How to put your life together in seven easy steps

Shine, thrive, and be your best self

How to put your life together in seven easy steps

On several occasions I have been called out for doing “the most” when it comes to school. I take a full course load and I am involved in extracurriculars and volunteer activities while somehow managing to have friends, get a full eight hours of sleep every night, and maintain a 4.0 GPA. Sounds impossible, right? Fear not, you too can have it all — it only takes hard work and seven simple steps.

1. Overthink everything. Break down every idea you have until you hate it and move on to the next until you have exhausted all other options and go back to your original idea.

2. Make time for a weekly existential crisis. What is all of this for? Is U of T worth it? Should I have gone to Ryerson? Will I need to cure cancer to get into grad school? Should I join another club to make it look like I’m a well-balanced student even though I’m already on the brink of collapse? Probably.

3. Make coffee one of your main food groups. My preferred type of coffee is iced regardless of the weather, since it wakes you up and gets you ready to go instead of making you want to curl up into a ball. Also, something about coming to class every day with an overpriced cup of iced coffee just gives off a Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada vibe.

4. Live at the library. I really have brought a blanket to Robarts before. I genuinely don’t understand people who study at home — I still think this is a myth. Surround yourself in the monstrosity that is Robarts Library, with its grim interior and fluorescent lights — it’s just awful enough to make you work extra hard so you can leave as fast as you can instead of watching pointless BuzzFeed videos all day.

5. Learn the art of making lists. I make lists for my lists. I have two calendars in my room — plus an agenda that is colour-coded and organized by type of activity. School gets a section, friends get a section, and even going to buy toilet paper gets a pretty glittery pen colour in my agenda. This way, when people in class look over at you, they think you’re just a busy queen who had no time to waste.

6. Be impatient in every moment. There is always something more you could be doing — and should be doing — to get to whatever goal you’re trying reach. Half the time, you don’t even know what that goal is, but the long line to your aforementioned Starbucks coffee from Robarts between classes is definitely directly hindering your dreams.

7. Do one thing that makes you feel like you have your life together. Even if everything else is a mess around you, if you feel like you’re a boss, you’ll give that energy to everyone around you. I must have my life together if I have a fresh set of nails done, even if I haven’t washed my hair in a week. Life is, after all, about balance.

Why my best friend from college and I are not even friends on Facebook anymore

Let’s talk about sex, the friend zone, and overdue apologies

Why my best friend from college and I are not even friends on Facebook anymore

Dear MG,

I decided to address you formally, mainly because of privacy concerns, but also because a cozy “Hey buddy” probably won’t work for us given the length of time we’ve been verified by Facebook as strangers.

I’ve known you since October 2010, the first day of college, when everything was still open to possibilities. A cohort of art students treaded on cigarette butts outside of the library, smiling at each other as we sought out a sense of belonging. Among those smiling faces, I took a long hard look at my face, as I looked at yours — a heart-shaped face circled by a coarse beard and wild hair ­— and thank god I used to dig that hippie-dippie sort of thing. There was a second of irregular heartthrobs that now aches for a lifetime.

Being a racial minority and an international student in the conservative UK where xenophobia still flares, I found it hard to blend in, even at a liberal arts school. Not to mention, my lack of interest in shopping and money for dining further excluded me from many social occasions. My friend zone had always been stylishly exclusive, by which I mean its membership included a total of two. And you made the cut. Yay!

It is thanks to you that for a large part of my college life I succeeded in feeling like I truly belonged. I felt British. I felt in. I had a good-looking British guy who wasn’t ashamed of being my friend, who phased in and out with all kinds of girls but never fell out with me. I thrived on that and rejoiced. Even though there were moments when we could have turned that friendship into something else, for example, the night when you crashed in my dorm room, and we shared my single bed. You tossed around against my back while I faked snoring, but I made sure that nothing happened because I didn’t want to be phased out. There was never a day when I wasn’t grateful to you for having my back, and even with so much effort on my part not to distort our friendship, I guess it did evolve into something else. After the night of our sleepover, we became each other’s sexless innkeeper who always had a room available in each other’s hearts.

In second year, we moved in together as housemates. You came to my room in the middle of the night, venting out frustration over being in the midst of three girlfriends. I retaliated the next day by perching on your bed and lecturing you for hours on end on some pretentious crap I’d read. We went to classes together, drew penises in the snow collected on random cars, bought Nutella crepes from Christmas market stalls, and raced to town for buy-one-get-one-free Cornish pasties together. Being together, I felt safe. I felt at home. And in such togetherness, I omitted the possibility of change as we geared toward the end of college.

One night, we went home and laid on the slope outside our house, looking at the night sky. I was stoned, and you were drunk. I complained about how now that the city council had finally fixed the street lamp, I could no longer see the stars. You offered to stone the lamp so it would be out again. And we laughed, one head against the other, hands in arms. It was cold and then there was warmth as you turned your head toward me and said, “A, between us, possibility is never off the table.” But like the night I turned you into the sexless innkeeper, I pretended to be too stoned to remember. A couple of weeks later, you got into a new relationship. Only this time, you didn’t phase out.

