Yesterday, a friend, Matt Benedict ’15, contacted me eager to share a piece on mental health he had written. Little did I know how tremendously personal, inspiring, heartfelt and touching his writing would be. Matt, a recent graduate of the class of 2015, former captain of the football team, and cum laude graduate economics major with a minor in political science and classics, silently struggled with depression and inclinations toward self-harm during much of his Middlebury experience. In light of recent tragic events such as the death of Nathan Alexander ’17, and recent highly inspiring events such as the creation of Resilience by Hannah Quinn ’16 among others, Matt took a moment to step out of the darkness and share his story, in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. Mental health issues can be extremely difficult, dark, and terrifying, but they are also far more common than many of us presume based on the “all smiles, all success” facade many Middlebury students sustain. We at middbeat strongly suggest everyone take a moment to read Matt’s words, share them with your friends and family, and if you relate to Matt’s struggles, please remember to reach out for help. We, the MIddlebury community, are here for you.
Start the Conversation: Life is Precious
To the Middlebury Community and the World Community in light and memory of Nathan Alexander ’17 (I apologize to the family and friends. I let you down. I could have done more. We all could have done more. We are all to blame):
This post is inspired by two incredible people at Middlebury and two people I lost this year. Hannah Quinn ’16 for her courageous efforts to promote mental health on this campus. I only wish I was a fraction of how courageous you are. Also, to the well spoken and awesome Adam Milano ’15. For anyone at graduation, his commencement speech was the best thing I have heard in years. It is a reflection of the type of person he is and the special people that make Middlebury what it is. Again, I will never be able to touch the man he is and has always been. Next is my grandmother Melanie Benedict who I lost this past February. I hope that she is proud of me up in heaven and I dedicate my life to making her more proud. She provided me with my Catholic faith, which I am forever grateful and I need to strengthen. Finally, my incredible and awe inspiring Uncle Edward Carney. I strive to be the type of man that he was. He was taken from us suddenly in January from a heart attack and his funeral service made me realize how living your life for your family and friends is the way to make a difference in this world. I love my Aunt Nancy and cousins Alex, Kevin, and Philip dearly.
Before I begin I do not want to hear any words of how courageous I am because frankly it is the opposite. I wasted an opportunity to make positive change before this spring on campus and I will never have that back and this is an effort to try to salvage any sort of opportunity that still has not yet passed. It is much easier now that I graduated to tell my story so I apologize for not having more courage.
For those of you who do not know me my name is Matthew Benedict Middlebury College ’15 one of THE captains of the football team here at Middlebury in 2014. I just graduated cum laude as an Econ major with a minor in political science and classical studies (if I had to do it again I would have double majored in Econ and Classics but I wasn’t ambitious enough). As mentioned before I was captain of the football team where I successfully played free safety under coaches Bob Ritter and Doug Mandigo. I was a 3-year starter and had nearly 200 tackles aggregate over my 4 years. I was named NESCAC player of the week twice where I made 19 tackles in a game and 20 tackles in another tying a school record. We won the NESCAC championship in 2013 and I was named 2nd team all conference in 2013 and 1st team all conference in 2014. I was a member of the JV hockey team and a proud participant of the mixed special Olympics basketball league with students and special Olympic athletes playing together. I was just named the recipient of the John P Stabile Trophy for the male athlete who most exemplifies the Middlebury spirit. I have a great family a great group of friends and have been in many relationships (just to give you a little background).
From the above paragraph everything appears incredible at the surface. Even when I read it I’m impressed although there is no way I am worthy of all the awards especially the John P Stabile trophy. I have been congratulated over and over by family and friends on any accomplishments and the list of awards is even longer than I presented. As my family referred to me growing up I was always the “golden boy”. Success was my middle name growing up and I was forever honored by any school or team I was a part of especially at my high school Nichols School in Buffalo, NY where I was a 3 sport captain and also a cum laude graduate. I got into Middlebury College in the December of 2010 and I had the world at my hands.
Although my list of successes is so great, I do not like to draw attention to myself and often get embarrassed in front of crowds or when other people talk about me. I have suffered two severe episodes of depression these past two years. These times have been the scariest times of my life and have lasted many months. Not scary because I was actually scared, but scary because I felt nothing at all. The emptiness was devastating and it was beyond frustrating not knowing what really caused it.
