Crooked

Excerpts from the full essay, Crooked

The priest is very old, and very kind. His name is Nicholas. What brings you here today? I swallow. I’m thinking of joining the Church. It feels weird just saying it. It really is a small room. Why? Catholic social teaching mostly – the values of human dignity and care for creation, in particular. I feel like I am here to do more than I am. I feel lost. He nods. I feel like you would be a great candidate to join the Church. We talk a bit about Notre Dame. He gives me a few book recommendations and I thank him.

That weekend I make the mile trek over to West Loop to attend mass at Old St. Patrick’s. It is a feast for the eyes. The statue of St. Patrick at the front, with a clover in his hand, makes my heart swell a little bit. I’d been thinking about Ireland every day since I left. I duck in the back and sit next to a large family. I have never been to mass by myself. I have never felt this anonymity.

I begin the RCIA process, a course that I refer to as ‘Sunday school.’ They are Sunday morning sessions during which we are taught the basics of Catholicism, fundamental beliefs, stories of the saints and living according to the Word and the catechism. Each session bleeds into another. At my second session, Brett says something that will serve as the background to my faith journey and my final year at Notre Dame. God paints straight with crooked lines. I was brought to this point, sitting in RCIA, through a series of events that only make sense retrospectively. Something brought you here today. Jesus brought you here today. I think about my turning point – seeking out to attend mass by myself. Going to mass as a way to find peace from intense shifts in my life.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

I begin to feel like a fraud. I attend every RCIA session but I am not absorbing anything. I look around at my classmates. Are they feeling something I’m not feeling? I begin to pray through my journaling. I don’t feel like that’s enough. I really want to develop my relationship with Jesus but He feels far away. I can’t seem to focus on much other than relationship conflicts. I am learning about a doctrine of love and all I can see is anger and ugliness around me.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

I address most of my prayers to Mary. She knows how it feels to make impossible and life-changing decisions. I find comfort in that. I have had to make a number of those. I learn the rosary and it becomes my chosen method for deep prayer. For someone with anxiety, the repetition is soothing. I am not sure if I feel closer to Jesus, but I do feel closer to Mary.

We are all called to be saints. I do not have to do extraordinary things to be a saint. Even smiling at a stranger brings me closer. I choose the little way.

God paints straight with crooked lines.

Are you ready to say yes to God?

 

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Trigger warnings

Note: This post calls for gun control. If you disagree with anything likely said here or if you want to let me know about your 2nd Amendment rights, I respect your opinions and hope you will find it possible to respect mine. I thought a lot about whether or not to write this piece, but ultimately decided to take the risk. 

There has been a lot of talk in the media about mental illness and gun violence. In the aftermath of any tragic event, people want a scapegoat. It is the easiest way to try and understand the action and reassure themselves by having a clear person or reason to point a finger at. This is an understandable and completely human reaction.

There are some politicians and news outlets that have been freely using the phrase “mentally ill” when describing the perpetrators of mass shootings. While it is true that some of this violence has been committed by those with a severe mental illness, it is not true that all were mentally ill. Yet, this is the perspective that most people take without understanding the whole picture or realizing the damage that it wrecks on those who live with mental illness and the mental health system itself.

It seems like people want to talk mental illness and guns a lot lately. Well, let’s talk.

First, no research has “reliably established that most mass murderers and shooters are psychotic or even suffering from a serious mental illness…Individual case studies often reveal paranoid themes in these persons’ cognitions. The paranoia may not rise to the level of psychosis; however, many are found to be preoccupied with feelings of social persecution and fantasies of revenge against their perceived tormentors” (Knoll, Annas 2016).

Second, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides. However, the majority of yearly-gun related deaths are deaths by suicideIn 2010, 19,392 people took their own lives with a gun, while 11,078 who were killed by others (Drexler, Harvard Public Health). In a 2008 study by Miller and David Hemenway, states with the highest rates of gun ownership had suicide rates 3.7 times higher for men and 7.9 times higher for women, although the rates the of non-firearm suicides were about the same.

