Are You Happy? A Letter To The 2017 Freshman Class

Image result for make happy

By Joe Cox

“I know very little about anything, but what I do know is that if you can live your life without an audience… you should do it.” – Bo Burnham, Make Happy.

Once I had entered class half an hour late, sweat dripped haphazardly from my dampened hair onto the scantron that had just escaped my moistened fingertips. My teal shirt faded into a darker shade as the moisture from my body soaked into the thin summer cloth. At the time, I hadn’t left the house in months, and my pale skin glistened with droplets lining the thin blonde hairs on my arms. I attempted to hide my gulps for air from the rest of the class, for they had each managed to find their way here without a hitch. I caught the peripheral glare of the girl seated next to me, as a dense heat radiated from every orifice of me. A test of grammatical ability sat in front of me; I despised grammar at the time. I received a 48 on that test, on that first day of class, on that first day at UWF.

After Intro to Literature was over, I met with my girlfriend at the time for what we thought would be lunch, but we couldn’t find the cafeteria. Instead, we searched the campus for shade on that 100-degree day only to find a dirty staircase near Pace Hall – the hall I would call home in just one short year. My girlfriend munched on some vanilla wafers and whined about how the nurse working on the blood drive bus couldn’t get the needle into her veins. I reminded her that she had pathetically tiny veins in an attempt at getting a smile to emerge from the stress tears she was releasing. I succeeded while withholding stress of my own.

My next class didn’t turn out better than the first, as I arrived late once again. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m as skilled with spatial orientation as Donald Trump is at negotiating with North Korea and creating healthcare referendums, so let’s say it took me a bit to find my way. I made my way into the room, found the roll sheet situated at the front of the class that had already begun, scanned for my name, and was met with the disappointing realization that my name was not on the list. I pleaded with my teacher, “I know I have the right building it said so on e-learning!” “I updated the roll this morning,” said the professor grimly, as I faintly cowered into my raised shoulders. “Just take a seat,” he said to end the painful conversation. Sweating once more, with a stain that easily extended the length of my back, I sat in the center of the room to the dismay of the people situated beside me. “Anatomy and Physiology” read the large bold letters headlining the PowerPoint presentation in front of me… I was a long way from Intro to Philosophy.

Quickly, I gathered my light backpack, which had just one binder in it, and I rushed to the door behind the class at the top of the lecture hall. Looking back towards the front, I caught the angry, questioning, face of the professor to which I gave only a shrug in reply. I checked my schedule on e-learning once more, found that the room information had changed, rushed across campus, and, once again, arrived half an hour late. My professor snarled at me as I sat in a plastic chair in front of him with every orifice oozing sweat – my skin was paste at this point. I was told that I had three more opportunities to be late. Upon my third instance of tardiness, I would be deducted a letter grade… I dropped the class the next day not because of the irritating tone of the professor, but because he capitalized every R he wrote on the board – clearly psychotic, right?

In the next month, my girlfriend had cheated on me, and I was left to wander the campus on my own. During that first semester, I made no friends in class, dropped my biology lab due to my emotional inability to get out of bed, spent most of my time performing logical derivations and playing video games from the confines of my room, and I drove an hour to and from school every day.

Semester two rolls around, I meet another girl. I date her out of a blind need for affection that hid my ridiculous number of insecurities, I had my heart broken once more, and I started working out shortly after – no more sweaty days on campus for me. When I wasn’t waking up at 6 a.m. to work out before school, going to class, or playing video games, I lay catatonic in my bed. My face would rest crookedly on the edge of my mattress with faint daylight peaking in from behind my navy drapes and white window shades. If my exes weren’t on my mind, then my depression surely was. Nirvana, Mayday Parade, and who knows how many screamo bands would blare through my headphones as I lay there for a semester trying to avoid any prying questions my parents might ask out of care. I wondered how to shake the pain, how to feel better again, and how to feel whole again. I wondered how to be happy.

Ready for the funny part?

