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Being vulnerable is not an easy feat. We drag around the boulders of guilt and shame, anxious about revealing who we really are, keeping the façade of perfection clothed around us as if others can't sense the insincerity in our tone. It's an odd thing: wanting desperately to be seen, with all the good, bad and the ugly and yet, we're terrified. Terrified that the real person screaming to get out will be reprimanded, judged, not accepted and everything in between. We're broken by the weight of life's burden and we don't talk about it. Instead, most choose to keep their genuine self locked away as if it would be another Pandora's Box. Maybe that's why more and more people suffer from a mental health illness: we won't allow others to get close. Maybe Shawn Mendes in his song "Stitches" explains this behavior best: "Just like a moth drawn to a flame....you lured me in I couldn't sense the pain."

I'm well aware that there are individuals who personally know me and as much as I want to keep this perfect and innocent image, it takes away from the genuity of these stories. To my surprise, I found out that my best friends from elementary school attends Kent State too and since the reunion, it's safe to say we've all hangout on a daily basis. With that being said, as stereotypical college students, we like to have a little bit of fun every now and then. Sometimes I’ll stay sober for the night or not be as intoxicated as the others around me and when this happens, I really like talking. The thing about this is I know full well that I can talk about anything and have a real, raw conversation with the knowledge that they’ll forget it in the morning. It’s a beautiful tragedy.

I've fought vulnerability for a long time. Part of me worships how powerful vulnerability is and what it can do for an individual but the other part sprints towards the closest exit sign. I tell people I'm an open book, but that's honestly bull. My therapist pointed out to me that I'll talk about certain topics but keep a guard up to ensure that we don’t discuss the difficult topics. Another therapist noticed my constant behavior of not making eye contact, while another brought to light that I really enjoy avoiding social gatherings. As a friend of mine said, "You say you're an open book, but you only open up when you're intoxicated. Don't preach something you don't practice." He's right. Sometimes guys can be a little too blunt, but being honest is what we need the most. The beauty and hamartia of being tipsy is the anxiety demon leaves and the memory train stops in its tracks for the night. It's easy to talk when you're not afraid and can't remember all that entailed the night before, it's especially easier when I'm the sober one and my friend isn't.

We keep our guard up to avoid the pain and humiliation of rejection. We use façades, humor, pride, denial, alcohol, drugs and many different sedatives to refrain from feeling. But the thing is, when pain is masked, other emotions can get numbed too. Hiding can lead to stress, which then sucks out the happiness and joy of whatever moment we’re in, and if not addressed, can easily lead to your mental health suffering.

Connecting, being seen as the real and broke people we are, is something that cannot be described with the merest vocabulary. Although I don’t usually unpack all the things I’ve gone through with my mental health, it seems appropriate to talk about it now to further emphasize this idea. Rather than having a summer full of love, it was one of loneliness. To simplify, it was a series of unlucky events that led to my friends not being in my hometown, and even though I worked two jobs and took summer classes, it’s only a temporary drug, but eventually, it wore off. My mental health deteriorated until it became unbearable, and in short, I spent some time in a mental health facility to focus on myself. Mental health still carries a stigma especially when it involves hospitals. Although it was a dark time, being at that facility was the highlight of my summer. No one wants to be broken let alone admit that brokenness, but in doing so, the most beautiful form of connection happens. At that facility, I was understood on a level that I hadn’t experienced before, I felt safe and was genuinely cared for by everyone.

Although these stories are relatively the same, there is one main difference: memory. I think one component of being able to feel belonging with others is the fact that you reveal yourself to others and they remember. They take in all the information, learn to understand who you are and the causes of certain behaviors, it builds trust. I knew this when I was talking to my intoxicated friend. I saw the lack of memory as my safety blanket, and every time he’d be drinking, I banked on him forgetting. I deal with a lot of insecurity especially when it comes to my mental health, it’s something that I can’t always be open about depending on the person. I want to talk about what goes on in my mind, but I don’t want people to remember because remembering means vulnerability and vulnerability means there’s potential for pain.

Vulnerability is necessary for liberation from the pressures of society. It’s necessary for genuine connections and belonging. It’s easy to hide or only open up when one or both parties are intoxicated but this results in isolation. It takes strength and courage to allow yourself to face the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability. This is a practice that I have failed to work on knowing full well of the consequences of bottling important things up. It’s something I need to work on and keep myself accountable.

In the end, it essentially comes down to two options: presenting yourself through the standards of society, or challenging the norms and being honest with yourself and others. Both have rewards and consequences, but it’s up to each individual to evaluate the cost.

Lia Neuenschwander

Kent State '24

Hello! I'm Lia, a Sophomore at Kent State University. I'm majoring in Criminal Justice with the hopes of working within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Writing allows me to dive deep into the vulnerable parts of my life in hopes that it'll help me and others find healing.
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