It’s not that those who own guns are more likely to be mentally ill or suicidal. Only a small portion of gun owners say they have attempted suicide. It’s that they are more likely to die if they were to become suicidal because of their access to a gun. Around 85% of suicide attempts with a firearm will end in death. Compare this to drug overdose which is fatal in less than 3% of cases.

Not only do current gun laws fail to protect the public against shooters, including the 17 lives lost in the recent Florida shooting, but they fail to protect people from themselves. I am not suggesting that tighter gun laws will eradicate suicide – this is a farce because, albeit sadly, there are numerous ways to take one’s own life. Tighter gun laws will make it more difficult to obtain a firearm, which both limits those who are looking to commit violence and those who looking to commit suicide. Death by firearm is the most effective way of committing suicide – a reality that cannot be ignored.

Third, the media branding of the mentally ill as “insane” or “crazy” only further stigmatizes mental illness. Stigma is a complex issue that could take books (or hundreds of papers) to try and explain, but I’ll be focusing on self-stigma here. Self-stigma occurs when people with mental illness internalize stigma experience diminished self-esteem and self-efficacy. Much of the research on self-stigma is based on a model by Link (Link, 1987; Link & Phelan, 2001). Link’s work showed that self-stigma begins from childhood conceptualizations that reflect lay beliefs about mental illness, i.e. film and media depicting the mentally ill as unstable, violent or inhuman. This conceptualization continues into adult life, with many people devaluing themselves, leading to decreased self-esteem. This interferes with the pursuit of rehabilitative goals such as living independently and medical goals such as pursuing professional psychological/psychiatric services. The mental health system has its flaws – I have seen some of them first hand. However, with incorrect or one-sided representations of the mentally ill on the media has the negative effect of preventing some from seeking help. It makes sense – if being mentally ill can mark someone as “crazy,” then why would that person admit that he or she had a mental illness and obtain proper treatment and support?

Finally, my mental illness is my experience. It is something that I am allowed to keep to myself and not divulge to others if I did not want to. To me, the only way to keep those with mental illness from obtaining a firearm is to somehow make private medical records public. After all, gun sellers are supposed to run a background check on potential buyers – would my or someone else’s diagnosis be available on that background check? If we’re going to talk about rights, then I have a right to keep my medical records private. No stranger should have the ability to bar me from doing something based on a diagnosis he or she is not privy to. Where does the line get drawn? Would it be anyone with a diagnosed mental illness, or only those that have been hospitalized, or only those who take psychiatric medications? Would it be all of the above? Is it fair to single out all who are mentally ill and label them a potential public danger? 

I have nothing against legally owning and purchasing firearms if it is done through the proper channels. I do not know the right way to draft and implement gun control. All I know is that the current conversation on mental illness and gun violence is not comprehensive and leaves out more than I am comfortable with.

A lot of people want to talk mental illness and guns. Let’s talk. Let’s talk about gun-related suicides and stigma and privacy. People need to hear it.

 

 

 

 

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Letting go of the label

I don’t have anything profound to say about the past year. I’m not even going to pretend like I do, because it was a mess. It was a special kind of mess. It was one of those years that forces you to change. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I hate change more than anything. I didn’t have much of a choice. I faked it till I made it and after a while I didn’t have to fake it anymore.

My close friend recently shared a quote with me when I was feeling a little lost about what direction to go this year. It’s a well-known line attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald but actually belongs to the screenwriter of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that you’ve probably heard before. It goes like this:

“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

This past year made me stronger and more independent, but it also made me hurt and made me doubt myself. Relationships ended and mistakes were made. In the past week, I’ve made decisions to remove toxic people and habits from my life, danced around in my underwear to Taylor Swift’s reputation, noticed my tummy rolls while I was bent in humble warrior during daily yoga practice and I smiled and said ‘F*** it I LOVE you soft belly!’ This year, I am going to start all over again. 

