BY REBECCA HEILWEIL, editor-in-chief
Originally, I planned to write about the use of words, and their relationship to conversations on mental health. I had intended this Sunday letter to be a natural progression of what I had discussed last week. Following an analysis of story-telling and sharing narratives, I thought it would be interesting to write about the on-going discussions and arguments looking at what words we choose to use (and not use) in these discussions. What is PC? Who should decide? What exactly does it mean to be a safe space?
Yet, I feel compelled to write about something else.
Usually, when I suffer from anxiety, which often bleeds into my personality, I struggle to find its cause. While I reach the zenith of my mental discomfort, my mind struggles to locate a specific trigger. Often, the search is in vain; there is nothing. After all, my anxiety, more often than not, is irrational. This is what makes the discomfort so frustrating. In the end, it is a few hours lost in my mind to nothing but inanity, and then I can return to my normal life.
But rational anxiety, rational emotion, can offer a challenging alternative position, especially for those who are concerned about their mental health. Comparing bouts of inexplicable sadness to emotions that are actually deserved is, in some ways, internally awkward. If you are predisposed to being angry because of a mental condition, and someone behaves in a way that legitimately warrants being angry, you’re in a somewhat strange position.
The rational and irrational mix. They diffuse.
It’s odd to investigate what feels like a burning in your brain, especially one that results from the way people interact with your body. They teach us these two realms are separate. I often wonder whether this approach is too inter-sectional to be useful (though I can’t be answering that question here).
You wonder whether your emotions are authentic, and are more likely to question your actual feelings. Is this something to medicate? Do I have a right to have this response? Am I being paranoid? Am I being too emotional? Is something wrong with me? Am I over-thinking?
I find these concerns most clear at collegiate social environments. Parties can sometimes feel like a war-zone, at others a safe-haven, separate of academic and familial obligation. Either perception, and any in between, is acceptable, and is human.
There has been some discussion of university party cultures, sexual harassment, sexual objectification, and sexual assault. This discourse, however, usually orients itself with an “after-the-fact” frame. These conversations look to answer questions of how we ought to deal with trauma or mental health concerns resulting from sexual assault.
Even parties themselves are difficult, sometimes. Music is loud. People are chatting, screaming, probably inebriated and unrestrained. Emotions are flowing, and everyone is excited and angsty. Sometimes, we fight. As young twenty-somethings, we all think we have something to say. People are also touchy, insensitive. Things are said, and things are done that shouldn’t be.
Not too long ago, my best friend and I left a party feeling gross and uncomfortable, carrying analogous pits in our stomachs. While our peers continued to jovially laugh and sing, celebrating the weekend, we stared solemnly away. A collection of distributing moments had left bad tastes in our mouths, involving boys who were our friends and who we liked.
These boys apologized when we asked, but we still felt nauseous.
Slowly, we shared our memories, remembering how his tone felt ugly. The way he touched me. How he said it like that. The way he looked at us, all us girls together. Reminding us to take another sip. Asking us if there was anything more we wanted, when it seemed clear that he was the one who wanted something. Remember what she said about him? We skipped more graphic descriptions of what had happened, but there was common understanding.
The concern spilled over into the following morning, where we could not help but feel simultaneously angry and helpless. We weren’t quite scared, but we didn’t quite feel strong, either.
After all, weren’t we just being irrational? We had a list of seven or so complaints, moments that felt so strange. Weren’t these just minutes we did not want to relive? We should move on. Maybe stretching a few sentences into larger political or social statements was silly. It was useless. Perhaps our attempts to change our system, with whatever agency we had, were too sanitizing for the college environment we were privileged enough to be a part of.
How could this be affecting us so much?
But these emotions are important. They are not trauma resultant from a rape, but they are the same sort of feeling, on a much lower scale. Our bodies were not our own. Our voices were constantly interrupted, and we felt unwelcome. We felt trivial. We felt responsible, for feeding into those notions and sticking together.
We left to take a moment to breathe, to re-articulate our thoughts.
People complained that we celebrated our identity as younger girls too much, and that we were too dramatic. We demanded too much attention. But in truth, at an event mostly filled with males, and lubricated by alcohol, I did not feel comfortable dancing by myself. We wondered that maybe we attached so much to our group identity, defined by age and gender, because otherwise, we’d be alone.
Maybe that was scary. Or maybe, perhaps, we were engaging in too much psychoanalysis.
For the following hours and days, our minds remained nervous and skeptical of the people surrounding us. Even if we knew we were physically safe, we didn’t feel safe. As someone incredibly susceptible to what can be debilitating anxiety, my mind was stuck in autopilot.
I needed time alone, to think, to write. I needed time to wonder and let my stomach settle. It’s a state I don’t let many others see. It’s my state of being alone.
My friend could not get thoughts of anger and frustration out of her head. The weekend was strange, uncomfortable to remember.
We would avoid thinking about it.
We hated it could drive us into such disarray.
Rebecca Heilweil is the editor-in-chief of Beautiful Minds Magazine. Photography by Reece Sisto.