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Questions not asked

| Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I was recently hospitalized and missed about a week of school. Now, missing that much class alone is enough to invoke insane levels of anxiety and worry in most Notre Dame students, not even beginning to address the added stress of the reason for the hospitalization in the first place. 

So yeah, I’ve had a pretty stressful semester — and it isn’t even fall break yet. 

You know one of the things I have noticed through this experience though? Many people don’t know how to handle situations where you don’t give them all the information. 

I have had many of my acquaintances — friends from class, fellow club members, coworkers, etc. — ask me how I was doing and if I was alright when I returned following my hospitalization, but none have outright asked me what happened. The conversation typically goes something like the following. Them: “How have you been? Are you alright? You were out a while!” Me: “Yeah, I’m doing better now, thanks!” Them: “Oh. Okay.” And then the subject gets changed. 

But there is always this awkward pause in which we stew in the stalemate of them not wanting to ask why I was there and my not wanting to volunteer the information to someone I am not sure cares or if I trust. It makes sense and follows social protocols, but I don’t like that this is what we default to. 

After one of the hardest experiences of my life, I should not have to periodically sit in silence as someone I kind of know tries to surreptitiously assess my body as if to diagnose what was wrong with me without my volunteering anything. 

I wonder what they see. Do they think I favor one side over the other? Do they swear they can hear a rasp in my voice or a pained undertone to my words? Do they guess that the lack of an obvious physical pain means it was a mental one?

Stop guessing. Just ASK. 

Now, not everyone may want to be asked. I can only speak for myself, but if someone does not want you to know the truth they can choose to deflect or ask for privacy. Sometimes, though, people are really willing to talk if you take the time and the care to ask. We as a culture need to stop letting shame and fear control what we do and do not talk about and be more open and willing to converse about tough topics. 

My therapist recently recommended that I listen to the researcher and storyteller Brené Brown for this reason. Her research is on shame and the role of vulnerability in making us happier and more confident people. So, what better way to put this into practice then to put your vulnerability in print, right?

So, as you may or may not have been able to guess, the truth is I spent the week in a mental hospital after trying to kill myself. And I still struggle with my mental health every day. This is not something that we should be scared of talking about and the fact that we are, in many cases, just adds to the problem. 

So ask. Start a dialogue. Even if they don’t want to answer you, just showing you care and are interested in their well-being may go a long way.


Laura McKernan is a senior. Contact her at [email protected]

Show Some Skin is a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference. Using the art of storytelling as a catalyst for positive social change across campus, we seek to make Notre Dame a more open and welcoming place for all. If you are interested in breaking the silence and getting involved with Show Some Skin, email [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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