My mom says that if you don’t see yourself as a good and worthy human then how can anyone else see you as such? I think that’s true. Proverb 31:10-31 is my favorite one and asks the question ‘Who can find a woman of worth?’ I can’t say that I have magically found my direction. I would like to find a job or fall in love, and I am ready to believe that I am a woman of worth, one that is worthy of good things.

A lot of that comes from my time at the Carriage House. The Clubhouse organization has surprised me and impressed me, and it is one that I want to advocate for until the day I die (dramatic, I know). It inspired a project that makes me especially excited for the year ahead.

I am working with a dear friend on the ‘I Am’ campaign, a project aimed at adapting people-first language for those living with mental illness. The purpose is to put ‘people first, illness second.’ While I was at the Carriage House, I knew that all the members had a diagnosed mental illness but I didn’t actually know what each individual member had. I never identified people as ‘Ah, Don with the schizophrenia’ or ‘bipolar Katie.’ It was ‘Don, who loves government and politics’ or ‘Katie who has the winning smile.’ For a place dedicated towards mental illness recovery and community, we rarely talked about mental illness.

Before I learned about the Clubhouse model, I needed my label. My diagnosis was an integral part of who I was, perhaps the most important part. Somewhere in a doctor’s office was a file that said ‘Susan Zhu: generalized anxiety disorder and moderate to major depressive.’ When I couldn’t get out of bed for a few days, it was because I was depressed. When I felt like I couldn’t breathe, it was because I had anxiety. It was easier to live my life under the guise of my label. I thought I was nothing without it. I dedicated my life to mental health awareness because I wanted to make sure people knew that mental illness was common and it could affect anyone.

I defined myself by my diagnosis. I thought that was the correct thing to do. But after meeting with members who grew their self-confidence and self-esteem and self-efficacy, my foundation began to crumble. Was I contributing to the prejudice and ‘othering’ of those with mental illness by emphasizing my own illness? I was smart, kind and thoughtful in spite of my illness. Could I be smart, kind, thoughtful and anxious or depressed? It was as if all of my good traits existed in the background of my illness instead of my illness existing in the background.

The point of the ‘I am’ campaign is to change the rhetoric from ‘I am mentally ill’ to ‘I have a mental illness.’ No longer should a diagnosis or label be the defining factor of a person. I no longer want to live in the shadow of my label, and I don’t think anyone else should either. 

I am hoping that the campaign will also adjust the stigma towards mental illness. People with mental illness are still people, and it pains me that I still have to say that because many people still struggle with accepting it.

On a lighter note, I am excited to announce the revamping of my blog Instagram. I will be posting about the ‘I am’ campaign as well as bits and pieces normally found on lifestyle blogs. You can follow me on @_thisisshe__ (there are two dashes at the end).

 

 

The light in me honors the light in you, 

Sus 

 

 

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Bouncing back

Three years ago, I sat on a grey chair at the University Counseling Center, waiting to meet with my counselor J for what would be the first time. I was extremely nervous; while I had known for a while that I should seek professional help, I was unwilling to. I had told my parents the previous spring that I was starting to lose it and over the next few months I assumed that by some grace of God I had healed myself.

Well, I hadn’t, so here I was. We talked about everything, from my fears of my family moving out of my childhood home to my serious thoughts about transferring. I didn’t leave that first appointment healed, but over the next three years I would find myself returning again and again to that chair, sometimes happy, sometimes extremely depressed, sometimes anxious and sometimes a little lost.

I was thinking about this today when I stopped into a small church to pray the rosary before I left for home. Out of everyone I have met during my time at Notre Dame, it is J who has seen me at my very worst and very best, who met me as a scared and exhausted freshman and will be saying goodbye to a very different senior.

One way that J measures my progress is how I respond to the stressors in my life. If I can respond a bit better each time, then that shows that I am growing stronger. I can tell you how I normally deal with external stress and that is poorly. I become what feels to me like a limp noodle who is so high-functioning that she can finish her assignments and smile at people but can accomplish little else. This gal has had her share of limp noodle days, I tell you, but with each time I try to be a little more al dente (ha!).

