Tears dripping. Lips trembling. Eyelids swelling. Hands shaking. Shoulders collapsing. Pain oozing. Hopelessness seeping. These are strong students degraded to pure rawness.

Maja Tosic

For far too many, the deterioration of one’s family brings upon their own silent deterioration. From emotional, mental, physical and financial abuse to divorce and parental neglect, these issues are real among the people around you. They are omnipresent circumstances that have become embedded in too many bloodstreams.

Behind hidden doors quivers a shadow of being, a sliver of what used to exist. But in the open, tears are wiped away and lips are steady. Eyelids are rested. Hands are calm. Shoulders are poised. Pain and hopelessness are invisible, but never obliterated.

Walls of sturdy homes are covered with photographs of perfectly posed and happy families. Houses are clean and fresh-cut grass lies as a welcome mat. At the restaurant table, pleasant conversations are rotated among the mouths of smiling faces. But beyond all this lies another unnamed reality. What do you call a family emergency that haunts you every day and every night behind closed doors?

Immeasurable amounts of students walk through this campus with the reality of a traumatic family and home life lurking too close for comfort. Although Ann Arbor is a common home we all return to at the end of the day, many are still dangerously tied to their other homes. For these students, the threat of a distressing phone call is always within reach. The need to become a parent when you’re born as a child is always pressing. For many, breaks from school are not a period of relaxation. “Family time” is not something looked forward to. For those that surround you, coming back to school is a time of self-healing and recovery. Despite the physical distance between a student and their families, the attachment is always strong enough to saturate one’s mind with difficult concerns.

But how do you worry…
How do you protect…
How do you comfort…
How do you empower…
How do you act…
…when you are hundreds of miles away?

Such unanswerable questions silently poison numerous minds. These concerns and troubling situations are shunned and never to be detected.

The topic of imperfect and painful families is unspoken. Hurt and concern are forced to settle densely into the depths of one’s consciousness. True emotions are suppressed from view and barred from entrance into friendly exchanges. To reveal the truth of one’s life is often seen as damaging. We have come to believe that the words “broken” and “dysfunctional” will be a reflection of our attributes. We dangerously assume that a seemingly perfect and happy family extends a positive message of our character. And an unhappy family must send the opposite message; one of weakness and shame.

Currently, the only perceived acceptable place to dwell on such topics is at counseling services. However, danger lies in reserving our honesty and vulnerability for the therapist’s couch.

Conversations with friends often remain on a level much higher than the depth of one’s pain. Infinite amounts of courage and trust are needed to honestly and vulnerably talk to friends. The fear of becoming tainted prevents many from reaching out to others. And the same fear also prevents people from entering the therapist’s room. Therefore, many have become stuck in silence. Without anywhere to turn to except the private corners of one’s existence, students are crumbling with too much pain to bear. The pressure to remain silent and seemingly content is suffocating.

We are denied true human connection and understanding as we move further into a culture that silences and shames our pain. We cannot know how to process, empathize and support each other when we live in agonizing isolation. Break the silence and become whole again.

Maja Tosic can be reached at tosimaj@umich.edu.

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