Do you remember the Intro to Philosophy class I dropped the first week of school? I’m not only a philosophy major now, but I’m also working as a logic tutor on campus, serving as the president of Phi Sigma Tau, and presenting a philosophy based presentation at the National Collegiate Honors Conference. The horrible relationships I was in? I don’t even think traditional relationships are rational now, and I couldn’t be happier about that understanding. The catatonic boy in bed has morphed into this crazy, pun spewing, philosophy loving, open, and unafraid person that I pride myself in being today. I’m a mentor, a Secular Student Alliance leader, a tutor, a president, and a smart-aleck, but, most importantly, I’m just a kid trying to do right by the catatonic boy that survived all that pain. It’s funny how everything fluctuates.

To get to the point of telling you all this, and to address the question asked in the title, I offer you this one piece of advice: do whatever the hell you want to do. In the coming weeks, you’ll undoubtedly be bombarded with challenges, goals, people, and paths that you didn’t know existed. In one fancy lecture hall, someone in some suit and some tie will be telling you about how you’re at the greatest university in Florida, in the south, in the panhandle, in the nation, in the universe, in the multiverse, or in whatever location the guy chooses to use all while you’re encouraged to do this, do that, do work with him, see things with her, learn from that thing, look at this thing, and who knows what else. You’ll be told you’ll want to speak with an advisor, set up a plan, think about a thesis, craft some goals, go to some events, venture here, go there, or do something else. The truth of these to-do’s is simple: no one has any idea what you should do. I know because I’ve seen hundreds of people take hundreds of the paths and end up in hundreds of places, just as you have likely seen already.

I, nor anyone else, can guarantee you success if you follow some step-by-step “here’s how the be successful in a cliché idea of the world” guide, just like no one can guarantee you failure if you drop out of school, move to Idaho, and take up juggling on a potato farm. The best any of us have are some archetypal examples, correlations from strange sources we probably can’t cite, our own experiences, and “reason,” which everyone has a different definition of. There’s no right or wrong way to live life, no right or wrong path to take, and NO pressure to live some perfect, always happy in la la land, lifestyle that many modern people strive.

When people say, “The world is your oyster,” they often fail to mention that the world doesn’t consist of only one oyster. The oysters of life, found in the new opportunities and new people always surrounding you, are innumerable.  In college, a tidal wave chocked full of these oysters is going to wash over you in an instant. Sometimes, once that tidal wave has crashed, the oyster you choose to pick up reeks with the stench of the ocean, sometimes it’s slimy and crawls up your arm to slither along your eyes, sometimes your oyster dies right when you open it, sometimes you can’t even get the shell open despite REALLY wanting to, and sometimes you’ll throw one oyster away to have the opportunity to pick up ten more. Alternatively, the oyster might be amazing, speak English, solve world hunger, and create dope tunes with you like the clams in SpongeBob, but those oysters are tough to find. Sometimes, you may even find that the searching through all those oysters was the best part all along.

So, like Bo, I too know very little about ANYTHING, but what I do know is that if you are actively plowing through whatever oysters you so choose, doing the things you want to do, seeing the things you want to see, and letting yourself blossom like the beautiful flower you probably are, then you’re probably happier than most of Earth’s inhabitants. The earth can be a lonely place when you’re laying catatonic on a bed, so, unless that’s what the hell you want to do, don’t do it. Let the song in your heart play not because the world needs to hear but because you deserve to let it free.

And I, for one, will always be around to listen.

A Letter to Freshmen

FullSizeRender (3)

By Samuel Alvarado

Freshman year of college is less than a month away for the class of 2021, and high school will soon feel like it was ages ago. And now, you are about to start a new chapter of your life that will be unlike anything you’ve known before. It is alright to be scared, it is alright to be hesitant, and it is alright to be worried, for those feelings are only natural as the melancholic reminiscence of days in the known environment of high school are left in order to start anew.

