A Supper with The T.’s
During my hectic childhood, in which my family and I moved around quite often, regularly at an interval of every two or three years after coming to the States, I lived in Austin for a bit. There, I attended Casis Elementary School and began learning English for the first time.
One of my fondest memories in Austin was meeting my friend Walter and his family, the T.’s. Walter was sharp as a tack, much sharper than I could ever hope to be, hilariously witty, and a talented soccer player to boot. I met Walter for the first time during recess, where the other kids and I would play makeshift soccer on the blacktop. He was clearly the most talented player every time we played, and his charming personality always made the other kids gravitate toward him. Playing with him on that blacktop and becoming slightly familiar with him, I found myself with the desire to befriend him.
The opportunity arose when, by chance, I joined the youth soccer league in Austin and ended up on the same team as Walter. The team, coached by his dad Emilio, quickly gave me a way to become close friends with Walter during this time, and by the time the season was over, we had become quite the best buds. Even better, I got to know the rest of his family, Adrienne, his mom, and Martin, his younger brother, who were the kind of people that I felt I could trust and be comfortable around for the rest of my life.
It turns out that had been a rather accurate guess, as my family and Walter’s family remained close throughout my family’s various relocations across the United States. I saw his family during the course of the next eleven, twelve years, whether it was over the summer or for New Year’s Eve, and they in turn came to visit our family out in the middle of nowhere in Miami, Texas and the much more beautiful Palos Verdes, California. Before long, I was a college student headed off to Penn, and Walter was headed off to Stanford. This summer, during my stay with the grandparents in Austin, I decided to message Adrienne as I had done the previous summer to ask her if we could set up some sort of occasion to meet up. I knew Walter was in Stanford, analyzing data from his boating research, and even though I hadn’t seen him in ages, I was just as happy to see the rest of the T.’s, Adrienne, Emilio, and Martin. Adrienne invited me for dinner with the rest of her family, and I accepted without thinking twice.
When I arrived at their door, I was greeted by Adrienne, and, immediately afterwards, Martin. Martin, always the little brother, always the one that Walter and I would beat up just to let him hang out with us, was no longer the little kid that I had remembered. He was a man, a bright-eyed, intelligent, mature eighteen year-old heading off to Rice University on Sunday to begin his freshman year of college.
“Nuts,” I thought to myself, “where did the time go?”
A Tip (of The Iceberg)
Adrienne had made a fantastic dinner, and after all the plates were licked clean, the T.’s and I talked for couple of hours on topics ranging from football to Berlin to race to college admissions to beautiful French women. Emilio kept up a steady volley of questions pertaining to me, and he asked a very simple question in regards to college:
“So, have you made a lot of good friends in college?”
“I’ve made good friends in college,” I replied with a smile, “I wouldn’t say a lot though.”
At this point, I realized this was a prime moment to sound like a wise, rising junior at the University of Pennsylvania, who had been annealed by the fires of classwork rigor and emerged stronger and more sagacious. However, I fumbled around in my head for some good words of wisdom to impart to Martin, and instead came to the conclusion that I didn’t particularly have any words to project this idea of myself as a bettered, improved Hans 2.0.
“Well, Martin,” I began, “I don’t really have any ‘advice’ so to speak, me not being a particularly great model of what a college student should be, but I’ll tell you something I learned. Or maybe, I should better put it as something I came across, something I experienced, that I want to tell you about.
“College, especially at a place as great as Rice University, is going to be crawling with people who will blow your mind. There will be people smarter than you, people more intelligent than you, people more athletic than you, people who will get better grades than you, people who will be better looking than you, people who will have a better time than you. And when you meet these people, and when the inevitable competition against these people begins, you’re sometimes going to feel awful. Feel absolutely terrible, actually, because there are going to always be people who are better than you.
“And this feeling might make you feel terribly alone, because there’s so much emphasis on the competition, and the attitude that you’re always fending for yourself, that you completely neglect how you’re feeling inside in order to focus on the competition. You’ll neglect your mental health, your mental well being, because there isn’t time to consider your mental well being when you’re trying to get ahead in your class and meet new people and engage in extracurricular activities. It’s so much easier to take care of a cut or a broken arm than how you feel inside, because those things are physical, everyone including yourself can see them. When you’re hurting inside, it’s not quite as easy to assess when the right time to get help is.
