Stepping up for ourselves

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Take it from me, a girl currently procrastinating a seven page paper by writing this article, when I say that this is one of the most stressful times of the semester. Right before holiday tunes start blaring over the loudspeakers of the local Macy’s preaching that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” I think it should be necessary for a hip new artist to create a similarly catchy jingle. One that replaces “wonderful” with “chaotic,” “stressful,” “hectic,” the list could go on but I’ll let this hip new artist take creative liberties. So, as the collective student body starts migrating to the library in hopes that they’ll find sanctuary in the silence of C-Level, the Mental Health StepUp Mules athletic presentation came at the perfect time.

Unlike the two-dimensional sheet of paper the athletes were given last year which attempted (and arguably, failed) to encapsulate every possible mental health scenario in a flimsy piece of printer paper, the program invited a speaker to present for the athletes this year. A lovely and strong 20 year old woman named Kristen from Minding Your Mind spoke to the women athletes. The difference between last year’s impersonal and generalized mental health presentation is almost incomprehensible when compared to this year’s inspiring and uplifting personal presentation. She voluntarily opened up to a room full of women her age which is no doubt a terrifying task. I mean, hey, I can barely raise my hand in class when the topic is as mundane as Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Kristen stated that she had been carrying around a metaphorical invisible backpack full of rocks, each of which represented a weight of an emotion or a problem she had decided to face alone. But then something changed: she decided to let someone help her. At first this seems simple, elementary even, but asking for help or sharing one’s secrets can feel often like an admittance of defeat. In comparison to last year’s presentation which only touched on depression and suicide, her presentation acknowledged the several manifestations of mental illness: depression, suicide, anxiety, eating disorders, self- harm, isolation and the list goes on. This inclusion is vital to a proper mental health presentation; limiting the conversation is then denying individual experiences which don’t fit the ones presented. The topic of mental health is expansive and it would be isolating to restrict the conversation to only certain experiences.

As I was listening to Kristen’s story, I was reminded of a quote from the poem “Goat Hour Gospel (Such Salvage)” by Mark Wagenaar: “each night, across the country, people turn up at hospitals/ unable to speak, for the needle or nail lodged/ in their throats. They’re unable to explain why, but we know—/ that desperate mix of need & panic that can drive us to keep something safe/ for good.” But Kristen begs us to let the rocks fall from our invisible backpack, to unlodge these secrets from our throats.

During her presentation, one that revealed her struggles that seemed incomprehensible to me, she bravely told us that we should not compare the difficulties in our lives to those of others. Even if the rock weighing us down is simply stress from a five minute assignment, that stress is still valid. So, before this hip new artist creates that pre-holiday jam about this stressful time of year, Kristen asks us all to reach out and help ourselves.

It may seem safe to keep everything to ourselves but it can also be self-destructing. Allow yourself to help yourself; as Kristen stated halfway through her presentation, “We have to be our own self-advocates.”

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