The newfound freedom, responsibility, and opportunities that come with life at college are sure to be challenging to adjust to now that you don’t have parents watching your every move. Where once there was a required and early schedule, there is now the freedom to choose. You now have choices such as to sleep in until noon, stay up through the dead of night, or not go to a class because you choose not to (although you should just go to class). The task at hand is to find a happy medium between the newfound freedom of college and the possible consequences of your choices and actions. For instance, you could choose to stay out late every night for the first half of the semester and attend class but not do much studying. Fun, right? Unfortunately, the consequences of such freedom can be devastating. Your grades start to slack, and you end up losing scholarships because your GPA suffered from the lack of effort. I know that predicament all too well, as I made the mistake of not putting enough effort into my classes and ignoring those responsibilities. Because of the mistakes I have made, I urge you to be careful in how much freedom you give yourself when going out while the responsibilities of college go unnoticed. Now, college tuition and boarding are costly reminders that you are no longer in the relatively cheaper setting of high school. The freedom to make your own schedule and be more self-determinant is great when used properly to pursue the career you want and be the person you choose. Responsibilities, however, wait for no one and cannot be ignored for long.  You are no longer able to pass the blame onto someone else as easily or try to wriggle out of something you have done without some sort of consequence. Responsibility is learned whether you wanted to learn it or not.

The opportunities of college can be a welcome mediator between the freedom to choose and responsibilities. You are given many opportunities at college to see who you want to be as well as where you want to go in life. Whether you want a career in medicine or a career in art, the opportunity will arise if you are prepared to act. For example, I was given the opportunity multiple times through the UWF Kugelman Honors Program to be actively involved in volunteer work at the beach and getting to know student leaders. I was also given the opportunity to be a leader in the program and talk to current leaders about leadership positions currently held by Honors Students at UWF. I chose to go after these opportunities and gained new responsibilities while making advances into the field I want a career in by taking steps to show my leadership skills and potential. These opportunities were presented to me by a fellow Honors Student who was a leader in both RHA and the Kugelman Honors Program. With the support and encouragement of my wonderful fellow Infinite Wisdom Staff Writer Jade, I am now the Secretary of RHA. The only reason I now have the opportunity to show who I am now and what I can do is that I changed my ways from the beginning of my freshman year to the end of it. I still take time to be free, go to the beach, and relax, but now I can better balance the fun with the responsibilities of college life. With my current leadership position, I am responsible for helping other people make college easier for themselves, and I would not have been able to do this if I had not chosen to change how I handled my new found freedom. College is all about trying out different things to see how you will respond to them such as student organizations, fitness classes, courses in varying subjects, and new life experiences.

If you learn to balance your freedoms and responsibilities while going after new opportunities in college, you will be all the better for it. How you do it is up to you, but I would suggest from experience that you seek the advice of peer mentors who can help steer you in the right direction.

What is Honors?

jade

By Jade Jacobs

This article can be considered as an open letter to the incoming freshmen. Look at this as a mini crash-course on “what have I gotten myself into” of sorts. If you’re like most of us, you’re moving off to college and joining the Kugelman Honors Program because an honors student is what you’ve always been. Hailing from the lands of AP and dual enrolled course work, you feel like college is just another step on the way to that dream job. Sure, having “graduated with honors” on your diploma looks nice for your resumé, but being a member of the Kugelman Honors Program offers so much more than a check mark in a box. It’s not just about the prestige or specialized classes, it’s about a network and community that will have impacts lasting long after graduation.

This fall I’ll be starting my third year within the Kugelman Honors Program, and if someone had told me when I started that I would be in the position I’m in today, I probably would’ve nodded at the ground and silently walked away. Working my way up from an introverted freshman to running student organizations such as the Residence Hall Association and National Residence Hall Honorary wasn’t something I had planned, it’s something that resulted from connections I made on campus and within Honors. Stepping out of my comfort zone has never been easy, but the people I’ve become surrounded by here have made it an adventure. I could have easily hidden myself away in my room freshman year and avoided the amazing events Honors and UWF offer, but I never would’ve met many of the most interesting people at UWF. Bonding with my mentor Alyssa and waving ‘hello’ to my across-the-hall neighbor in my first few days here ended up gaining me two of my best friends. Alyssa ended up inspiring me to become an Honors mentor myself, leading to more wonderful experiences and an amazing support system with my colleagues.

In everything from simply attending Honors Council meetings and volunteering or enjoying committee events, to going to Honors retreat, presenting at conferences, and studying abroad, the Kugelman Honors Program is more than just a line on paper. Honors gives you the opportunity to broaden your horizon, build character, learn and strengthen leadership skills, and be a part of something much larger than yourself. All you need to do is decide that you want to make it happen. Opportunity is knocking, it’s time to choose whether or not you’re going to open the door.

