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University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Lasting Impact of Nao’s Tale

After Ruth Ozeki’s presentation last week, it is important to remember that Go Big Read book selections continue
to have a lasting impact on our campus. A Tale for the Time Being has
become a platform for positive campus-wide discussion around mental health
issues and suicide, something that Ozeki herself hoped would happen. These
conversations raise awareness and serve as reminders to take care of ourselves
and our community. One student has chosen to share personal reactions to the
book from the perspective of someone who has struggled with anxiety and
suicidal thoughts. This student’s story reminds us that while Nao is a
fictional character, her experiences are certainly very real for many young
adults. This student story also speaks to the message that seeking help changes
lives for the better.

If you or a friend is struggling,
call University Health Services at (608) 265-5600, select option 9
for our 24-hour mental health crisis line. Help is always available. Remember, Umatter.  

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Begin student reaction —–
 

Nao held onto her suicide as a way of coping with her
uncertainties in life. It makes sense. I can’t stand uncertainty either, and I
had a really hard time accepting the uncertainty that comes with college.

Will I like my roommate?
Will I get into the business school?
Will I stay with my boyfriend or will one of us find
someone we like more?
Will I get a job after college?

The list goes on and on. Starting college, I wished
that I could just know the answers. It kept me up at night. Questions circled
round my head all hours of the day. I never felt at peace. I couldn’t stand
still, couldn’t relax, and always had headaches. 

It only got worse as my freshman year stretched on. I
was worried about a lot of things, but most of all, I feared what happened when
someone dies. During my senior year of high school, a girl in my grade
committed suicide. I had never understood what it really meant to feel haunted
until that day in 2011. I would wake up convinced that she was standing in my
room, watching me. As I would try to fall asleep, I imagined her hovering over
me, whispering into my ear. I couldn’t escape it, and I couldn’t understand why
she would do it. Why would anyone willfully take away their own life?

Well, as my anxiety raged on, I started to understand.
I was so worried about the future; wouldn’t it just be easier if I had no
future? Those worries would all go away. I would go away. I, like Nao, could
just hang onto the idea of suicide as a form of comfort. “Oh, it doesn’t matter;
I won’t be around much longer anyway.”

Lucky for me, as soon as these thoughts entered my
mind, I pictured my school the day after that girl died. I’m sure while she was
standing on those tracks that night in 2011, she had no idea how many lives her
actions were about to affect. She touched everyone at our school, from her best
friends to those freshmen that were pretty sure they had passed her in the
hallway a few times. Her death broke us. Any one of us would have given
anything to have her back in school again. You see, she was loved. She may not
have felt it, she may have been told contrary, she may have convinced herself
that she was utterly alone. It didn’t matter. She was loved. We loved
her.

Thinking back on those weeks after her death reminds
me of the value of a life. We had such an aversive reaction to her death – it
must be because we are made to live! As social beings, we need to rely on one
another. And when someone takes themselves out of the game, it affects all the
players. 

After my freshman year, I got help for my anxiety. I
was diagnosed with Generalize Anxiety Disorder, and started seeing a therapist
at UHS. Those hours we spent together changed my life. I understand that life
will always have uncertainties, and I’m working on embracing them. Now, I’m running
into life, not hiding from it. And although I still have bad days, overall I’m
much happier. For the time being, and hopefully for much longer than that, too. 

Are
you a student who is passionate about suicide prevention or mental health
promotion? Do you want to work to end stigma surrounding mental health issues
on our campus? Check out ASK.LISTEN.SAVE. to connect with student engaged in
these efforts or email outreach.spuw@gmail.com to learn more.