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Don’t tell People There is Nothing to be Sad About, Teach Them That it is Ok to Feel Sad

It's ok not to be ok

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Plastered smack in the middle of Josie’s bedroom is a blue sign that reads, “Wake up. You’re not drowning. There is no one to save.” Whenever I am feeling down, I think about that poster in her room on the second floor of her big white house and I remember that everything is going to be ok. I am not drowning. I do not need to be saved.

In political science class this semester we discussed the possibility of a government that only creates laws when circumstances present a danger to others. This is called the harm principle written by John Stuart Mill in On Liberty. This harm principle allows people to possess autonomy over their own lives and tries to prevent others from being hurt. This libertarian point of view is grand as an idea, but is a foolish fantasy, because I believe that Mill forgot that every single thing we do affects other people, often without our knowledge of the way we have influenced anyone else.

On January 17, 2014 Madison Holleran committed suicide. I read about her death in a Buzzfeed article on January 20, 2014. Madison was a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, I was a freshman at the University of Vermont. I did not know Madison- I will never know Madison, but often I find my mind wandering, thinking about her, about how she decided her life was no longer worth living. If I wonder about Madison, how many other strangers were affected by her death? Joseph Stalin said, “one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic.” Madison’s death is such a conundrum because she stole it from herself. I wonder if Mill believes it was hers to steal?

Madison is no longer with us but, her parents have begun a foundation, the Madison Holleran Foundation which aims to prevent suicides, especially on college campuses focusing on the motto “it’s ok not to be ok.” Most of us in college believe the quote that “college is the best time of your life” and if it is not true we are doing college wrong. This is false. There is not one way to do college, college is a step on the ladder of life, it is a step of maturity, but it is not filled with only happy memories for anybody. College is filled with heartbreak and not good enoughs. College is also filled with best friends to hold you up when you want to fall. Use those friends as a crutch to stand up. You are good enough. You matter. Every step of life is different and exciting and new. Every step of life brings new challenges and experiences. Life is good.

Ned Vizzini writes,“I am not afraid of dying; I am afraid of living.” His novel It’s Kind of a Funny Story is hosted in a hospital in the psychiatric ward where a teenage boy brings himself after standing at the top of a bridge while thinking of committing suicide. I imagine this to be how Madison was feeling. I wish Madison had felt like she had another option, another book to read, another friend to talk to, another reason to live. I’m sure she felt like she had run out of reasons. She made an escape. Madison will forever be an example, a story to share, but not to follow. Hopefully she will be the reason others chose to get help. Every life is worth living.

These bad thinking thoughts are in every persons head, however they manifest themselves in different ways. Sadness from Disney Pixar’s Inside Out, accurately depicts the grief that sometimes consumes our minds. Hopefully this helps destigmatize the sadness inside our brains and shows children that sometimes our best memories come out of the worst days. It is ok not to be ok. It is ok to ask for help.

The ‘How Are You Project’ created by Madison’s friends aims at really asking how people are. Enough with the “I’m good, how are you?” and enter the “I am feeling sad because I did not do well on my test- I had a fight with my friend- I just feel sad today and I want to talk/don’t want to talk, I just want you to be here with me.” We need to band together to make others feel less alone, even when it seems as though the light is hiding. It is ok to announce your feelings, it is ok to not be doing one hundred percent every single day. Talk about your feelings, write about your feelings. Draw. Run. Eat. Smile. Laugh. Imagine. Dream. Be yourself, love yourself, love others and create a chain reaction of kindness and openness, so we can watch as we change the world from hiding grief to helping friends, family and even strangers with their sadnesses to help them cope with it. I believe in the power of people and I think we can help all these “lost souls” recognize that they are not lost. There is nothing to find.

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