found myself enjoying their company.

Then there was the other lady, a foreign student, who actively shunned our attempts to be friendly. (She would turn her head away when I said hi, or even wave. My officemates describe similar responses.)

In December, evidently, she went through the hassle of renewing her visa, which was about to expire. Then she bought a round-trip ticket to her native country, which she was going to visit for the first time in five years.

Last week, on the first day of class, she sent an email to her advisor saying that she wasn’t returning. Ever. Because she’d left stuff in her desk (and in her apartment), it was clear that she originally had meant to return. There was no word as to why she’d made this decision.

Needless to say, this has spawned a lot of talk/gossip in our office. What in the world was she thinking (if anything)? How could she just make a snap decision, give up on the degree she’d already invested 5 years of her life in?

During the course of one of these conversations, it came out that she’d been incredibly depressed. She hadn’t said as much, of course, but two of my officemates were in the same research group and noticed it. She had no friends, no one to reach out to. She actively resisted their attempts to get her to the campus counseling center.

Her desk was right next to mine. How did I miss that she was depressed? I knew she was prickly by nature, but I’d never known her to be otherwise…is depression only obvious to someone who’s comparing the same person’s depressed personality to her previously undepressed personality? In any case, I am shaking my head and trying to figure out why I didn’t notice, why I didn’t help.

I feel so guilty.


  1. You are not your brother’s keeper, there is no reason to feel any guilt for this. On the other hand it may sensitize you to notice folks that are starting to trend towards depression and maybe you can help them.

  2. Not your fault! Sounds like she completely rejected your attempts to reach out.

  3. Not your fault at all. Don’t feel guilty. Depression manifests itself in diverse ways. I experienced a severe, debilitating depression during college, but I went to class everyday, smiled, engaged in class discussion, and completed my work. The minute I would get in my car, I would fall apart. But as long as I was able to keep my public face on, I knew no one would suspect that I had this illness.

    Your officemate was consistently unfriendly to everyone; that appeared to be her character, not a symptom of some deeper problem. Don’t feel guilty.

  4. I can completely understand why you feel guilty, and would probably feel the same way in that situation, but please try not to feel that way. It really wasn’t your fault, and many people who are depressed hide it very well under a mask of unfriendliness. You can’t beat yourself up over something like this. I hope she’s getting help now.

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