This is not an article I would ever want to write. It is not an article anyone would want to read. It’s not an article this blog would ever want to publish.
As I’m sure all of us are now aware, our community was hit with an incredible tragedy this week. In two days, we have lost two of our fellow Wildcats. These people were our classmates and our friends. They were a part of a school we all take great pride in, and to put the impact of these events into words would require an ability I do not possess. Perhaps it cannot even be done. But if these words can have a positive impact on a single person within the community that Sherman Ave attempts to speak for and with, then I believe there is a certain obligation to publish them.
My initial thought when I first heard the news, outside of shock and sadness, was complete disbelief. By all accounts, these were two beautiful young people with bright futures and compassionate hearts. The thought that they would want to end their lives is disturbing and painfully sad. We all often want to know why, and when there is no explanation to be found on the surface, we assume there isn’t one to be found anywhere.
Experience has taught me personally, however, that what goes on inside our heads can have more of an impact on our lives than what happens to us from the outside. Our thoughts can turn even the smallest occurrences into agonizing, life-altering events. It is my belief that the human spirit can withstand horrible trials so long as it knows when these trials will end. In the case of mental illness, it is almost impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is part of life, and it’s a part that can be difficult if not impossible to communicate to those around us.
As a brief, but important, aside, I was recently diagnosed with anxiety disorder and depression. I’m extremely fortunate; my case is mild and treatable. Many of my fellow students, however, are not so lucky. I do not raise this point to shine a light on mental illness; one of my fellow writers has done a masterful job of that already. I bring it up only to reiterate to any reader who may be struggling that you are not alone, and that the problem is not, by any stretch of the imagination, your fault. There are more of your fellow human beings struggling with mental illness than you may think. It is simply oftentimes impossible to know who among us is fighting more demons than they can handle.
I believe our society is beginning to understand more and more the significance of the human brain. From our professional sports to our armed forces, we are seeing that it is incredibly fragile and prone to damage, and that this damage can lead a seemingly ‘great’ life to devolve into a personal hell. Our brain chemistry can color our experiences in ways that are unimaginable from the outside.
With this in mind, I would like to conclude this essay with a few thoughts that have occurred to me many times in the past three years. At Northwestern, we are hopelessly busy people. We cram a semester’s worth of knowledge into a 10-week period populated by two or more sets of midterms. We have a natural inclination to be involved on campus. The post-grad career culture begins to consume us even as freshmen, when we are told that every summer is crucial to attaining a good career and a happy life after college. I believe that it is a particularly overwhelming and difficult environment.
That being the world we all live in, I think we should also be mindful of the incredibly positive impact every one of us can make in the lives of our fellow Wildcats, and even our fellow human beings. We debate the effectiveness of CAPS and mourn when tragedies such as these rock our campus. But I worry that we forget what kind of impact something simple such as an out-of-the-blue text from a friend can have. Or a smile from a stranger on Sheridan. Or even a small compliment. No one can expect all people to manage their own complex lives while also always looking out for everyone they know. But it’s certainly reasonable to assume we have the power to get out of our comfort zones, just a little, to lift each other up in some small way. I don’t know what difference that would have made in these cases, but I do know it can make a difference to someone, and that counts for something.
These actions sound inane, but my belief, supported by my experience, tells me they have an impact. And therefore, I believe we have a certain responsibility to do these things. Life is difficult enough without us as humans making it harder on each other.