The year 2001 was the hardest of my life. As I tell my students, 9/11 was a national tragedy, but its effects would be felt on my life later. In March of that year, my friend Kristine Noonan took her life by combining several antidepressants, and her death shattered me.

Like most of my peers in West Lafayette, Indiana, I turned to alcohol for solace, not realizing that the more I drank, the sadder I felt, which caught me in a terrible negative feedback loop. I was depressed even before Kristine died, but I did not have the vocabulary to describe how I felt. Soon, even getting buzzed would make me feel suicidal, with my immature brain associating sadness with alcohol. It would take over a decade to rewire the way I thought.

Eight months later, my physical and emotional health still a disaster, my roommate, Blair Tyree Smith, took his own life in the room next to mine on Nov. 9, 2001. Losing anyone to suicide is challenging, but when Blair died, I lost who I was for a long time. Breaking his door down, seeing that he had hanged himself while listening to “Circles” by Incubus, calling 911, talking to the police ... Was I dreaming? Did it happen?

I became, what Charles Bukowski called, “a museum of fear.” I would carry not only Blair’s death, but the emotional weight of his life with me all the way to graduate school in California. After Robin Williams died by hanging in 2014, I was overcome with grief and Blair’s death came roaring back into my life till my therapist, Dr. Keith Higginbotham, had me a write a letter to Blair forgiving him. Keith pointed out that Blair would always and forever be a confused, scared 19-year-old kid and I had to let him go.

After Madison Holleran, a student-athlete at the University of Pennsylvania died by suicide, Kate Fagan wrote a beautiful essay for ESPN in May 2015 titled, “Split Image.” In it, Fagan wrote of the intense pressures that Madison felt due to social media:

“She seemed acutely aware that the life she was curating online was distinctly different from the one she was actually living.”

But it was not just about Instagram and Snapchat; the transition from high school to college was more than Madison had expected.

I never knew Madison or her family, but this story has also stayed with me, especially as those dual 2001 suicides curated a life for me that I did not expect as an educator-turned-mental-health-ally. As I navigate Gonzaga's campus, especially when I eat at the COG – you have seen me, the South Asian American usually wearing a suit and reading while eating – I am also absorbing everything around me. I see you, the undergraduate, “full of hormones” (as Robin Williams said), basking in the freedom of college, but also the bravado that comes with the not knowing.

“Freshman year of college can be like running an obstacle course wearing a blindfold," Fagan wrote. "Nothing prepares you for how hard the workouts will be, how long they last, what each class will be like, which events are fun and which should be avoided.”

This is my first semester teaching at GU, but I believe students see my passion for what it is – a life shaped by tragedy and empathy. Every generation struggles with depression and loneliness, but I am so proud of you, Gen Z, for naming what you need to thrive, and asking for help.

We should all be grateful to work and attend a school like GU that is committed to the idea of cura personalis. I hope that the students who read this know they are not alone; that seeking help is not a sign of defeat, but the first step in the journey of healing. I pray that our students know they will find love and be loved in return; and that they are the answer to someone’s prayers.

Shyam K. Sriram is a lecturer in the Department of Political Science.

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