by Natalie Cheifetz
I remember my first day at Western University and the overwhelming fear I felt being surrounded by so many amazing people. I went through so many phases where all I did was wake up, read, go to class, read, and go to sleep. It was so easy to compare myself to other students and feel that because I was not smart enough, I had to work harder just to keep up. This cycle of working so hard, not getting the grades I wanted, then working even harder, ate me up inside. On the outside, I was trying to do it all with a huge smile across my face. It was so easy to put these negative thoughts down deep in the back of my mind until the end of the day when they all at once would come out.
University is one of those places where not being able to cope isn’t talked about. It’s so hard to find a place where I can openly talk about mental health or find the support that I need. The stigma still exists and often places barriers in front of students who are trying to seek mental health support. There is no x-ray or blood test that proves someone is struggling with their mental health. You cannot see my anxiety. I cannot prove that I have anxiety, but it still impacts every aspect of my life from my social life to my education.
It took a lot of courage for me to come to my first Western Hillel event, but it has truly changed my life. During my first coffee meeting with Leora, I remember her asking what I wanted from my experience at Hillel and I said, “a community”. I needed that community feeling that I had from my synagogue in Mississauga, when you walk into a room and you feel like you are meant to be there. I get this feeling every time I walk into an event at Hillel and see my group of friends sitting there. What Western Hillel has taught me is that there is always time to take a break. I still get nervous every time I walk through the Hillel doors. I find it hard to meet new people and to be sociable all the time. But when I finally get inside, I am truly able to be myself. Not only is it a community that I would consider myself a part of, I consider it to be my family.
It’s not fair to expect us to all be “on” all the time. It’s okay to take a day off and take breaks throughout the day. Everyone has their own ways to cope with the everyday stressors and it’s important that in University we are able to find what works best for us. When I am stressed, I walk by University Hospital and imagine one day being able to work in a hospital. This action of simply walking often grounds me and helps make the bad days a little shorter and the good days a little longer.
Through my role as Ruderman Inclusion Ambassador, I am working on making Western Hillel more inclusive for students with disabilities on our campus. From personal experience, I know that it may be hard to reach out and come to one of our events. But once you do, you won’t regret it. If you need someone to reach out to please don’t hesitate to contact me. If you need an event buddy, a walk buddy, or want to go out for coffee, I am here for you. Lastly, for anyone struggling with mental health, I want to say that your experiences are valid!