The past few weeks have been difficult, sometimes even hellish, to say the least. I felt like the minute I was knocked down and I was beginning to stand up, the ground would be pulled from under me again. I could hardly keep up with it, and the short reprieve from it all during Thanksgiving didn’t feel like enough. On what should have been an incredibly happy and blessed day, and it still was, for the most part, I found myself curled up in a ball in my room bawling. I have always struggled with my self-worth, and was shocked by events that afternoon that reminded me that people could still be needlessly cruel. I felt like everything I had precariously built back up had toppled, and it is something I am still grappling with weeks later. While it may be true that some need to tears others down and feel no remorse, I want to speak up for the people who get torn down and voice that there are ramifications. There is hopelessness, there is emptiness and there is heartbreak. There have been moments when I felt like I was a stranger in my own apartment. There have been moments when I woke up and knew that if I wasn’t careful that day then I may need to check myself into a hospital the next morning. There have been moments when I wished desperately that I had transferred a year ago when I still had the opportunity. My life is so different right now than what it was last year this time, and some days I really truly hated it. There were a lot of moments.

When you get into a spiral like that, it is extremely difficult to see good. It is during these moments that I am eternally grateful that three years ago I sat on a chair and introduced myself to J. Despite the fact that these things still happen, and I still hurt and struggle and fight, I have bounced back a little faster each time. One of my dear friends pointed out the same conclusion to me last week, saying that I am a stronger, more resilient and older person than I was last year, that while things set me back, they would have utterly destroyed me then.

I am proud and grateful that I still sit in that gray chair once a week three years later. I am grateful that although it really absolutely stinks sometimes, I know when to step in and intervene for myself. This past year has been a whirlwind of change, and anybody who knows me knows I hate change almost as much as I hate the fact that I can’t drink caffeinated coffee anymore. But every single time, with every single thing that has plowed into me and knocked me over, I have gotten up a little faster. I might not be indestructible, but who is? I no longer find myself bed-ridden as often as I did, and I find myself able to remind myself that damn, can I do this. I can do this. That’s half the battle, really, finding the strength in yourself.

As for those things that can act as band-aids, whether it be people or alcohol or drugs (please, if it’s alcohol or drugs, seek help), they will never be permanent. They will never be the thing you are truly looking for. You aren’t looking for happiness, like you should, you are looking for a fast cure for your loneliness, your sadness or your self-esteem. I promise you that this is true, and it’s been a hard lesson to learn this semester.

One day you’ll wake up, like I did, and remember that version of yourself that was tired and afraid. You’ll remember them and feel grateful for their willingness to keep trying, for their decision not to give up.  You’ll remember it on a snowy day in December running errands or even a sunny day in October, on the day you felt like you found your life’s work. I will always get knocked down. There will always be things that happen that are outside my control. But every time I get up a little faster, a little easier, and I bounce back.

I bounce back.

 

 

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Thank you letters to yourself

I’m sitting at a window seat and the sun is streaming in and it almost feels like I’m at the beach – almost because I wouldn’t normally wear a men’s flannel and socks out by the water. I’ve felt pretty ambivalent about going to college in my hometown, but this year I’ve grown more attached to this state and this city more than I thought I ever could. This place never fails to surprise me. Today I stepped into this sweet store that I’ve driven past several times and it was the coolest place. It’s called Just Goods and it specializes in environmentally friendly and fair trade products. You can find things like beautiful handcrafted mugs, Nepalese prayer flags, female empowerment mugs and dozens of other goodies there. I know I’ll be going back soon to get some of my Christmas shopping done. It wouldn’t be a Susan blog post if I didn’t endorse a local shop or restaurant, would it? Speaking of restaurants, I got to share my favorite spot, Jeannie’s House Diner, by Adams High School, with my best friend and confirmation sponsor, B, for brunch this morning. We both got a late start but the conversation and delicious food (and homemade jam!!) was a fantastic way to start the day. I can always count on B to put a smile on my face.