Caring Less

photoabigail
Photo by Abigail Keenan

By Rachael Whitlock

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you might recall an article I wrote a few months back called “My Eating Disorder Doesn’t Define Me.” In that previous article, I spoke about an eating disorder that had consumed my life for the past five years. I recently decided to write this follow-up article because I’ve realized my problem wasn’t simply an eating disorder; in fact, it was much deeper than that. My real problem was my overwhelming fear of being judged negatively by others. The eating disorder was simply a symptom of my own insecurity. Many people experience this feeling of insecurity in their lives, and while I attempted suppress these feelings with unhealthy eating patterns, someone else may use a different method of control. I bring up my insecurity not to discuss repressing it, but instead to take the much healthier options and address them in order to correct the problem from where it begins. In other words, I’ve decided to care less.

Unfortunately, humans are a painfully social species, and it’s completely natural for us to care about what others think. If we didn’t have this empathy, we wouldn’t be able to form any healthy relationships or deep connections with others. In order to be happy, great relationships with others aren’t an option – they are a necessity. The fear of losing valuable relationships with people stems from the fear of other people’s opinions. And in some cases, this fear is useful. It can motivate us to behave in a way that makes more people like us. But in many circumstances this fear leads to anxiety, insecurity, and depression, which is counter-productive to creating relationships with others. The best way to overcome this is to simply not try so hard. Although it doesn’t sound very helpful, it works. Humans are drawn to others that seem confident and genuine, so the less we worry about others’ opinions, the more they will enjoy our company.

For me, caring less doesn’t mean being apathetic towards other people’s judgments of me, but simply not taking judgment from the wrong people to heart. Throughout middle and high school, I worried about what everyone thought: family, friends, acquaintances, even total strangers. But now, I can count on one hand the number of people whose opinions I let influence my life. I’ve found the importance in trusting a select few people who have your best interest at heart. Everyone else’s opinions should be ignored if they are not beneficial to you. This is probably the most difficult, and most useful, piece of advice I’ve ever been given. Even though I still have to consistently remind myself of my own advice, the advice itself has immensely helped my recovery.

Another way to care less about others’ judgments is to simply think of the absolute worst-case scenario if you ignore someone’s opinion. Chances are, whatever happens will not be anywhere close to how bad your imagination played it out to be. This tactic was extremely helpful to me because I realized that no scenario was worse than the one I was creating for myself by staying bulimic. I decided the best way to be happier was to think of how much worse off I would be if I didn’t recover. If I continued to let my insecurities rule my life, I would never get anywhere. Richard Branson, the well-known English philanthropist, perfectly summed up this notion when he said, “I’d rather look back on life and say, ‘I can’t believe I did that’ than ‘I wish I did that.’”

I decided to write this follow-up article not for myself, but for everyone else who is struggling with their own fears and insecurities. After all, that’s what college is about: struggling to fit in, to make a name for yourself, to overcome your personal burdens. At some point in their lives, everyone worries that others think negatively of them, and this insecurity can manifest itself in devastating ways. But with a shift in your own thinking, you can overcome much of these feelings. I am concrete proof of this accomplishment. Although it’s not an easy or a quick fix, it is possible to become the best version of ourselves if we simply care less.

Benefits of My Internship

IMG_20170614_231108_244

By Felicia Riggs

This summer I decided to take an internship as an exotic animal caregiver (which is a fancy way to say zookeeper and animal trainer) at a small private exotic facility in Louisiana. I jumped into this internship head first without a second thought and took this opportunity mainly as a resume booster, but I ended up learning more than I expected in my short time there. Here are some unexpected benefits that I have personally received through my internship.

1. Finding Myself Outside My Comfort Zone:

If you are anything like me, you have no real idea of who you are outside of your hometown/high school. I came to this small town in Louisiana just hoping that everything was going to work out and that I wouldn’t hate my summer. I was terrified that I was going to be here for a few weeks and not be able to handle the distance from everybody that I knew and loved. Going away to college wasn’t hard because I couldn’t wait to get out of my hometown, but taking a summer away from the place I now called home was something that I didn’t know I could handle. Being isolated from all my friends and family was hard for the first few weeks, but being away from them has really showed me that I can go live my life and be a “real adult” away from my comfort zone. I can adapt to places just like anyone else, and I find that it is easier to adapt once you realize that your comfort zone is what limits your exposure to the world.

