Earlier this month, a Columbia University engineering student, Nayla Kidd, 19, was reported missing after she didn’t show up for her final exams at the Ivy League school in New York City. The story made national news. After a citywide (wo)man hunt—and terrifying her friends and family—Kidd was found in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she had rented an apartment. She had also changed her bank account and cellphone numbers. In a personal essay for the New York Post, Kidd explained why she abruptly left school.
“I had been waking up every day for months with a feeling of dread and doom,” Kidd wrote. “I couldn’t keep putting my all into something I cared nothing about.”
She added, “I finally broke down because I was living a life I thought I should be living instead of living the life I want.”
Kidd recounted an incident in which she had a “hysterical” crying fit and felt “completely overwhelmed.” She said that she sobbed during a 10-block walk to her apartment and the next morning decided, “I’m going to change this.” Kidd saved money from her work-study job and sold her clothes in order to make money for an apartment (for those who wondered how she was able to afford to move to pricey Williamsburg in Brooklyn) and moved in with two roommates.
Of why she didn’t tell anyone where she was, Kidd says, “I wanted the time to make sense of my situation alone and have the space to comprehend it. I felt like sharing would force me to explain something I hadn’t even figured out myself. It wasn’t normal to just quit school. But I never expected it to get so out of hand.”
I empathize with Kidd. I remember what it was like to be 19 and trying to live up to lofty expectations so as not to disappoint my parents. The difference between me and her—other than my having no inclination for math and science—is that by sophomore year, I had professors and teacher assistants who mentored me and helped me figure out a plan to reach my goals of becoming a writer-author (bloggers didn’t exist yet). I also had parents who were gullible (or hopeful) enough to believe that I was going to use an English degree to go law school, and then who were so convinced that I’d never make it in professional life with an English degree that they financed grad school so that I’d have a shot at a decent career. (Thanks, Dad.)
So perhaps that’s why I feel bad for Kidd. But from what I’ve read, I am, by far, in the minority. Reactions to her essay explanation have been overwhelmingly negative. Across social media, she’s been called a “brat,” “entitled” and “selfish.” The general sentiment is that she worried her mother to death and wasted taxpayers’ money.
Really? I can’t be the only one who sees that Kidd was clearly on the brink. No one able-bodied and in a healthy emotional space packs up her whole life, moves across a bridge, doesn’t answer the phone or texts for weeks, and doesn’t call her mama on Mother’s Day. It’s obvious to me, especially after reading Kidd’s essay, that escaping to Williamsburg was a lifesaving move for her. But folks want her to “suck it up” and “push through.”
Um. For what? ’Cause you did? She ain’t you. So she can live up to some stereotype of being a strong black woman? It’s overrated.
What about her mental health? I’m not saying she’s crazy. But if you’re having public breakdowns and crying 10 blocks while walking through the city streets, everything is not OK. She should pretend that didn’t happen? The girl was miserable, and she did something—something drastic, but something nonetheless—about it.
To me, Kidd is courageous. Yes, absolutely, she could have handled her escape better. When she started seeing missing posters of herself online and realized that her mama and the rest of the world were looking for her, she should have picked up the phone and Snapchatted someone to say, “I’m alive, OK, and don’t want to be bothered. Bye.” And yet, I also understand why she didn’t.
Her friends and family would have tried to talk her into toughing it out and staying in school, where she didn’t want to be. And if Kidd’s version of her story is accurate, it also seems that there was a lot of overreaction to her “missing.” Before she moved to Brooklyn, she had three roommates who saw her move her belongings out of the apartment on multiple trips. She changed her bank account and her phone number, which she gave to friends. That all points to a young woman, an adult, making calculated decisions—ones that may be uncommon and unpopular, but the ability to make bad choices is a perk of adulthood. The search for her was unnecessary and going overboard.
I call her courageous because while she was clearly in a bad emotional place and made shaky decisions from that place, she had the presence of mind to practice self-care. She recognized that something was very wrong with her, and she acted in her own best interest by not wallowing in unhappiness because of what she “should do” or was “supposed to do” or what was “expected” of her to do when none of those things was what she wanted. At 19 she had the courage to say no that most grown people haven’t mustered. And yes, that may look selfish, but that also looks like survival.
Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. She is also a blogger at SeeSomeWorld.com, where she covers pop culture and travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.