Okay, you’re probably getting curious about the title of this post and thinking, “Sus, get on with it!” I saw this banner in Just Goods which was made of small cards that said thank you to different things and people – teachers, nature, food, etc. I thought it was so simple but said a great deal. I wanted to take today’s post to talk about giving thanks and gratitude.

At the beginning of last week I was finding it very hard not to lose my mind, let alone be grateful for anything. I’m not sure if you ever feel like *just one thing* away from a complete nervous breakdown, but that was where I was at. My Google search history those few days were pretty odd, going from ‘the best calligraphy pens’ and ‘cats explaining physics’ to ‘symptoms of a nervous breakdown.’

I felt it was important to include this piece because I know I’m not the only one who feels this way at times, and I wanted to make you aware of the symptoms so that you know when to seek help. If you are feeling any of these, please try to utilize the walk-in services at the University Counseling Center. Although it cannot address any issues long-term, it can bring you (hopefully) to a relatively comfortable but more importantly safe place.

Symptoms of a Nervous Breakdown: 

  • Insomnia
  • Depressive symptoms, such as loss of hope and thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts
  • Panic attacks, which include chest pain, detachment from reality and difficulty breathing (these can feel like you are having a heart attack)
  • Anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness and trembling or shaking
  • Flashbacks of a traumatic event
  • Avoiding social functions or engagements
  • Eating poorly
  • Isolating yourself

I am doing much better now, but I am also blessed (cursed?) with being very emotionally aware and experienced with my typical levels of anxiety and depression. Please seek help if you feel like you need it, and especially do not burden yourself with the feeling that it is ‘just stress,’ because even stress can be, well, stressful and debilitating.

I always feel really grateful when I come out of a week like that. I lean on my incredible support system a good deal, and I am especially thankful for their unwavering patience, love and kindness during times when I don’t feel like I deserve it. I feel it more even today as we move into the holiday season and the season of gratitude.

I’m basing this blog post off the banner I saw in Just Goods, and I hope to develop it into an exercise that is a part of my daily prayer practice (another blog post on this to come later!). It is something I am trying and I encourage you to try it is as well. You can write out your thank you’s, as I do here, or actually say ‘Thank you’ to someone special, or include them silently in the comfort of your heart. It’s really up to you.

I’ll include the first ‘thank you’ before we get to the tough stuff.

Thank you to my friends, for meeting me with grace, for making me smile and laugh until my face hurts and I can’t stand it anymore, for letting me collapse, for raising me up when I do, for reminding me that I am beautiful, for being thoughtful, for doing things in the hopes that they could make my lives easier, for this selflessness honestly unprecedented in today’s society, for getting excited about Jesus and faith with me and for being silly even though we are expected to be adults.

The second thank-you should be one to yourself. Sounds odd, doesn’t it? I thought it was odd too, until my counselor walked me through it during a recent session. We get so caught up in being grateful for others, or for experiences and this life, that we can forget about being grateful for our own selves. It’s way easier to think of the ways we fail than of the ways we add value to this world – and trust me, you add incredible value! It was an uncomfortable exercise, having to list the things about myself that I enjoyed, was grateful for and that benefitted others, but in the end I had a physical reminder that I carry with me (every day!) in the moments I feel most insecure and a little lost.

I promise that while it will be really freaking weird to do it, I want you to write that thank you letter to yourself. It isn’t meant to be comfortable, otherwise why would we do it? I put the thank to you to friends first because it’s an easier exercise and it is also a way to illustrate things you like about yourself, because we typically spend the most time with people we admire, are similar to and try to emulate.

That’s my challenge for you this week and over Thanksgiving. I want you to write the easy ‘thank-you’s’, the ones that come naturally, and to also write the tough ones. Write the thank you to yourself. It will be unnatural and strange, but when you finish and read it over, you’ll feel something you may never have felt before. I can remind you every day that you are valuable piece to this gigantic universe and that your voice, personality and smile make it a little more beautiful, but it’s quite another thing when you realize that that’s how you’ve always felt about yourself.