“I’m not saying you’re going to go through this, and if you ask me, I think you’re well composed enough as a young man to know how you are. But I’ve met plenty of people who have wowed me by how put together they seemed to be, only to have them tell me in private that they’re falling apart inside. It happens a lot more often than you would think; it certainly happens a lot more often than I had thought, because it happened to me too. I thought I had everything together, but I neglected my mental well being, and I was terribly in pain. The feeling of loneliness, it’s scary. It’s scary, not because it’s a mental thing, but because you don’t know who to turn to, if you should turn to anyone at all. It feels like you’re the only person in the world going through it, and there may be all the resources in the world at your disposal but you just can’t get yourself to admit, or take that step, to let someone help you out.
“So as someone who is weak, who has gone through this, who knows how scary it can be, how suddenly it can creep up on you, I just want you to always think about your mental well being. Ask yourself, ‘How am I feeling?’ ‘How am I doing?’ Not in terms of your grades, or girls, or anything like that. Make sure your mind is in the right place, and if you ever feel that it isn’t, ask for help. Talk to someone about it. Talk to Walter. Talk to your wonderful parents. Talk to me, because I’ll be wanking away on the computer non-stop. But talk. And most importantly, talk to your classmates and friends, and let them know that you’re there to help as well. Help people who need it, and ask for help when you do. And really, that’s the only piece of ‘advice’ for college I’ve got.”
By the time I had finished talking, I could feel my heart pounding. Martin took the advice in good stride, but I think Adrienne and Emilio could see how emotional it was for me to talk about it. They didn’t need to say anything; their look of understanding and compassion calmed me down, brought me back to normal, made me feel safe and at ease once again. As much as what I said was an advice for Martin, the T.’s knew how therapeutic it was for me to say all that I had said.
There Is No End
The topic of mental health and mental well being isn’t something that ends with a neat and tidy bow for me. It doesn’t have a neat and tidy ending because I’ve dealt with so many people, close friends and acquaintances, relative strangers and actual relatives, who have been burdened by the unhappiness, not the temporary kind, but the permanent kind, the type that doesn’t go away like it is simply a matter of choice. It is the puss that oozes out of our daily lives, from the infected sores that we develop through unhealthy habits and unlucky circumstances, and the pain and the anguish it causes is heartbreaking to see.
This lack of mental health manifests itself into a burden that becomes so heavy, so depressing that it feels almost impossible to take even a step, the lights dim until it is no longer there, leaving you only in darkness, and you slowly fall to your knees, feeling the weight of it all slowly crush you—slowly, yes, but surely—and the optimism and the happiness and the clearness of sight leaves you; no, is robbed from you.
Sometimes it’s too late to ask for help, to have someone else help you carry a little bit of your burden, and the result can be permanent, if not tragic. But that point of no return takes time, takes a sustained battering of the soul and the psyche and the human will, and for most people, that hand reaching out to them is all that is needed to immediately alleviate the seemingly hopeless situation. That hand, a lot of the times, is in the form of conversation, of an open dialogue, to talk about how you’re feeling, if anything is wrong, if there can be anything done for you. That’s all it takes, and for such an outwardly inconsequential action, it can mean the world.
“The need for an open dialogue” – perhaps that’s what I seek when I talk about mental well being. It’s my way of shouting out my thoughts, my feelings, and expressing my emotions, in the hopes that they reverberate with someone else who is as weak and needy as I am. Almost an S.O.S. signal, if you will, that also functions as a rescue signal. And that’s why there will never be an end to this topic from me, and from this blog, because it will always exist, and it is necessary for me to seek for understanding, as much it is necessary for me to give understanding.
Funny enough, I never explicitly stated any of this during my dinner with the T.’s. I think, though, they understood the gist of it. We generally need words to reach others. Sometimes, we don’t really need words to do that.