Dear Notre Dame,
I come from a tiny but close-knit family that has always supported me and my dreams. I know that no matter what, they love me and we can get through anything. But, the force of that love was almost unbearable when I felt as though I did not love myself.
It's something peculiar when you don't love yourself. I mean, people always say that the one person who will be there for you is your mom and while that's true in my case, it hurts when the one person who is always there—me—doesn't enjoy her own (my own) company.
It all started my junior year of high school when I was just going through the motions, wanting to get as far away from home as possible. Not because of any particular person, but because maybe then I could get a fresh start and finally be someone worth looking at in the mirror. Little did I know, the stress of getting good grades, being active in clubs, and playing a sport would culminate in weight gain, isolation from people outside of school hours, and worst of all...my own fake smiles.
That pattern didn't break until I finally arrived on campus. As a long-term introvert, I said that I was going to go into Notre Dame as a fake extrovert in order to make friends, network, and see a new face in the mirror. This lasted for about two months. It's true. I've noticed most people coming into college on a high that fizzles out when the ND charm becomes a regularity, almost. The fizzle begins when you walk past the Dome for the hundredth time in a day and surprisingly don't take a picture.
Don't get me wrong, I was a great pseudo-extrovert. I made a bunch of friends in my dorm section, neighboring dorms, my classes, and everywhere in between. But, natural fractures happened in the two months when everyone's genuine personalities emerged. Not in a bad way, it's just that everyone doesn't have the same interests, passions, cultures, etc., and this causes natural separation.
I ended up making some good friends during my freshman year, and the weight gain rolled back, and I scheduled lunches, study breaks, and anything that would give me an excuse to meet with friends outside of school hours. Yet, the worst thing persisted: my own fake smile.
The smile didn't change because I still had not been happy with myself. It's not like I was evil, rooting for others' demise, or being fallacious. Instead, I just hadn't found purpose in my existence.
That began to change sometime in March of my freshman year. I was doing "research" for my Multimedia Writing and Rhetoric class. I had to find a Reddit community and look at what posts went viral and which did not. Then, I had to make a post of my own and track its success. I spent weeks thinking about posts that go viral on r/ShowerThoughts before I just stepped back and asked myself, "Why am I trying to fit in with this subreddit?"
That question hit home.
Because at that moment it wasn't about the subreddit, it was about me. Why am I trying to fit in? I was an individual, unlike any other, just as everyone else is. The only commonality I had with anyone was that we were unique. The largest smile crept onto my face.
I had spent over two years trying to check off the To-Do List of life: good grades, extracurricular activities, volunteering, clear devotion to something. But I neglected to check off the most important thing on the list, a genuine smile that reflects the existence of internal happiness and joy for every step in life.
Thanks to you, Notre Dame, I fell in love beyond my major, lifelong friends, incredible opportunities, so on and so forth…I fell in love with myself—something I should have done a long time ago.