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Lesson Learned: 4 Things My Aquatic Amigo Has Taught Me

In true college freshman fashion, I made the typical decision to adopt a fishy friend into my life. After receiving a small fish tank for my birthday from my brother, I came back to Winona and scavenged for the perfect marine comrade to comfort me during this transitional period.


On a dreary day in September, I made the winding trip to La Crosse in search of the ultimate aquatic companion. At Petco, it was when our eyes met and he swam towards me in his little cup of a container that I knew that we would be bonded for life. I picked him up, paid a measly $4 for my priceless friend and then placed him in my cup holder for the trip back to Winona. 


Once we arrived at my dorm, I let him get acclimated to the setting. After a conversation with my co-parent, we decided he would be dubbed Guillermo in memory of a drowned Minecraft horse. His memory would live on through the fins of this creature who would never have the misfortune of drowning. 


His tank was already prepared, so I dropped him into it and watched as he swam with delight as he explored his new home. To be honest, his tank was depressing in size and appearance. Such an amazing and important fish would not be condemned to a toilet bowl for a tank!


So instead, I went out and bought him a larger tank, which was more suitable for his needs. The water was filtered to perfection and the overhanging, color-changing light was able to capture his every mood. His plant provided some much-needed greenery, and his shark decor represented his humorous and unique personality. Finally, his tank was as special as him, and it represented his importance in my life. 


Although our time together has been short—just a measly three months—Guillermo has taught me a lot about life. Though he is quiet, he speaks wisdom through his actions and stature that can be applied to everyone’s lives, especially in such a stressful and anxiety-evoking time.


Remember to pay attention to the ones who pay attention to you. 


I don’t know whether it is due to the compassion in his heart or Pavlov’s effect in his stomach; but whenever I come near his tank, Guillermo is always there to greet me. Perhaps he knows that I am the food-giver, but I like to think that he is an empathetic Siamese swimmer who takes an interest in me, based purely on the goodness in his heart.


Oftentimes, we pay attention to the people who are closest to us, especially when we’re hurting. However, we often seem to forget the people who aren’t within our inner circle who are checking up on us. Remember that your impact is extensive––both within your communities at college and at home––and you must take the time to devote yourselves to both of your support systems. Although it can be difficult to have a foot in each door, take some time on either side of it to ensure everyone you hold near and dear is getting the quality care and personal time they want and deserve.


In my personal life, I’ve found it difficult to stay in close contact with my high school friends when it’s so much easier to grow closer to your college community. However, if your friends from a previous chapter in your life are staying invested in your life and giving you the emotional support you need, remember to do the same for them. If you can, always take the time to listen to your friends and give them the support they need–– you never know what they struggle with behind closed doors. 


It takes a village.


On a weekend in October, I was planning to go home for the week but was a little worried about Guillermo’s well-being while I was gone. Thankfully, we were able to temporarily transplant him into my friend’s room for a mini vacation. Each day, she sent me pictures of him as proof that he was still alive and well. I was so thankful for her stepping in as a babysitter, and I was especially relieved after I discovered that my floor was in quarantine. That meant my one-week vacation turned into three; in turn, so did Guillermo’s.


Just like it isn’t easy caring for a fish (or any pet) at times, it isn’t always easy to take care of your personal health. This is your friendly reminder to reach out when you are struggling. It truly does take a village to keep us all afloat, so when you feel like you’re sinking, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s a mental health professional, professor, friend or family member, there are so many people in your life that are willing to help you get into a better state. In the end, compassionate people just want to see one another succeed. Find out who those people are in your life, and keep each other afloat through accountability and compassion. 


Persist through the hardest of times–– you will be stronger because of it.


Earlier in November, I had had a tough week. The quarantine fatigue and stress of isolation were finally starting to hit me, and I couldn’t imagine staying in Winona for an entire month before Thanksgiving break. On a Thursday night, I packed up all of my things and made the three-hour drive home in the wee hours of the night. I needed support from my friends and family–– I needed my village. 


I hurriedly packed up my things and made the trip, only to realize the next day that I had left Guillermo in my isolated dorm room. I felt terrible, and I began to feel even worse when I realized that I had just cleaned his tank a few days prior, meaning there was hardly any food floating around in the water. I only prayed that he had the strength to survive, and thankfully he did.


When I returned a week later, Guillermo was alive and well, waiting for me and doing his hungry fin-shimmying dance. I happily fed him and apologized for leaving him hungry and alone. At this point, I had been so focused on my own personal struggle that I had forgotten to care for others who were struggling. Although I didn’t personally experience this hard time, Guillermo taught me that if you persist through the hardest of times, they will make you stronger in the end. Guillermo experienced a week of hunger, yet he persisted through and literally hung onto his life through conviction. Because of it, he is a stronger fish and doing the same will make us stronger people. 


Keep on swimming.


I’m honestly not sure if I learned this lesson from Guillermo or Dory from Finding Nemo–– they’re both wise, blue fish so it’s tough to differentiate between the two. But either way, it still holds true. 


The only way to escape our personal struggles and issues is to keep on swimming and push through them. Even when we run into hardships, we must face them head-on or they won’t completely disappear. Pushing things off and avoiding them only makes our feelings about them fester and grow. Not only that, but it increases our anxiety about the issue and wears on our mental health. 


If you’re struggling through a similar situation right now, this is your reminder to push through the situation and release all of the anxiety you’re causing yourself. I understand that there are so many personal issues that are tough to tackle, but avoiding them increases anxiety and deteriorates your mental health. Eventually, there will be nowhere to swim without finding an obstacle. Instead, persevere through the obstacle, and your ocean will be free of struggle. And even if there is another obstacle behind the first, keep swimming through that one too, because, eventually, you will find somewhere to rest and be content. Strive to find that place within your ocean–– make it your goal to discover this peaceful place.


In our three months together, Guillermo has taught me so much about life. Even though he can’t speak, his strength, perseverance and wisdom are indicative enough of his headstrong and compassionate personality. Even if you don’t have your own companion to teach you wise lessons, take it from mine and just keep swimming!


Brianna Strohbehn is a junior at Winona State University and a small-town girl from central Iowa. Brianna is studying English, double majoring in writing and applied and professional writing with hopes of someday becoming an editor at a publishing firm. When she isn't writing, Brianna enjoys thrifting, reading, exploring her new home in Winona, and spending time with family and friends.