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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Finding a voice

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few days and haven’t heard, it’s Mental Illness Awareness Week.

As the News Editor for this paper, this is a hard story for me to cover, because journalism (ideally) requires a certain level of objectivity that proves hard to maintain when the stakes are high and the writer is personally invested. And when we’re talking about mental illness, the stakes are incredibly high, and I’m more than personally invested.

For several years, I’ve struggled with anorexia and depression. It’s not something I talk about often, but I’ve watched it prevent me from being as happy and as successful as I could otherwise be. More than that, I’ve let my own shame prevent me from helping others that I see struggling because I’m too afraid to talk about my own history and ongoing illness.

That needs to end.

When I see people clearly going through a difficult time in their life, I want to shake them and tell them it’s okay to get help if they need it. I want to tell them that we can’t fix the seemingly insurmountable problem of mental illness unless people are willing to talk about it. I want to tell them that I know, because I know. I’ve been there.

But I struggle to reconcile my firmly held belief that this must be tackled head-on with my intense fear of vulnerability.

So I think it’s time to start being honest: Some days are really, really hard. I’m lucky to be surrounded by truly wonderful people, but there are days when I cannot bring myself to go to class. There are days when I feel extremely isolated and alone. And there are days when I question why I’m even at Notre Dame. I’m not smart enough. I’m not pretty enough. I’m not good enough.

I love this University, but I know as well as anyone that it can be an environment that exacerbates existing anxieties and disorders that people live with, and it can lead others who have never experienced them to develop them.

What worries me most on this campus is the pervasive thought that getting help means giving up; that it means you’re not strong enough to handle what everyone else can deal with so easily. Let me assure you: personal weakness has nothing to do with it. Having the self-awareness to realize you can’t go it alone requires strength and courage that do not come easily.

I can’t say what will stop mental illness, and I can’t offer any one solution that can help each individual person. What I can say, though, is that getting help is the best decision I’ve ever made. Working through what I’m dealing with has radically improved my life. Sometimes it sucks, and it’s almost always difficult, but it is so, so worth it.

So now I’m joining the conversation — not as a writer covering the news, but as my own person.

I’ve come to realize that I can’t speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself. It’s about time I did.

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