2. Figuring Out The Right Job For Me:

You will know quite quickly if that specific job is something that you want to do for the rest of your life. If you hate the thought of continuing the work that you are doing, or taking on an internship related to that work, then you need to find a new career path. If I didn’t love my kangaroo joeys, and all the other one hundred-plus animals out here in Louisiana, then there is no way that I would last at this place. I work long days out in the sun and the Louisiana heat, but being able to snuggle with my lynx kitten at the end of the day makes everything worth it. So, if you take an internship and can list more cons than pros, RUN. Your internship should not be a chore to you, and you should not hate every minute of it. I would be lying if I said that there haven’t been a few days that have been extremely difficult for me, but I can honestly say that I have experienced way more good days than bad days during this internship opportunity.

3. Getting Thrown Into The Real World:

Taking an internship away from home is, in my opinion, the fastest way to have to grow up. I went from having meals prepared for me and having no job (other than school) to buying and preparing all my own food, working fifty-plus hours a week, and still having school work to do. Now, some of you may have more “adulting” experience than me and think that I’m entitled or taking too long to adjust to adult life, but this move was a big change for me. For example, this past week I have been sick on top of every responsibility, so I’ve really had a crash course on “How to be an Adult.” But, oddly, I like this feeling, meaning I like knowing that I am living entirely on my own because it’s freeing. For those of you thinking about taking an internship, don’t let fear scare you away. Run toward your fear, and it will pay off for you, big time.

4. Establishing Business Connections:

Okay, now this is one of the more obvious benefits of taking an internship, but I never guessed how much this one opportunity would help me. Even though you may think your bosses don’t notice you putting extra hours, working way harder than other people, or picking up on the smaller things that make the day run smoother, They do. You may think that your employers just hang out in their office all day and take care of the business stuff, but they ask about you. Bosses want to know if you are a potential employee after graduation, and they want to know if they really need to write a personal letter of recommendation for you or just use a vague template with your name on it. So, you should do all the extra things. Even when you have already worked thirteen hours that day and are at your wits end keep going. Bosses especially notice who is working hard at the end of a long, crazy week. My boss has offered me a job after I graduate and has also offered to connect me with one of his colleagues for a part time job while I am working on my degree. I cannot stress how much employers notice when you think they aren’t looking.

5. Making Friendship Connections:

Making friends during your internship or work opportunity may not happen everywhere. I am lucky enough to have wonderful people working with me, so I get along quite well with all of them. I have even met one person in particular who I know is a true friend and that know I will keep in touch with for the years to come. Having friends around while you are doing an internship is going to be a big part of your happiness. We all get mad and frustrated at work, and we need somebody that we can trust to go to when we are having problems. My friend here happens to be one of my coworkers (By the way, be careful if you befriend a coworker. You just don’t want anything negative you say to get back to the boss.) Another reason having a friend at your internship is a positive influence is that the two of you can go explore. If you are in a totally new location, don’t just lay around on your days off. You might want to go out, explore, and get a feel for the local culture. Being in Louisiana and far away from home, I sometimes feel like I’m in a totally different country, but I know that I always have a partner in crime to go find an adventure with.

The best advice I can give any of you wanting to jump into an internship is to just do it because it’s going to teach you so much about yourself and your life plans. Plus, internships are just a lot of fun. I love my internship, and it was honestly the best way I could have possibly spent my summer. Also, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get very many offers when applying for positions. I applied to 23 different facilities all over the world and this was the only internship I got offered. It’s competitive out there, but if you can snag one, take it! And once you have taken that opportunity try to learn what I learned; find yourself, your interests, and your connections to the world outside your comfort zone.

Dream For Tomorrow, Live For Today

dsay

By Jade Jacobs

From the moment a child is able to utter a coherent sentence, the question comes up. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Wide eyed and mind reeling, we blurt the first thing that comes to mind. As we grow older, the questions never leave us. “What are you doing this weekend?” “Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?” “What will your wedding be like?” These questions all share a common theme: they plan for a future that we aren’t guaranteed to have. By the time we are eighteen, we may be less bobble-headed and glassy-eyed than that three-year-old version of ourselves, but many of us are still far from being able to answer the question that has plagued us. Even now, seventeen years after first being asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I could have a different answer every day.

