Susan Zhu | Monday, October 12, 2015
My heart is never as heavy as it is during Irish State of Mind week. On one hand, I am happy to see real effort being made to bring awareness of mental illness to campus. On the other, I am disheartened to see the lack of interest from the student body. This is no one’s fault; mental illness is incredibly difficult to understand, especially if you have not experienced it yourself. It is difficult to put into words, and it is a difficult truth to admit to friends and family.
I have depression. I’ve had it on and off for years, but these past few weeks have been especially hard. I am working every day to get better, and I know that it does not define me. I can still feel joy, and I can still enjoy this life I’m lucky to be living. Last February, when I wrote my first Viewpoint column for the Observer, I talked about my past experiences with mental illness. Today, I’d like to talk about the importance of feeling fear.
Every morning when I wake up, I set a goal for the day. Sometimes it’s just to get through the day, and other times, it’s to give seven compliments, or smile at every stranger I see that day. Every day is exhausting, and every night, when I am finally tucked into bed, I reflect on that day’s goal and whether or not I was successful.
This is how I cope with my episodes of depression. My situation and my feelings are not the same as someone else’s who also struggles. Everyone’s story is different and unique, but everyone’s fight is as worthy and as difficult as another’s.
I know I am slipping when I feel fear. It is a deep-set fear that invokes terrible memories, a fear that stimulates an overwhelming sadness on some days.
I want to take these next few hundred words to talk a little bit about fear, and what it means to be brave. Is bravery making it through each day? Is bravery confronting the darkness and seeking professional help? Is bravery accepting that you need time for yourself and that sometimes, you just can’t do everything? Why do we spend so much energy to force ourselves to be brave, instead of allowing ourselves to feel fear?
Fear saved my life. I was not brave when I decided not to take my own life that night. I didn’t take my life because I was scared. I was terrified, actually. I didn’t know if it would work, and I couldn’t imagine the terrible consequences that would happen if it didn’t. I was terrified. It was the most scared that I would ever be, and I hope to never feel that fear again, the fear of going on living, but also the fear of not being successful at ending my life. I chose to stay alive because I was scared. I didn’t choose to stay alive because I was brave.
Do not be inspired by my story, as that is not my intention. I am not worthy of inspiration, or lauding. I was a coward, and for that I am forever grateful. I am grateful that in that moment I was not brave, that I was not fearless. I am grateful that I was doubtful, and that I was unsure.
I think it is critical to feel things. I know how it feels to not care, to be indifferent, and I am scared of feeling that way again. It baffles me that people aim to be apathetic and try to beat each other in the contest of who can care less. I think we all need to care more. I think we need to let ourselves feel all of the feelings that this life is trying to give to us, whether it’s happiness or sadness or joy or heartbreak.
Sometimes the bravest thing to do is to feel afraid, because it makes you question your choices before you make them and can change the outcome of your story drastically. When have you been afraid? It is everything to feel fear, to question yourself, to doubt yourself, to love and to care with all of your heart.
Are you content? Are you intrigued by what I have told you? Are you humbled? Are you inspired? Are you truly interested at all? The answer to any of these questions is of little importance to me, but should be of immense importance to you.
Mental illness and depression are very real here at Notre Dame. Don’t let the awareness fade out after this week. It’s time to stop just praying. It’s time to start talking.
Contact Susan Zhu at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.