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Open letter: Looking through the mirror

| Friday, January 21, 2022

Speaking from a retrospective point of view, last semester was certainly a unique blend of everything that had been missing over the past two years. The dining halls bustled with laughter and commotion, and intensely long wait lines became the norm for the evenings. Tailgating made its return during football season, and performance halls opened their doors to provide viewers with authentic experiences. As the University thrives in a state of normalcy that we once took for granted, it is easy to overlook some of the achievements that we, as students, have accomplished. While we continue our hard work, it is also vital that we take the time to rest and recharge. Dealing with our difficulties before they become emergencies is a strong recipe for overall success. There is nothing wrong with slowing down, taking a break, and calling for help, especially when we find ourselves in dire need of it.

There is no shortage of stress in our lives. While our main focus here may be on academics, there is still a human being that lies behind the student and a life that extends well beyond the classroom. At times, the pressures of academic and career successes may appear overwhelming, but these do not hinder us from achieving our goals. We often find ways to overcome such challenges and put in the time and effort needed to be successful. Day in and day out, we prepare ourselves and persevere through troubles in pursuit of a degree that is bound to take us wherever we want to go in life. While studying, doing homework, going to class and paying attention all create good results academically, they only represent one aspect of our lives. Yes, it is certainly important to do well in school. However, it does not reign supreme over all, and other principal pieces in life must be nourished and cared for as well. In true Notre Dame fashion, it is very common for us to overachieve and overextend — it is something that we have done for a large portion of our lives. In doing so, we must be careful to not neglect matters that are important to us and find a balance that brings us comfort holistically.

Every aspect of a person’s life is important. No matter if it is physical, spiritual, mental, social, emotional or any other category, each one contributes to our overall condition and well-being. Now, with this in mind, these different matters certainly do not show up in the same ways in all of our lives. Some aspects may carry more value and require more time and effort than others, while the rest may only represent a small portion of our personal peace. Regardless of their individual significance, the many aspects of life collectively work together to build endurance and maturity. In addition to this, they provide sources of stability when life gets rough.

This centralized balance — a relaxed state — flourishes when we find that the bulk of our needs are met and we have adequately spent time maintaining the different parts of us that make us human. More often than not, this is never actually the case, and we spend a lot of time responding to the different challenges that life presents. Life is hard, and at certain points, it can get really crazy. During these rough patches, we may find ourselves prioritizing our tasks in a way that simply isn’t sustainable for integrative, long-term growth. We may have control for a while, but burnout, exhaustion and fatigue slowly morph into anxiety, depression and numbness; and this makes even the smallest tasks demand a large chunk of our energy. The constant sad-to-unproductive cycle generates an intensified and continued neglect that leaves us feeling extremely discouraged in life. Left unchecked, these issues can seep into the different avenues of our lives, and we may feel as if our whole world is crashing down on us.

It is during these times that we may feel that all hope is lost. Situations worsen and a growing sense of apathy begins to diffuse throughout our spirit before finally settling in permanently. Going to class becomes hard. Talking to other people feels draining. Our thoughts become intrusive and make us believe that we burden other people with our presence. The list goes on and on, varying broadly between individuals.

Despite these different emotions, one thing remains constant: All hope is not lost. A very cliché statement? Yes. In one ear and out the other? Probably. We’ve likely heard this phrase, been told a story about someone in a worse situation, and then sent on our merry way. As a moderate feel-good, this provides temporary feelings of comparative satisfaction before the eventual slump into how we originally felt. We don’t need more sob stories to make us feel better about ourselves, and spending our whole lives comparing ours to others only creates more problems. Yes, life could be worse, but it could also be a whole lot better too.

Now here we are in a circular argument with no real solutions, teetering back and forth as we slide down the what-if rabbit hole. By no means am I encouraging individuals to be ungrateful. Gratitude is important, and we should always be thankful and count our blessings. However, this life is a journey, and we must be intentional about how we navigate it. Our problems don’t go away when we compare them to someone who has it worse. One might even argue that it just paints a clearer picture. We need assistance just like they do, and it is in these moments that we should never underestimate the power of a helping hand.

Getting help is much easier said than done, and finding help that actually helps is a process in its own right. It appears daunting and intimidating at first, and that’s honestly because it is. In a world already filled with chaos and things that are beyond our control, the last thing we may want to do is go out and search for something when we have a million other things to do. However, getting help is exactly what we need. Sadness, anxiety and depression are all real, and experiencing them does not make us less than or weak-minded. When we treat our feelings like how we would a job or a paper, we position ourselves to be successful emotionally. Properly taking care of ourselves is one way to live a fulfilling and balanced life. I think that for a long time we have been programmed to prioritize efficiency over utility and productivity over peace. Flashes of this imbalance show themselves through stress and breakdowns, but after these episodes, we often press on without ever addressing the issues. If our composure is broken and we don’t take the time to fix it, how can we truly move forward and grow? We are attempting to live a healthy life while practicing unhealthy habits, even if they may be unintentional.