As a society, it has been so deeply ingrained in our psyche to set goals and make plans that we’ve forgotten what it means to live in the moment. We’ve forgotten what it means to appreciate those we surround ourselves with not for what they do for us, but simply because they’re here. We’ve forgotten what it means to wake up early not to get that workout in or clock in the extra hours, but to simply take in the sunrise. We’ve become so focused on who we’re going to be, that we’ve forgotten who we are.

I’ve come to realize that people bounce between two modes. We’re either planning, or we’re waiting for plans to happen. If someone isn’t planning a trip, then they’re counting down the days until they leave. If we aren’t planning what classes we’ll take, then we’re waiting for them to start (or waiting for them to end). This loop of monotony never ceases. We give ourselves the illusion of change by looking forward to a future that seems different from today, when all we do is fall into the same patterns over and over.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been taught that I need to think three moves ahead of the next action I’ll be taking. There will always be the next step that needs a path to follow or the next set of doors where only one can be opened. I’ve spent most of my years thinking about where each path would lead, or what is on the other side of each door, that I forget to see what trees line the paths or what colors the doors are painted. Time that I can’t get back was spent worrying about where I need to be tomorrow and not enough of it was used to enjoy where I am right now.

However, there are moments that make me think by pulling me out of this uncertain future and immersing me in the present. My favorites of these moments are cold sand sifting through my toes, the Milky Way stretched out across the sky, a million lights mirrored on the waves, and the moon, orange as if aflame, climbing high or laying to rest on the horizon. We need to take in these small moments and realize that they are much bigger than they seem. It’s the times we take for granted that we so dearly wish to return to. Don’t let today be just another grain of sand in the hour glass. To reach your dreams tomorrow, you first have to let yourself dream them up today.

19

IMG_8431

By Joseph Cox

I was 15 years old when I self-harmed for the first time. In media, there’s always a pale character shimmering in the darkness of the room. The knife slides through the flesh off-screen, the camera zooms in on the neck as it gasps in succulent relief, and the character fades into sleep as all the troubles slip away and the blood reaches the comfort of the sheets.  I found relief, but it came only from the shock of the moment. It wasn’t the cut, but the bitter realization that suicide was drawing near.

Every year as the clock ticks by, the candles get more plentiful, and I venture just a bit farther from home, that kid with the knife gets a little bit farther away. I remember the days when I’d stand in front of a crowd and shake so much that my skin would beat against my baggy jeans, but that boy gets buried a little deeper with every presentation, speech, and leadership role I encounter. Though, all the drifting feelings can’t hide the reality that the boy is never too far away. He was wrapped in the same blanket I’m tucked beneath as I write this now, he wore the same watch, he sang too loud in the shower to the same music, and, truthfully, the same things scared the hell out of him. The people that didn’t care about him then don’t care about him now, he didn’t stop caring about the people he loved, and he stubbornly refused to have apathy for just about anyone, yet, somehow, he became much happier. He rose the tired body that he detested out of bed every morning, tried to fix the hair he could never get right, brushed the teeth that pounded with brace pain, and put on polos that looked atrocious on him only to drag his depressed self to the high school that had zero chance of improving his happiness. I just turned 19, and I think back to what I’d say to that kid now.

I’d tell him that the sweaty palms and resounding thuds of his heart won’t go away no matter how many times he stands in front of a crowd, writes down words he hasn’t heard someone else say, or talks to a girl he finds attractive, but it won’t matter that he can’t quell his heart. His heart is what makes him feel alive. Even when he horrendously massacres a social situation, he’ll learn to laugh at himself, and he laughs quite a lot. Sometimes, he screws it up just for the fun.

I’d go on to explain that I don’t blame him for anything he’s feeling right now. He lives in a society that’s rigged with systems built to retain commerce instead of happiness, and high-school is a breathing example of a system that went horrifically wrong. I’d also know that he spends every day surrounded by people struggling just as much, if not more, than he is. Then, he comes home to watch the news that belts a cheerful, “Good evening world,” while proceeding to tell him all the reasons why the evening is not good at all. Also, his parents ask him, “You okay?” so many times per day that he’d love to have something go right in life just to have something else to talk about. I’d tell him that life is incredibly tough at times, and I don’t blame him for wanting to die for a fair portion of it.