The first episode was right after the football season of 2013. The 2013 Panthers had just defeated the notorious Trinity College and ran the rest of the table to finish 7-1 and clinch a share of the NESCAC title. In that incredible win over Trinity, I was fortunate to be honored NESCAC defensive player of the week on part of our defensive effort after I had amassed an absurd 19 tackles. As my coach Doug Mandigo said, it was an all around defensive effort and it was an honor for the whole defense not just an individual effort. I also agreed with him that I was not the most athletic kid, I just seemed to listen and was pretty smart (maybe not as smart as people thought).
Anyways, the season ended and I was honored 2nd team all-NESCAC and then was voted team captain by my peers and teammates at our awards banquet a few weeks after the season ended. This was one of the worst things for me that made my depression even worse. My self-confidence and self worth tanked so much that I figured I was not worthy of any award or leadership position and any thoughts of the future made it worse. How was I supposed to be a captain when I didn’t even have confidence in myself? Or what would my teammates think when they found out about it? I wanted to hide from everyone and everything. I could not carry on a conversation of any depth and most conversations were people congratulating me. Congratulating me on what? Not being able to get out of bed? For taking hours and hours to work in a library only writing a paragraph? I had no reason to be congratulated. I wasn’t working out and I was setting a terrible example for my team. I stopped calling home, going out with friends, or having any joy in life. I withdrew from everyone and everything and could not even look the wonderful beautiful girl in the face to say I could not carry on our relationship after a few months leaving her heartbroken and confused. Every time I hid I later on regretted it more and more which made me feel even worse. Self-harming thoughts began to creep in and one night I even took 6 Advil in one sitting. I felt like everywhere I went people knew right away about me and were judging me ruthlessly. I refused to tell my friends and family the extent I was feeling because I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of myself.
Slowly things got better and my mood lifted as the spring picked up. I still felt embarrassed about everything and knew I lost all respect from all the friends that I didn’t text back hang out with or from the girl who I blew off multiple times when all she wanted to do was talk or my family that I didn’t call, or so I thought. Over the summer I was on a mission to never let it happen again and I worked out harder than ever in an attempt to make up for lost time. I woke up so early at 5 am full of energy and my wonderful mother and sister began to wonder if I was on drugs (I didn’t touch drugs). They even went so far as to ask my friends. The truth was I wasn’t. I just realized how low I was for so long that I was high on life. I began to think of all the ways I could make the world a better place and realized how valuable life was. I refused to tell people the extent of my feelings besides a very few select group of friends and family. Even then I was too embarrassed to reveal how bad things were. I shared a mild story and kept it G rated to try to protect any dignity I thought I had left. They may even be so surprised reading this now to know how bad it really was. I made some serious mistakes over the summer and hurt my family members because I thought I had become invincible. I even went so far as leaving my sister in a hostel in Rome to stay up all night and go gallivanting with a girl that I just met. This made my sister run from one hostel to another leaving her disturbed and hurt. I did not see the problem at the time. I was on top of the world and my drinking habits would not let me be stopped.
After the summer I vowed to be a great leader by example for the younger kids on the team and to never allow myself to get depressed again. I felt invincible and thought I could just will any bad feelings away because I was so strong and was having a great season. I mean, I was the captain of the football team I could do it all, or that’s what the word is about masculine football players. I refused to reach out for a true support system to get the adequate help if things went south again. My own pride got the best of me again in fear of embarrassment.
In the fall, the amazingly beautiful, smart, and courageous Hannah Quinn ‘16 published her story on depression and failed suicide attempt. I read her story and immediately felt a connection after I began to tear up. I emailed her right away revealing my struggles and asked her not to tell anyone. I was still scared and worried about social backlash especially from my teammates. She asked me to share my story to help out all guys who were suffering and I felt like it was the most emasculating thing in the world so I refused. I wanted to but I could not do that to myself and had to play football and go to school with everyone and freaked out over the chance that they might discover my softer side. I refused and never spoke with her again often avoiding her at parties because she knew the truth about me, which made me beyond vulnerable and uncomfortable.