“When I ask you about your first love I am always secretly hoping that you will say your own name. Now wouldn’t that be beautiful – to above else have a heart that was proud of itself.”

The light in me honors the light in you,

Sus 

 

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“Do good”

I’m still processing it all. I’m back at home at my favorite watering hole, The General. I drank coffee every day this week (several times a day, too!), which only added to the magic of it all.

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The Carriage House, Fort Wayne, IN

This past week I had the amazing privilege of sharing my time and heart with the staff and members of the Carriage House. The Carriage House is a Clubhouse in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Clubhouse model is a resource for people in a community who live with a mental illness and/or mental disability. It is a radical model that complements the traditional medical model but also challenges it. The Clubhouse is not your standard in-patient rehabilitation center – there is no coloring or aimless movie-watching here. There is only the work-order day – the entire house, its business and its tasks are carried out by members and staff alike, working side by side. The model builds strength and resilience, and gives members confidence, a safe space and a family. You can find the 37 Clubhouse standards and more information here.

My time here gave me immense joy and happiness that I have not felt in months. I was there for only four days and I still formed bonds with some of the members. A member who was shy on Monday sought me out today to hang out before I left. Seeing her smile and laughing together made my heart happy.

The amazing thing was that all the members at the Carriage House had a diagnosis but it didn’t matter. I didn’t know what the members had; they didn’t know what I had. It didn’t matter. For once, it didn’t matter. A person was a person, not a disease. We had all experienced hopelessness. We had felt helpless. We had all hit rock-bottom. We had all doubted our worth. But above those common understandings, we all had love, and kindness, and joy being with one another. We all worked together, we learned from each other and we spent time together. It was unreal. It was unbelievably special.

On Tuesday I took some me time for self-care and went on a walk around the beautiful Catholic cemetery across the street. I stumbled upon a small shrine for Mary in the rosary garden and sat there for twenty minutes. I closed my eyes and held my palms up, thanking God again and again for this day, this week, this moment and this life. There was a time in my life when I didn’t think I would be alive today. I honestly didn’t think my life would make it to this point. Some say that God paints straight with crooked lines. Somehow, my struggles and triumphs brought me to that moment, a moment where I still lived. He did not intend for my plan to end before I was twenty, and after this week I think I have a better idea of where He intends to bring me.

I felt for the first time an immense calling to serve. For the past few months I have been caught up in a career whirlwind in which I felt unfulfilled and empty. I know logistically that I need to work for a few years before I pursue a Master’s in social work or public health, but eventually I think I am supposed to end up at a place like the Carriage House.

It just felt right. It felt good. It had its tough moments – I really had to own up to my own mental illness. I wear a bracelet that has “I am a survivor” engraved on it to remind me of how precious my life is and how I am a survivor of suicidal thoughts and tendencies. On Tuesday, a member noticed it and asked me what it meant. I explained it to him and he looked at me very thoughtfully and said, “You could be a member here too.” I could. There was a time in my life where a place like the Clubhouse could have been very beneficial, and there may be a time in the future where I will need it. It took months to pick up the pieces of the darkest moments of my mental illness and to see a place that saves lives by building strength and hope – I can’t even say how that makes my heart feel.

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It was incredible to be with twelve other bright and insightful women who were all mad at how mental health is handled in society. After our last wrap-up session, Carriage House’s staff told us that the only thing they asked of us was to go out there and “do good.” We were passionate, empathetic, kind and bright gals, and it was our job to go out and use our abilities to bring good about in whatever we did.

I urge you to think about what makes you emotional – be it angry, happy, hopeful or sad. What can you do about it? It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, and this week showed me the amazing good that a small group of dedicated people can do. Do it. Go out and do good. 

