“It is vitally important to help each other. No, we cannot walk in each other’s shoes, but we can walk side-by-side and support each other”—Michele Sullivan
I enjoy being alone. I welcome cancelling plans. I embrace isolation. I champion independent projects.
I am also under the illusion that I can inspire and support myself…
I recently got back in touch with a friend who, eight years ago, I pushed away because of being unable to cope with trauma. A friend from high school. A friend who briefly, yet significantly, impacted my life over a span of three years. A friend who encouraged me to be more confident and be grateful for every day. A friend who inspired and supported me regardless of various angsty teenage dramas. A friend, a mind, a heart…A piece of my support system.
Despite favouring keeping apart, I accepted connection.
A seemingly simple concept, reconnecting with people I removed myself from after trauma is a borderline re-traumatizing experience. Such a process requires vulnerability, years of therapy, and, most importantly, patience and understanding from the person with which I hope to reunite. For example, after all these years, I have only been able to reconnect with a single friend. This friend.
Stuck back in the States after numerous flight cancellations and re-bookings due to the current global pandemic, I had more time to send a risky ‘How are you’ email and hope for the best. Surprisingly, they replied and agreed to a dinner. With cocktails and wine in hand, we discussed the myriad progress we have made in our respective lives. We talked about other high school peers, current events, and, most importantly, how we are doing.
Though we have been absent from each other’s lives for about eight years, we still managed to support and inspire each other over a short dinner date on a Monday evening. After our encounter, I felt restored. We scheduled another meeting…
…I cried for an hour.
I am still slightly overwhelmed by how we still managed to academically inspire and emotionally support each other after nearly a decade of silence. Though I cannot speak for my friend, I can say that, for myself, this experience challenges how I interpret both past and current friendships and collegiate interactions. It challenges how I perceive myself as irreparably ‘marked’ by trauma and, thus, mentally blemished by a pervasive ‘chronic condition’ (i.e. PTSD).
I, like, perhaps, many postgraduate research students, entertain possible negative interpretations of daily life, and thus internalize and perpetuate some the worst experiences and mentalities in our respective memory banks. As a community of minds meant to challenge each other, I am encouraging myself to allow both inspiration and support to come from not only broken relationships, but new relationships, new connections, and new ideas. I am hoping, with all of my support systems in place, that I not only communicate with the people who selflessly stand by my side, but those who inspire and encourage me to make progress in being vulnerable.
“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation.”—Glenn Close