I made the same exact mistakes two years in a row including withdrawing from a relationship with the same girl who took me back after how I treated her in the fall of 2013. I did not learn my lesson. I was such a coward. I was a terrible person. My teammates thought I was this great guy and to be honest I was not being that at all. I thought I was going to flunk out and my future was over. I thought I had made it all this way only to fail the first semester of my senior year. I thought I would let my school, team, friends, and ultimately family down. Some captain I was.
This time, however, my beautifully stubborn mother was more aware this time. She begged me to seek out counseling and after some time I finally listened realizing it was ok for me to do so and that I did not have to feel embarrassed. It definitely helped but I realized I was still not getting the help from the people that loved me: my friends and family. I continued to put on a front and remained mute on everything. I lied to my friends about what I was doing everyday. My siblings and parents knew something was up but I still refused to open up to everyone.
I heard about Nathan Alexander ’17 this spring and I had multiple conversations with people. “Oh shit, that’s crazy. I don’t know why anyone would ever do that.” I heard this over and over again and I refused to say anything. I even regretfully agreed with them. I thought my friends would think I was soft to take a stance and I had to give off a front of being the big tough football captain who had his life under control. It was really frustrating because I knew I could have made a difference. I could have been the one to listen to Hannah in the fall and help curb these feelings of suicide at Middlebury by creating solidarity and yet I didn’t. I was too concerned about my own life and what others thought of me. I was selfish.
The reasons for writing this are numerous. First, it provided me a little piece of mind. In some ways it is in memory of Nathan and an attempt to reconcile the fact that I feel partially to blame. The reality of the fact is the whole Middlebury community shares some blame(students, faculty, parents, and families). Not only is it the person struggling that needs to seek help, the burden also lays on friends and family that notice bizarre behavior (slowly backing away from social situations in my case). It is on you to ruthlessly reach out and share how much you love them. I was dying to share my feelings but never felt like I had the right opportunity. We as a community have to make that opportunity happen. Provide that platform. Continue the discussion. To anyone that I did not text back or seemed to be short with during my tough times, I apologize. You have every right to be disappointed in me. But I am pissed off you didn’t call me out more. You left me off the hook and I took the easy way out. If you chewed me out perhaps I would have broken down to you. I’m sure the same is true with Nathan.
This is also for everyone to realize it is not just psychopaths that suffer from depression. It is teammates, captains, attractive people, ugly people, athletes, narps, guys, girls, and everyone in between. Even the big bad captain of the football team can suffer. Do not follow in my path and be a coward. Open up. Ask for help. So many people you don’t even know want to provide help and care about you. Everyone at Middlebury loves you. This is true for anyone in any community. Be brave. Don’t let social pressure wear you down and make you afraid.
It is because of people like Hannah that we have to thank. She is the true reason I write this. If this can help one more person reach out for help or for friends and family to be more conscious it is well worth it. I realize it is too late given everything that happened to Nathan but it is time for Middlebury and the world to stand up. Start the conversation. No more hiding. No more silence. Speak up. Reach out. Tell people you love them. Make the community and the world a better place. Mental health is no fun but it is necessary to talk about. Don’t be like me. Don’t wait. Be brave.
I love you all and every member of our community is special and important. Do not be afraid. If you need anything ever let me know. That goes for friends, family, complete strangers, or anyone feeling worthless. I have an obligation to talk now and shoulder a burden that will live with me forever.
Please share with all friends at schools throughout the country that may need some encouragement or just so everyone can start the conversation. College is supposed to be the best years of your life but it is this notion that often lands you in trouble. You see what others have and often compare yourself. Think of Nathan and of all the others who could have been saved. I still regret my actions and will never fully be able to forgive myself but I challenge you to not be like me. The world is full of amazing people like Hannah, Adam, my grammy Benedict, and Uncle Ed Carney. These people put me to shame. Be like them. This problem goes beyond the Middlebury bubble and the silence needs to end. If we want to make the world a better place we must act. We cannot be silent. Moderation is for cowards. Tell everyone you love them every single day and treat those you don’t know with the same love. It goes a long way and you never know what another may be dealing with. It goes a long way and I realize I now must dedicate my life to making the world a better place which I did so poorly a job of for some time. Please do so before you feel the same regret as I do now. Do not be selfish. The world is for everyone to share and live with friendship and family. Act before it is too late.
Middlebury College ’15
Matt’s piece can also be read on his personal blog, here