Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Lasting Impact of Nao’s Tale

After Ruth Ozeki’s presentation last week, it is important to remember that Go Big Read book selections continue to have a lasting impact on our campus. A Tale for the Time Being has become a platform for positive campus-wide discussion around mental health issues and suicide, something that Ozeki herself hoped would happen. These conversations raise awareness and serve as reminders to take care of ourselves and our community. One student has chosen to share personal reactions to the book from the perspective of someone who has struggled with anxiety and suicidal thoughts. This student’s story reminds us that while Nao is a fictional character, her experiences are certainly very real for many young adults. This student story also speaks to the message that seeking help changes lives for the better.

If you or a friend is struggling, call University Health Services at (608) 265-5600, select option 9 for our 24-hour mental health crisis line. Help is always available. Remember, Umatter.  

----- Begin student reaction ----- 

Nao held onto her suicide as a way of coping with her uncertainties in life. It makes sense. I can't stand uncertainty either, and I had a really hard time accepting the uncertainty that comes with college.

Will I like my roommate?
Will I get into the business school?
Will I stay with my boyfriend or will one of us find someone we like more?
Will I get a job after college?

The list goes on and on. Starting college, I wished that I could just know the answers. It kept me up at night. Questions circled round my head all hours of the day. I never felt at peace. I couldn't stand still, couldn't relax, and always had headaches. 

It only got worse as my freshman year stretched on. I was worried about a lot of things, but most of all, I feared what happened when someone dies. During my senior year of high school, a girl in my grade committed suicide. I had never understood what it really meant to feel haunted until that day in 2011. I would wake up convinced that she was standing in my room, watching me. As I would try to fall asleep, I imagined her hovering over me, whispering into my ear. I couldn't escape it, and I couldn't understand why she would do it. Why would anyone willfully take away their own life?

Well, as my anxiety raged on, I started to understand. I was so worried about the future; wouldn't it just be easier if I had no future? Those worries would all go away. I would go away. I, like Nao, could just hang onto the idea of suicide as a form of comfort. "Oh, it doesn't matter; I won't be around much longer anyway."

Lucky for me, as soon as these thoughts entered my mind, I pictured my school the day after that girl died. I'm sure while she was standing on those tracks that night in 2011, she had no idea how many lives her actions were about to affect. She touched everyone at our school, from her best friends to those freshmen that were pretty sure they had passed her in the hallway a few times. Her death broke us. Any one of us would have given anything to have her back in school again. You see, she was loved. She may not have felt it, she may have been told contrary, she may have convinced herself that she was utterly alone. It didn't matter. She was loved. We loved her.

Thinking back on those weeks after her death reminds me of the value of a life. We had such an aversive reaction to her death - it must be because we are made to live! As social beings, we need to rely on one another. And when someone takes themselves out of the game, it affects all the players. 

After my freshman year, I got help for my anxiety. I was diagnosed with Generalize Anxiety Disorder, and started seeing a therapist at UHS. Those hours we spent together changed my life. I understand that life will always have uncertainties, and I'm working on embracing them. Now, I'm running into life, not hiding from it. And although I still have bad days, overall I'm much happier. For the time being, and hopefully for much longer than that, too. 

Are you a student who is passionate about suicide prevention or mental health promotion? Do you want to work to end stigma surrounding mental health issues on our campus? Check out ASK.LISTEN.SAVE. to connect with student engaged in these efforts or email to learn more.

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