The most important lesson

Two weeks ago, I sent my mother a WhatsApp message crying and asking her to call me because I was so overwhelmed with graduating, becoming an adult and leaving my comfort zone. As I wiped the tears off my face and stared at the message I had just sent, I knew how far I had come in the past four years.

To put this into perspective, I had never really confided in a member of my family about my emotions before I came to Berkeley. I grew up in the United Arab Emirates and came from an Indian family, so conversations about mental health were never brought up. As a result, I grew up suppressing my emotions. When I was sad, I simply cried in my room, screamed into a pillow and wiped the tears off my face. When I was angry, I sulked on the side and hoped someone would give me attention. On top of that, my abilities and opinions were constantly undermined. Living in the shadow of an overachieving brother and in a patriarchal society, I grew up hearing about my shortcomings and, unfortunately, took all of it to heart. In fact, my own grandfather could not believe I had graduated from high school with an award recognizing my academic achievement.

I bottled up so many unexpressed emotions that when it came time to live on my own across the world, I knew I was going to reach a breaking point — it was just a matter of when.

The first breaking point came quite early. It was my second semester of freshman year when I took my heaviest courseload, joined way too many on-campus organizations and became incredibly invested in building social relationships. Something had to be placed on the backburner that semester, and it ended up being my academics. As the semester ended and I struggled to piece together everything I had learned, my stress levels were at an all-time high. I still remember during dead week, after pulling several all-nighters and chugging cans of Red Bull, I felt so physically ill that I could not eat, sleep or concentrate. It was the first time I had shown my weakness and confided in others for support. I was scared, and my friends were scared, too. Even their simple advice to take a break meant a lot to me in that moment, so I took a step back and listened to them.

In the past four years, I have had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Several times, I felt unmotivated, average and undeserving of the opportunity to study here. On the flip side, I have never felt more inspired, enlightened and happier than in my time here.

During my last semester, I was finally able to take a class with Dacher Keltner on the science of human emotion. It was the perfect culmination of my college experience as I learned about the biological, philosophical and cultural underpinnings of the emotions I had tried to grapple with for so many years. During our last lecture, professor Keltner spoke about the costs of suppressing one’s emotions and the importance of embracing them. Have a one-on-one conversation and try your hardest to reason with them.

From my time here at UC Berkeley, I have come to realize that there is always going to be some form of stress in our lives, so we should take the time to do something for ourselves. Give your mental health the same importance you would give your physical health. Talk to others when you feel down. Take a jar, write down each moment that inspired you on a piece of paper and read them again when you feel dejected. Breathe, relax — as a Golden Bear, you can really accomplish anything.

After I came to Berkeley, I realized the weight of a simple “How are you?” from my peers. People cared about how I was doing, and eventually, opening up about my emotions helped me build deeper relationships. My mom was genuinely surprised that I called her up crying for help — so much so that she has not stopped sending me motivational quotes alongside candid pictures of me. There are a lot of times UC Berkeley can be incredibly taxing and toxic for your mental health, but I am so grateful to have spent four years at an institution that actually has conversations about it. From wellness weeks to rest zones, I have learned the importance of taking care of myself and reaching out for help when I needed it most.

And for that, I thank all the experiences I have had, the lessons I have learned, the people I have met and the stories I have heard for making this chapter in my life — the Berkeley chapter — the most meaningful thus far. Thank you to the Daily Cal for being a home for the last two years, and truly, Go Bears!

Divya Suri was the assistant sales manager in fall 2016 and spring 2017. previous Senior Business Board Member (Spring 2016), local (Spring 2015) and senior (Fall 2015 and Spring 2016) account executive. She is graduating with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and media studies, with a Certificate in Technology Entrepreneurship.