I arrived at U of T a mere four days prior to the perennially-named 69th Annual Luau. One of my orientation leaders told me about the annual luau, held at the Kappa Alpha Literary Society (KA), which everyone who was anyone would apparently be attending.

Immediately, a few questions came to mind. One: what is the difference between a literary society and a frat? Two: is this a genuine celebration of Hawaiian culture? And three: will there be alcohol?

I was in the same boat as the other first-year students surrounding me, yet I felt as though I was having a more difficult time making friends and connecting with people. It took me a while to feel like I was part of the U of T community — mostly, I just felt weird and uncomfortable. So, needless to say, I had a strange time at the luau.

I spent most of the night standing against a wall, switching off between beer and a vile concoction of beer mixed with Red Bull. I tried to engage in small talk with others but couldn’t shake off my feeling of discomfort. Apparently my discomfort was palpable, since the same orientation leader who had told me about the luau approached me and started talking to me.

“Are you having a good time?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you want to leave?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

My second time at the luau was a different type of uncomfortable, given that I can’t remember the event itself very clearly. Going into second year, I felt that I had shown a significant amount of growth. New year, new me. I wanted to build my confidence and prove that I had changed from the awkward and overly emotional mess I was in first year.

But the night ended with me crying over a failed relationship on the front lawn of KA with one of my friends. At least I had friends this time, right?

Despite two years of bad luaus, my tradition of attending prevailed. I knew that, given my past experiences, there was a good chance I would have a bad time again, but what I also realized was that I had never had a bad time because of the event itself, but rather because of my personal circumstances during the event. I had endowed the luau with the symbolic importance of signifying my growth over the year as a human being.

I wanted to become a happier person, to feel more comfortable around others, and to mature into the person I knew I would eventually become. Mostly, I wanted to feel comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to feel like I was becoming the best version of myself. Maybe that’s too much significance to place on a frat party, but there I was doing it anyway.

My third time at the luau was a more positive endeavour, though not by much. Was anything about my life perfect this time? Absolutely not. I’d had a moment of weakness earlier that day and ended up sitting at home crying, journaling, and drinking copious amounts of wine. Somehow, though, I managed to resolve my bad mood in time to enjoy a night out with my friends.

Like many, I fall into the trap of setting expectations for my personal development rather than letting it happen organically. I wanted to reach a goal but ignored the steps it would take to get there. It’s impossible to reach a place of total self-confidence overnight. Hell, it’s impossible to reach it after two years.

Letting go of my anxieties about my lack of confidence was something I thought I would have figured out by my third year, although I’m not completely there yet. But I’m doing better than I was before, and that’s something worth celebrating.

We’re often striving for a state of equilibrium where everything is fine and we have everything worked out, but that’s not how the world works. We’ll always have conflicts, both external and internal, that we need to struggle through.

I maintain that, for those of us struggling with mental illness, being happy is the most difficult thing to do. I suppose the point is to keep trying, keep learning from your experiences, and, despite the universe telling you not to, keep heading to the KA luau.