I’d also tell him that his polos and overly large jeans aren’t hiding his chubbiness from anyone, that his brown polo he used for picture day in middle school made him look like a UPS salesman, that the roundness of his face is hilariously more accentuated when his hair is short, that he’ll forever have a hatred of sandals and flip-flops unless they are worn by Spartans, and that he’d probably hate himself less if he just went to the gym instead of dissing muscular people that have the bodies he wishes he had. Also, I’d tell him mac-n-cheese is delicious, and even though he’ll go on a ridiculous diet plan that no one should ever do, learn the convincing rationality of veganism, and come to despise the drowsy feeling he gets from consuming cheese, he should keep eating it for the fun of it.

I’d tell him these things because depressed people aren’t always blameless. People confined to wheelchairs aren’t always nice, veterans aren’t always cool, policemen don’t always shoot unarmed people, and small children don’t always bring me to tears with their high voices, so no one should be treated a specific way due to one characteristic.  Don’t get me wrong, life became immeasurably more enjoyable upon graduating from the cesspool of self-loathing that is the average American high-school, and some mentally ill persons are dictated by the terms of their respective diseases. But, it’s not as if the universe delivered happiness to my life. As much as I wanted it to happen, happiness never burst through my door in Kool-Aid man fashion with an “OH YEAH!” no matter how many times I said, “Oh no.” to the life I so desperately hated. Why? Because depression doesn’t come from having a terrible life, it comes from the perception that life will always be garbage. Hence, we kill ourselves to avoid the insurmountable avalanche of trash coming our way. No suicidal individual ever had the final thought of, “I’ll bet life would be great if I was living tomorrow, but nah.” The truth is, I always defined what happiness was for me, but the kid I was had no idea what that definition might be.

What I did know is that other people weren’t bullied, other people weren’t chubby, and other people didn’t struggle with the immense amount of other troubles that are too personal and lengthy to mention to an audience that didn’t ask for any of this. I also knew that I felt sorry for everyone else, didn’t want to be worthless, and wanted every person on the planet to be happy. Yeah, of course I was going to be sad when that’s all I was consciously aware of.

Look, what I’m trying to say is being purposefully antagonistic to any ill person, mentally or otherwise, is probably one of the least cool things you can do as a human being. It’s right up there with kicking the crutches out from underneath someone and hitting a dolphin with a boat; cruelty and misunderstanding to any ill person is no bueno. However, bashing the ill person over the head with empathy until they feel helplessly defined by the ailment isn’t a better alternative, for we should strive to listen and care for the people that need it rather than berate them with empathy. Had I received more understanding, perhaps I would have learned to define my own happiness sooner. Instead, I was caught in the world that always loved to come crashing down.

Obviously, I’m not asking anyone to walk up to a cancer patient and go, “Hey pal, I empathize and understand the severity of your situation, but walk it off, homie. It’s just cancer!” because anyone who says that should be kicked in the left knee repeatedly. What I am saying is that empathy, as rare as it may be, is only the beginning of a decent conversation. Empathize, think through the situation, and respond accordingly. Don’t just hit him or her with an, “Aw, I’m sorry, but life will get better soon.” That’s about as useful as reacting with glee at any cat video; it’s an automatic reaction now.

So, in conclusion, I’d tell my 15-year-old self that he’s incredibly strong for enduring the pains that his perception, and the things that caused such perceptions, had brought him. I wouldn’t blame him the least for wanting to kill himself either. But, most of those crappy things aren’t going to change quickly, and life is still going to be insanely difficult regardless of what he does. However, with some work, some great friends, and a hell of a lot of mistakes, he can manage to work his way through life. I won’t propose that there’s some one stop solution to everything, but I will propose that life gets to be much more interesting when you leave that dark room, that desolate high-school hallway, and the daily drag of allowing yourself to have the exact same thought patterns. Start small, kid, because each step makes the next step a little easier.

You’ll probably never figure it out, but that’s what makes it all so entertaining.