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two students walking along the water
October 24, 2018
3 mins read

The importance of vulnerability

What happens when you hit a wall and don’t know what to do? In first year, this is what Aaron faced. Here’s his story.

This post involves a story that includes thoughts of suicide. You may be concerned that someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts. You may be thinking about suicide yourself. The most important thing you can do is reach out for a friend or yourself. Help is available.

In 2011, I got lucky and received a scholarship that allowed me to leave my middle-class, Southern Ontario upbringing and fly across the country to the school of my choice. I was the first person in my immediate family to attend university, and I felt immense pressure to succeed to make my family and friends at home proud.

However, at a school as competitive as UBC, I quickly hit a wall that many of you are probably facing right now. Suddenly, my old habits and natural ability weren’t enough to cut it anymore.

To this day, I still remember the feeling of my stomach dropping the first time I got back a failed assignment, or the time I broke down in front of my math professor during office hours.

As things started to fall apart, I progressively diluted the good things in my life.

I cut out exercise, extra-curriculars, sleep, and socializing—all while maintaining a poker face with my classmates and family. When I was around people, I seemed cheerful, sarcastic, witty, and completely unfazed by the pressures of university life. When I was alone, I cried my eyes out, thought constantly about dropping out, and hated myself. As the rainy season took hold of campus, I fell into a deep depression and, in November, I started to consider suicide.

In those dark weeks, I learned that society teaches us everything backwards. Failure has nothing to do with letting other people down—it’s about refusing to let other people in.

I was one of the lucky ones because my girlfriend reached out for help on my behalf when I wouldn’t let myself. Had she not made the phone call to her mother, who offered me the support I needed, I don’t know what would have happened.

Maybe I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to backpack through Europe and Southeast Asia, teach myself to play the guitar, or become a brother of Phi Delta Theta. I might not have been hired as a Residence Advisor, where I spent 3 years helping first years understand the importance of asking for help.

And I definitely wouldn’t have given a speech at Imagine UBC in 2015 to 8,000 new students, sharing the difficulties I faced when I first got to university. In contrast to the pep and energy surrounding me that day, I made the decision to offer a dose of realism about the challenges of student life that would hopefully stick with the audience and help them when they needed it most.

Vulnerability is about embracing failure, making mistakes, and reaching out to other people when you need to.

There are many resources at UBC, and you don’t need to struggle through challenges alone, especially when there are awesome, non-judgemental people going through similar things all around you. Opening up and asking for help won’t just make your UBC experience a more positive one—it can be life-saving.

Resources available to help: