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It is not okay to be not okay

| Thursday, September 24, 2020

This semester, everyone seems incredibly resilient, and while I can only aspire to be at peak productivity at this time, I simply refuse to believe that I should have to perform being okay right now. Is that profound to say? Maybe. Maybe not. But maybe. Maybe I’m countercultural for always living on the verge of tears. Maybe I’m bold for being deeply depressed. Maybe I’m radical for needing a break. I guess it was my mistaking for thinking that being very, very much not okay would be okay during this time. 

But it’s clear that it isn’t okay here, no matter how many people will tell you to your face that it is. There is still so much to do, so many readings to flip through, discussions to participate in, jobs to apply for, emails to send, friendships to cherish before they’re over. I’ve never felt more like a cog in a machine. Like I was brought here to work, get COVID-19, get over COVID-19 and then keep working. I’ve never felt more judgement and reluctance in asking professors for accommodations, and I’ve never felt more apathy in my personal discussions with my friends. And I get it. I know. No one really knows what’s going. Everyone is having a harder time navigating life right now. But if that’s the case, why don’t we just act like it?

I told my therapist last week that these days I feel like I am being gaslit by every single person in my life. Even said therapist. I sit in class and dissociate to the sound of hyper-scholarly psychobabble, feeling absolutely crazy and inadequate for being unprepared, uninterested and unwilling to perform as okay when I’m not. The looks that you get when you’re openly not okay are enough to make you want to go completely feral. When I confide in my peers and tell them that I haven’t finished reading, our conversations are extinguished by their pity and judgement. They laugh nervously to suggest that they, too, are unprepared. But they are. Somehow, they always are. They read closely. And posted 500 words to Sakai by 8 p.m. Because they know that performing being okay has benefits. And no matter how justified I am in being not okay, I’ll always just be framed as deficient when the rubber hits the road. I guess I thought that for the first time in my years at Notre Dame, my peers might be truly transparent with me. But once again, we’re clinging so tightly to normalcy that I am left in the dust. But I refuse to believe that I am the problem here.

And when I share with my professors that I will need a number of accommodations in order to have an equitable opportunity for success, I’m met with compliance glazed in reluctance. Like, sorry! I was crying last night. I got caught up in a loop of existentialism well into the nighttime. I got tired and went to bed. It was a miracle that I drank water. And that was me doing my best to be okay. I couldn’t go for a walk because I am a small black woman, I couldn’t eat a better meal because I don’t have the money and I couldn’t just get over it because I haven’t been hugged in months. In fact, I still haven’t seen some of my best friends and support systems since March. I’m sorry that I thought we’d all be on the same page about the challenges of life right now. 

Every fiber of my being is overflowing with existential terror, academic/vocational anxiety, racial trauma, gendered pressure, health concern and overwhelming exhaustion. So when someone sees that I’m struggling and tells me that I’ve “got this,” I can help but think … thanks, but maybe I don’t. Why should I have to? Why do I need to be resilient? Why does everyone in this institution keep trying to empower me when I just need a break? And you, dear reader, you need a break, too. I could not think of a worse time to be intellectually, emotionally and economically challenged, and I could not think of a better time for our standards for success to change. We are not machines, we are not commodities, we are not soldiers battling on the frontlines. And we are not going to do down as heroes for pushing ourselves to our limits for the sake of a headline or a 0.01 GPA boost. Can we all just agree to let ourselves be openly not okay? Or can you all at least pretend to not be okay so I can feel much less alone?

Theresa Azemar is a senior member and Executive Director of Show Some Skin, a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference.

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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