My first semester at university was an utter disaster. I experienced mental health struggles and hardships due to bullying and stalking. This caused serious issues with eating, sleeping, completing work, and pursuing hobbies, and I didn’t feel like myself at all. It led me to make the difficult decision to try transferring to another school. I started and submitted my applications the day they were due (not wise, wouldn’t recommend) and didn’t have high hopes. It was definitely a shot in the dark, but I figured that since I was already in the dark, why not give it a shot?
With my declining mental health and nothing to lose, I went for it. Weeks later, I was floored to see that I’d gotten into two out of the three schools I had applied to, and into the programs of my choice. After a grueling decision process between staying in a familiar but traumatizing situation, versus venturing into the complete unknown, I chose the latter. In a matter of two weeks, I withdrew from my school, enrolled into New York University, packed my bags, and flew to NYC to start anew.
Starting the new semester was incredible; I was ecstatic meeting new people and friends, taking amazing classes, having a constant stream of things to do, and living in a whole new place. Nothing could hurt me now. “New place, new life, no problems, right?”
As my “new” life forged on, any and all moments of quiet turned into reminders of what I’d sprinted away from. If I spent too long alone or I wasn’t distracted, I spiraled into a dark place again. I’d fully moved in, but couldn’t unpack my feelings about my previous situation. It was as if a luggage, invisible to everyone but me, was following me wherever I went. I was terrified of reliving the pain if I dared to open it. However, the weight I carried with me only seemed to get heavier and heavier the more I ignored it. Even with the numerous exciting things that filled my days, my hurtful memories always resurfaced.
Fast forward to the end of my second semester, I was truly adjusting to my new and healthier routine. Finals were coming up and I had a million projects to finish, one of which was supposed to be an original short film. This excited me because being able to express myself artistically has always been an important part of my identity. I took this opportunity to address the unpleasant feelings I’d experienced.
I named my film “Lug”, which means “to carry or drag a heavy, bulky object with great effort”. In the film, I represented trauma with a suitcase almost coming alive, following me all over New York. In the video, it chased me while I was on a run, in the middle of the elevator, and even on the dinner table while I was on a date! At the very end, my character decided to pause and finally confront the suitcase, realizing that if I opened it, I could be free.
Planning and filming each scene empowered me. I was facing my issues while making something meaningful of them that I could share with others. Showcasing it to my class, friends, and professor was like giving all of these new people a glimpse into my struggle. Coming up with the baggage analogy, something that made sense of my mess of feelings, gave me clarity and hope. For the first time, the burdens I carried with me didn’t seem quite as heavy.
This isn’t to say the baggage isn’t still here, because it definitely is. I have a lot more unpacking to do, as I had just begun my journey of making peace, bit by bit.
Growing up, I never learned much about trauma, especially the after-effects of it. It doesn’t just disappear with time alone, especially if you don’t have the bandwidth or resources to address it. Fortunately, I learned how to express myself in a healthy way.
With newfound strength and an eventual willingness to thoroughly reflect, I was able to channel my hurt into art in an original and freeing way.
My hope is that everyone finds a way to address their baggage in a healing way that is unique to them.