OPINION: Don’t be fooled, your ‘baggage’ isn’t a burden

Drawing of a group of friends sitting in a circle, listening to one person talk
(Bella Pettengill • The Student Life)

As someone who’s wrestled with the tumultuous rollercoaster of mental health, I can confidently state that most of what I want to say ultimately goes unsaid. The stigma behind mental health makes it difficult to be candid when you live with an invisible hand stifling your unvoiced thoughts. Self-doubt wins out over self-assurance, suppressing the feelings that may be a little too intense for casual conversation. So I accept that hand, allow it to sit in its designated place, and let it fulfill its purpose of turning my ringing sentiments to a hush.

In conversation, many feel the need to self-censor, filter or make light of their concerns in order to avoid making other people feel uncomfortable. In this context, I’m going to refer to the conception of sharing as an “indulgence.” When meeting new people and finding our way around fresh relationships, it feels easiest to keep conversation to the basics. If we venture too far into personal territory, are we at risk of scaring someone off?

When we consider the most intimate parts of ourselves a burden on others, our conversations become more calculated. Sharing our most intimate feelings becomes this “indulgence,” something we enjoy despite its supposed impropriety. In such a bind, we’re plagued with the sinking feeling that we cannot make ourselves heard without emotionally unloading on our peers. So we project an image of ourselves that’s easiest for others to digest, molding our words to be more palatable.

Think about a conversation you’ve had, one where you’d been itching to share your innermost thoughts. Let’s say you were healing from an onerous experience, and the words were bubbling up inside of you, dying to be blurted out. But you ultimately brushed it off with a joke, or swallowed the words before they surfaced. Maybe the environment didn’t call for it or your peers seemed dispassionate about the sway in conversation. 

But your “baggage” — those real, vulnerable, honest feelings — aren’t a burden. We don’t need to compartmentalize our feelings and store them away, never to be seen again. Your most vulnerable thoughts matter as much as your ordinary ones, and they deserve a place in conversation. 

It’s possible that some people don’t have the bandwidth to take on someone else’s issues, in which case I would strongly recommend two things: for the speaker to ask their friend if they’re in the right mindset to hear them out, and for the friend to actively engage in boundary-setting. As the listener, we can practice radical empathy without internalizing someone else’s pain. 

I advise anyone who feels anxious about sharing their truest feelings to have faith in their peers’ good intentions. If your peers don’t have good intentions, that’s a reflection on them, not you. But trust me; as someone who’s been on the other side, we want to hear you out. I believe I can speak for the majority when I say that, although we’re not healers in any capacity, we want to make space for you and validate your feelings to the best of our ability. 

Regardless of who you try it with, destigmatizing the idea of “baggage” starts with acknowledging the validity of those raw, unpleasant feelings. And I hope we can strive towards embracing and sharing those feelings, free of hesitation and with trust.

Shay Suresh CM ’24 is from San Jose, California. She loves literary fiction, folk-rock music and making Pinterest boards.

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