Ranking the ways Notre Dame has helped me battle depression
Davis Gonsalves | Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Yikes, that’s a tad more serious of a column title than I usually write. I promise, I’m still going to throw in some jokes to keep this last column on brand. I wanted to talk about the ways Notre Dame has helped me battle — and often overcome — this struggle with mental health because: 1) I do not mention it often enough, even to my own friends, and I think it is important for others to know that there are people out there who deal with similar problems and 2) As a senior, I need to show my gratitude for this amazing school. I am leaving Notre Dame feeling mentally stronger than ever and in large part because of the following reasons. These are ranked in no particular order as they have all helped me in unique and beautiful ways.
- My friend Connor Murphy
As the one other graduate of my high school here, Connor is the only person in the whole world that has been with me through both formative four-year chunks in my adolescence. Sometimes in depressive episodes, I would erroneously think I am faking everything to everyone, not portraying my authentic self in college, and the person that others like, is a facade. Connor, by his presence, checked this behavior because I knew the same activities, conversations and jokes translated from high school to Notre Dame. Connor and his big egg head would easily notice when I was not acting like who I knew I was, and I was practically forced to act like myself when with him. Thank you, Connor, for the eight years of amazing memories and laughter.
Listen, I hate IMLeagues as much as the next guy. However, exercise, and simply leaving your room are so crucial in helping mental health. Not only did the physical activity help, but playing on the different co-rec and interhall teams formed some of my closest friendships for years to come. This really culminated in becoming a coach for Welsh Fam flag football, where there were times in my depressed moods when I forced myself to draw up plays to get out of my own head. Having an outlet with those 30-plus Whirlwinds did wonders for providing a sense of purpose and mood stabilizer. Some may think coaching dorm sports to help mental health is a little obsessive, but that obsession got Welsh Fam to the championship in football and basketball, so who’s laughing now. Thank you specifically Sarah Hynds and Moira Griffith for letting me be a try-hard in seven versus seven soccer, Corrine O’Connor and Sarah Stillpass for letting me coach Welsh Fam sports and Grace Quinn and Cameron Wylam for making that coaching job much easier.
- My neuroscience major
When dealing with depression, you have to take care of the basics first, like sleep, diet and exercise. This sounds simple but it took an Intro to Cognitive Neuroscience class with a sleep expert to penetrate my stubbornness and realize less than six hours of sleep a night may be contributing to my depressed moods. Thank you Dr. Payne, Dr. Boyd, Anré and of course my most wonderful advisor Dr. Michael for teaching me the importance of sleeping 8-9 hours a night, eating real food, probably not blacking out every weekend, balancing a social life with academics, listening to my own feelings and how rats contribute to basically everything we know about humans.
- My time abroad in Copenhagen
Ironically, the country with one of the highest rates of mental health diagnoses helped me with my own mental health. As part of the epidemic going on in Denmark, the country has tried with great effort to make the issue less taboo. My professors Lars, Claudia and Rene thankfully continued this trend and I felt I could talk to them about any trouble I was having. Further, the travel I did helped me think of the world as much less scary and gave me a sense of wonder where before, the daily routine could leave me in a rut.
- Fantastic professors
The professors here have routinely bent over backwards to accommodate me in any way whatsoever. Thank you Dr. Kucich and Professor Capdevielle for placing an enormous amount of effort into me becoming a better writer, Dr. Parise for understanding my struggles in Organic Chemistry but always pushing me to rise to the challenge, and Dr. Slattery for showing me science and religion do not contradict. Dr. Rosato, Dr. Deak, Dr. Lincicum, Dr. Walatka, Dr. Wayne, Dr. Cross, Dr. O’Regan, Dr. Cavadini (both of them), Dr. Groody, Dr. Filchak, Anton and so many more have become mentors, friends and role models both academically and in all areas of life. You all help me orient myself in times when I feel most lost.
