What if?

The beautiful and broken reality of being human

Hailey Echan, Editor-in-Chief

Hailey Echan takes time to show her brother, Ethan, and mom, Amy, around the UW cherry blossoms. (Courtesy of Hailey Echan)

*Trigger warning: suicidal ideation

Summers: seasons of life that have always been full of adventure for me. Driving across the country. Swimming with alligators. Building relationships with people in a myriad of countries. Swinging on vines with chimpanzees. Quarantining. The point is, it’s always been an experience.

This summer was no different.

Climbing mountains, trenching through mud pits, riding waves, and diving deep into caves never before explored. Exciting, right? Well. Let me clarify a bit.

The nature of this summer turned out to be one of the most impactful and necessary lessons I have ever learned–our mental health is something that affects the way we view the past, the way we experience the present and the way we dream about the future.

My first thought for my first column as Editor-in-Chief was to write a light hearted portrayal of who I am and what I hope for the newspaper this year.

Instead, I am choosing a different route.

The turmoil, division, and isolation of the last 18 months wrecked me. I thought I was being strong, not letting it show. I kept pushing through the days, working hard, attempting to maintain relationships, grow in faith, and check off all the “to-do” boxes for classes and work.

Then, my physical health declined. I was either sleeping all day or not sleeping at all. I had headaches more days than I would like to admit. My immune system was absolute trash and any minor inconvenience would trigger an unwarranted reaction or shoot my stress through the roof. Things were falling apart with friends and family, and faith-wise, my relationship with God was sliding down the slippery slope of separation and stagnation.

My desire to keep living was at an all-time low. I couldn’t drive without having a thought of what would happen if I simply swerved off the road. My motivation for pursuing relationships at all was shrinking and I wasn’t being honest with anyone.

Fortunately, there are people in my life who know me well and saw the shifts in behavior. They caught me when I was falling, they pushed me towards God, and they sent me to those who could help.

Rather than spending the summer the way I had originally planned, I spent much of June and July in an outpatient treatment facility for mental health. This wasn’t something I shared with many people at the time because, quite frankly, I was ashamed. I was ashamed that I had let my mental health get to this point, I was ashamed I needed more professional help, I was ashamed to admit that I was “weak.”

I now realize there is nothing to be ashamed of and my struggles with mental health didn’t make me weak, they made me human.

So while this wasn’t exactly the summer I had planned, I will forever be thankful for the season of climbing mountains of depression and anxiety, trenching through the mud of my past, learning to ride the waves of emotion, and of course, exploring the caves of who I really am while pursuing growth.

Originally, I was scared of the what-ifs. What if people find out? What if this is just a waste of time? What if I am forced to face what I’ve been avoiding for years? What if I never recover?

What I didn’t realize was there was a whole other side to the what-ifs. What if exposing my weaknesses actually makes me stronger? What if this is the step I need to experience all that life still has in store for me? What if my struggles with mental health don’t have to set the stage for the rest of my life?

As we begin this next school year, let’s make a promise to each other. No one got through this last year unscathed, so why should we act like we did? Let’s not turn a blind eye to the seriousness of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and any other struggles. Let’s also not give up and let our struggles consume us. Let’s choose to embrace each other, hold each other up, and pursue growth and healing together.

In order to really start the conversation we all desperately need, there needs to be an acknowledgement of how hard and how real mental health struggles are.

Breakdowns, silence, pain, numbness, the neverending intrusive thoughts, lies, inability to form a complete thought–the list goes on. You are not alone in experiencing any of these, and these symptoms do not have to last forever.

I went to a treatment facility for mental health, which is what I needed, and there are so many other ways we can get the help we need. Talk to a friend, reach out to counseling services here on campus, fight off the shame that has no place being there, talk to a trusted mentor, get a long term therapist, take time throughout your week to enjoy the small moments and take care of yourself, set boundaries, rest, challenge yourself and give yourself grace.

What if we were all in this together?