Op-Ed: No time for troubles

Tuesday, October 25, 2016 - 4:23pm

Seeing the classic call me when you get a sec text from my stepdad Tuesday morning, I knew my day was about to get much worse. Walking out of East Hall to a quiet place to call him back felt like a lifetime. I was soon informed of a series of events that led to my mom in the ICU after her salt levels fell dangerously low sometime late Monday night. She had tremors, couldn’t speak and her doctors were concerned about possible brain damage from the drastic change in equilibrium. After I hung up the phone with my stepdad, uncertain about the true gravity of my mother’s physical state, all I could think about was how lucky I was that it was raining and my tears would be hidden as I walked back to my apartment.

Upon arriving home, I had exactly one hour to bawl my eyes out, collect myself to continue on with my day and make myself presentable. All my friends were in class, so I was very much alone with only thoughts of the worst-case scenarios. Even worse, I felt guilty for feeling sad and spending so much time thinking about how my mom was doing because I had homework to do and office hours to attend.

Though my mom will be fine and was released from the hospital on Monday with high hopes for her mental capacity after a bit of therapy, I can't help but question my instinct to hide emotions and attempt to power through my classes and extracurriculars like nothing ever happened. There is something about the college environment and fast-paced lifestyle of trying to succeed in life that seems to be incompatible with, well, life.

The activities and classes we have to complete to advance ourselves into a future career hinder our ability to live as human beings and experience pain in the ways that are necessary to carry on with the day. How could I continue learning organic chemistry and taking care of the cells in lab and volunteering if I wasn't capable of taking care of myself and my own mental state first? I couldn't; I was dysfunctional and my work ethic suffered. I should’ve taken the time to allow myself to cope with the realities of my family life before I continued trying to go about my school life. However, this is easier said than done.

These hindering pains in life don’t have to be catastrophic either. Seemingly insignificant hiccups can have negative consequences for our everyday lives. I can't tell you how much time I have wasted on being upset after getting a point off one quiz. Sometimes it takes hours for me to truly grasp the fact that the one point I lost out of 400 will not be likely to hurt my grade. But this is the environment we live in, one focused on achieving and striving, sometimes forgetting about simply living and surviving.

We walk around each and every day together on this campus, each with our own problems and thoughts, unaware of what the people around us are feeling or experiencing. I doubt any of the people I encountered over the past week would’ve guessed I was struggling internally and, in their defense, I tried my best to hide any indication that something could be wrong. As human beings, we should allow ourselves to break down sometimes, to be dysfunctional, even with the most mundane of things.

We should allow ourselves to experience the pain and stress of our lives and not drown in responsibility. We should actively create an environment — not only for ourselves, but also for others — where mental health and emotional well-being are just as important as the grades and accolades we strive to achieve.

Caitlin Heenan is a senior opinion editor at The Michigan Daily.