It is perfectly okay to ask for help when we need it. Learning and growing are continuous cycles that never stop. Just as the seasons in our lives carry on and change, how we take care of ourselves should adjust alongside these changes. Surely, we would all agree that matters that bothered us when we were children probably don’t have the same effect on us today. Similarly, our reactions to events that do bother us in the present day are different from the reactions that we had when we were children. These are two simple examples of behavioral growth but their cores should have an application in all areas of our lives, especially our mental health. When we take care of our minds, we allow the rest of our bodies to function smoothly. Peace comes from within but to find it, we have to go out and seek it.

In this life, there is no formula for happiness. We must attend to ourselves when we are weak so we can find the right help and regain control. It is a step we can take to prevent us from being so caught up in one emotion that it starts to impact our ability to stay centered. Regardless of the chit-chat that we may hear on the outside, we are not machines and our meaning is not based on productivity. Yes, it is important to do well in our endeavors but equally important is taking care of ourselves so that we have the capacity to do well in the first place. Not listening to our minds slowly eats at our energy. The continuous draining takes away from our other bodily responses and the end result is often disastrous. In times of distress, we must be careful to not be too hard on ourselves. Living in the past only brings more sorrow, and we can’t move on without first moving up. I believe there are a lot of perspectives to be gained when things don’t go our way. We can learn and move on or ignore the issues and let the cycle continue. The learning process is a long journey, and it is okay to make mistakes along the way. Provided that we stay committed to the end goal, it is absolutely possible to see genuine improvement in our thoughts, feelings and actions.

I know for me, I was more or less in a stable state of mind before admitting that I had problems that needed fixing. Believing that I could eventually handle them on my own, I ignored them and they accumulated. Crippling heartache was masked with a smile. Blacking out became habitual. My parents would tell me they were headed off to yet another funeral, but I wasn’t worried. I was fine. Everything was fine; and I used every outlet possible to provide any form of distraction. Comfort food, social media, parties, drinking, shopping sprees; you name it, and I had an unhealthy relationship with it.

Ironically enough, I was giving other people advice that I should have been practicing in my own life. I was fully committed to a “one-man army” mentality and didn’t want to burden others with my issues. Very quickly, these unchecked traumas caught up with me and I completely lost my sense of self. My behaviors became reckless and self-destructive, with each decision being more f****d up than the last. Weekends were spent lounging in escapism — running away from life’s problems with hopes of the sadness never catching up. Rooted in degeneracy and selfishness, doing anything to numb the pain became second nature, no matter how irresponsible the decisions were. This willful and continued ignorance only made things worse, and exhaustion and regret were my only feelings. Time spent alone brought a distinct level of happiness because I knew it was impossible to bring senseless harm to others.

Looking through the mirror, I would hate what I saw back. I was running around hurting the people I cared about, running around neglecting and ruining meaningful relationships. As humans we all make mistakes, but when you continually hurt the people that care about you in such a manner that the remorse hurts you, then certainly there are deeper rooted issues that should be addressed on the inside. I despised the circumstances that I put myself in but didn’t do anything to change them, and this is where the true problem lied.

When you create your own problems, you have the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself and your decision-making. Being in the wrong provides much time for reflection. I spent a lot of time in my own head and could feel my very own existence turning its back on me. None of my actions were justified, and I thought that the best way to get rid of the problem was to eliminate the source. If situations like these arise, we can rationalize our choices and continue the crash course or we can take the first step in making a change. One mistake doesn’t define us, but repeated, detrimental behaviors bring unnecessary pain to people that don’t deserve it. Every decision we make affects ourselves and other people. Trust between individuals comes at an extremely high price, and months’ worth of friendship, respect, appreciation and camaraderie can be snapped in an instant. Apologies are just floating words if our actions don’t match them, and good intentions can only take us so far.

For anyone who may be struggling, it’s okay to not be okay. Necessary components to moving forward include forgiving ourselves, being gentle with our emotions and letting go, but we also have to make the effort to do better. We can’t run away forever. Being honest with ourselves and knowing when we can’t handle any more alone is critical, and it is beneficial to both ourselves and the people around us. Getting help is not a sign of weakness. Rather it’s a sign of strength, and it’s the right decision to make. With a community that cares about you, there’s no reason to fight alone. The pain can be avoided and it doesn’t have to spread to other people. Please get help if you need it — it is so worth it to see yourself win.


24/7 UCC Talkline: 574-631-TALK (8255)

UCC After Hours & Weekends: 574-631-7336

Text HOME to 741741 for Crisis Text Line

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255


Joshua Quaye


Jan. 18

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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