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus

 

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Unfinished products

I’m currently sitting at a shared round table at the General Deli and Cafe in downtown South Bend. I’m actually not sure if this qualifies as “downtown,” but it’s a right on Jefferson off Eddy Street and about a five minute drive from my apartment. It’s a lovely space. The sweet cafes of my summer are a two-hour drive away now but this is a happy second. It was important to note that this table is shared because the nice man across from me is frantically shaking his legs and making the table vibrate. I feel like I’m at an academic hipster rave.

I just had lunch so it’s only a black tea for me today. I’m starting to think that there is a link from my caffeine intake and my anxiety skyrocketing on a near daily basis, so I am taking a break from my hugs in mugs to see if it helps.

Today has been a beautiful day. 

Normally, Sundays start with morning mass at the Basilica. It is a busy crowd but an incredible space. I am so lucky to go to a school with such gorgeous architecture. This particular Sunday started a big step in my faith journey. What’s even more beautiful about this journey is that one of my best friends, B, is my official partner in crime! Campus Ministry at Notre Dame is one-of-a-kind, and it’s led by a fantastic man named Brett. I have never met anyone so full of joy, life and love towards others. Brett helps run my new Sunday meetings, and even though I was quite sleepy today, I still left with a full heart and a mind crammed with thoughts and ideas. My arms, on the other hand, were filled with books; once again, I put my weekend reading off until the night before it was due.

Brett said something today that has been stuck in my head. That’s the main reason I’m finally updating the blog instead of starting in on my reading. I’ll read when I’m dead – that’s how it works, right?

Brett was speaking about his own personal experience with Catholicism and admitted, “I am not a finished product.” 

I thought it was a beautiful statement, and an important one that goes beyond faith and one’s developing relationship with God. These past few weeks have introduced what I like to refer to as “Career Hell.” For a few days I was swimming in its depths not because I really needed to, but because I felt this immense pressure to. Everyone else was talking consulting, case studies, interviews, networking and pantsuits and I felt like I had to be a part of it. Never mind that most of the companies recruiting now were for jobs and fields I was a not part of nor interested in. It took a few days and calls home to feel calmer, remember that I had plenty of time and know that the timelines for my industries were different from the craziness on campus.

I don’t have a problem trying to “sell myself,” and I know it’s a necessary part of the job hunt. However, I was putting an insane amount of stress on myself to present the “perfect product” – a bright, curious college senior with lots of questions and a hefty resume. I was finding that my efforts to create this person was chipping away at my sanity.

Like Brett, I am an unfinished product. These past three weeks back at school have not been perfect, but there have been perfect moments. There have also been happy moments, confusing moments and moments when I couldn’t find any energy to leave my bed. I missed Notre Dame while I was away, first for study abroad and then for the summer, but one thing I didn’t miss was the feeling that I had to once again have it all together. Not to mention that this year I had to have it all together AND figure out what I’m doing after graduation. With the way some people talk about it, I might as well be graduating next week.

I’m mostly writing this because I know that I’m not alone in the ways I’ve been feeling. I know without a doubt that I (and all my incredible, hardworking friends) will find great places to live life and grow next year. Until then, however, it can be grueling and disheartening.

We are all unfinished products. As much as we desire to be perfect and composed humans without a care in the world and with only the best opportunities, we just aren’t. I’m sorry if I’m bursting your bubble here. Trying times do not define you, but neither do triumphant ones. Life comes in seasons, and like most things in nature, we change with them. Science says you stop growing in your twenties, but I don’t think you ever really stop. The person I am today is very different from the one I was a year ago today. It was a strange thing to think about, and to remember everything that happened to get me to this point, but I’m grateful for all of it. I’m grateful that a year ago I didn’t say, “Alright, this is good. I don’t need anything to change from here. I’m good.” I may never be completely satisfied with the person I am, but I know that she is trying, working hard and willing to be patient. For now, I am happy to acknowledge that I am no where close to being finished.

The light in me honors the light in you,
Sus
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