- The families of my friends
Being so far away from home, I miss the simple things like home-cooked meals, my parents being able to come for tailgates, taking me out for a meal or medicine when I’m sick. Luckily, the parents of so many of my friends have treated me like one of their own, allowing me to stay for meals or breaks, inviting me to events, driving me to the airport and overall giving me a sense of familial belonging where it is difficult to get to mine in Portland. Thank you to the McCarters, the Griffiths, the Dingens, the Walshes, the Mullens, the Van Kirks, the Lawlers, the Gunds and especially the Carrozas who have been my home here in South Bend. All of these and so many more families not mentioned have showed their absolute kindness in so many ways that I could not list them all here. Knowing you are loved by family, even when your own is far off, means so much in battling depression.
- My comedy
In Victor Frankl’s logotherapy developed in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he essentially writes that if someone has meaning to their life, they can overcome any hardship. This is a powerful message from someone like Frankl who survived the Holocaust. I found around my sophomore year that the thing giving me life is making others laugh. I cannot express the gratitude I have especially for Matt Hennessey who pushed and continues to push me into pursuing stand-up comedy and Mary Freeman who gave me the platform to write these columns that I hope gave some of you a chuckle or two in the past. The comedy I found because of Notre Dame has given me the meaning so many crave and leaves me full of hope.
- My theology major
Although I love my neuroscience major, my theology classes have strengthened my faith especially when depression so often takes this passion away from others. The academic pursuit of who God is has brought me closer to him. I definitely have found hope in the Christian faith and have been opened up to this by my professors and classmates who have become beautiful example of Christ’s teachings. Even those I do not know well in the major have such respect and love for everyone that it has revealed to me my own internal dignity and worth. This major has even allowed me to receive Anointing of the Sick for my depressive disorder through my Sacraments class, leaving me an indescribable feeling of strengthening and communal love.
- Diversity Club
Freshman year, my friend Mike Walsh and I made a groupchat titled “Diversity Club” combining our different friends from across campus mainly so we did not have to sit alone at lunch anymore. Since then it has grown into a 75-plus person group that has made this campus feel so much closer, giving me the opportunity to meet people from all over the social spectrum. It represents the countless loving moments of pick-up volleyball games, the endless episodes of Adult Swim shows at Alex Bauman’s apartment, group dinners to Taqueria Chicago, trivia and bowling nights, co-rec sports and Boat One memes. It represents the constant evolution of friend groups, finding fantastic people every semester and growing deeper with others. It represents an outlet that whenever I feel I’m going to spiral, I know there are people who I can turn to. It represents a community of some of the best people on campus (that I would rank probably number one) and their endless energy for laughter, fun and joy. Thank you to every member who has forced me not to withdraw socially, but to find life.
- Dunne Hall
I felt nervous transferring to Dunne sophomore year with no established traditions, only a few close friends, and with almost half the dorm being freshmen. I can confidently say that the community we have built in the newest male dorm rivals any other dorms. Thank you so much to Fr. Matt for steering Dunne in the right direction of communal living. Thank you, Fr. Kevin, for always leaving your door open, guiding Sentinels in all ways but especially in their faith. Thank you to the members of my current section who constantly push the limits on what their RA should allow. Thank you for the interhall soccer games, the ski trip, dome dance, the Funne Runne, game watches, late-night pizza and the simple moments walking into someone’s room at 1 a.m. and talking about life. Dunne also solidified a community with my best friends sophomore year, so thank you especially to Hamish Macfarlane, Alfredo Duarte, Mike Walsh, Johnny Mullen and Kevin Dingens for being the most excellent roommates, partners, and best friends one could ask for. Often when depressed, a terrible question comes up in asking, “Who would care if I went away?” Dunne and its community have answered the question with a resounding, “I would care.” I have never had a doubt that if my mood changed, immediately I would be filled with love from the community. For that, thank you.
As my final send off, in my final column, I want to overall express gratitude for Notre Dame. These four years have opened me up to some of the kindest, most loving and compassionate people I’ve encountered both on and off-campus. (Sorry, I had to get a last shot in there.) Thank you to all the friends and professors. Thank you for all the opportunities these last four years. And thank you, Notre Dame.
Davis loves to rank people, places, things, ideas and sometimes even verbs. His current senior year places fourth among years, his neuroscience major places seventh and his theology major ranks third among all majors. Contact him at [email protected] to be placed first in his heart.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.