But how would I know?

I made fun of you in front of your girl like I was really your sister, like no matter what I did, nothing could break us. You were pissed off at me for my disregard and picked a fight with me for someone you’d picked up from the Mac room only months ago. I reacted badly and eventually developed an eating disorder. By the time you cooled down and told me your concerns about my health problem, I was as enraged as I was mortified. I thought I did a good job hiding it, and even if I knew how to seek help, I certainly wouldn’t have asked for it from you. What I didn’t know was that beyond the anger and mortification, I was hurt.

We went on without speaking to each other during the last month before our graduation. I moved out before the end of the tenancy and refused to pay you my last share of the water bill.

Two years since then, the girl you picked up from the Mac room is still in the profile picture on your Facebook account from which I have long been removed. And yet, even now when I type M in the search bar on Facebook, your name is still the first one that pops up. It hurts knowing that these disconnected years have rendered me entirely irrelevant to you. But I hope you know that I’m really sorry and I am grateful to you for our great ride once upon a time.

Regards,

Ali Hendricks

Anger becomes her

The only thing we have to fear is injustice

Anger becomes her

When I was a child, I learned how to turn anger into sadness. Rather than being angry that I had to follow my mother’s rules, angry that my sisters wouldn’t share their toys, or angry that every teacher set impossible standards for me, I swallowed my outrage and got sad instead. Anger felt inappropriate.

For one, I was a child. I didn’t have the right to feel something so strongly, least of all to direct it at those with power: at parents, and older sisters, and teachers. And for another, I was a girl. Boys yelled and threw things when they were upset, but I was a girl, and I was good. If I was good, I could not be angry. And so, with that logic, I snuffed out anger and let it cool, until it became sadness. And I have carried that sadness with me all these years.

Over time, I continued to turn grievance into sadness. With each passing year, my anger became so foreign to me that I relinquished it to whomever opposed me because I had no idea how to wield it. I let an academic advisor convince me to drop out of a program, her words sharp and dismissive as she declared that my situation was hopeless no matter how hard I worked. I let old friends discredit and humiliate me until I became a fraction of my former self and heard the unmistakable din of clipped anger in their voices, because even my sadness offended them. Once, I even let a manager at a retail job convince me that my outfit was unacceptable and that I should know better, despite the fact that other girls with more acceptable bodies were wearing the same pair of leggings I had that day. And each time, I let someone else be angry, so I could be sad. I was good, and if I was good, I could not be angry.

I didn’t want to be angry.

I didn’t want to be an angry woman.

And as I got older, I didn’t want to be an ‘Angry Black Woman.’

Serena Williams, fined and ridiculed for her anger at an umpire at the US Open, is the most recent example of the ‘Angry Black Woman’ trope in full effect. The ‘Angry Black Woman’ stereotype aims to define all Black women with anger as overly aggressive and unbearably ignorant.

A product of slavery, this term normalizes a Black woman’s rage by suggesting that all Black women are angry, and therefore that our anger doesn’t mean anything. Though society scorns all women who lack the docile complacency that it prefers, historical perceptions of Black women as mammies and, in more recent years, other ‘sassy’ characters trivializes our emotions in a way that differs from those of non-Black women. Our rage is either too aggressive to bear or too comical to be taken seriously. In either case, it becomes something to mock, and so do we.

I’ve experienced this mockery in spades. I’ve been considered angry simply for sharing precise and critical opinions in a loud voice with a neutral expression. And, in contrast, I’ve added a smile and watched my opinions lose credibility because I was ‘sassy’ now. But all of this does not make me sad anymore. Now, it makes me angry.

Anger, like sadness, is our heart’s way of telling us that something is wrong. I believe they come from the same place, but simply brew at different temperatures. Sadness should come from things that need to be felt, things that are true and cannot be changed — loss, illness, and the like. But anger should come when there is injustice or unkindness.

When someone has been treated unfairly, they shouldn’t have to hold that in for any reason. Anger is a part of the human experience, an emotion that we all feel, that we all should feel. Anger is something that no gender or colour or age group gets to monopolize.

There are wonderful articles, and books, and speeches that discuss how women’s anger has been driving so much change in the past few years. There are movements, and protests, and challenges to ideologies that have maintained their legitimacy for centuries.

But it still isn’t enough.

There is still so much to be angry about.

Social movements are only possible because of the people who feel strongly enough to continue pursuing what is right. Even if you’re not a woman, you should be able to see the injustices that women face. And if you’re not a Black woman, you should learn to be aware of the extra challenges we face and so on and so forth until we are all angry for everyone, and the injustices that oppress us and those we care about, and even those we don’t know. Anger is just an emotion, and we shouldn’t be afraid to witness it or to hold it inside of us. Instead, we should welcome it with open arms and listen to what it has to say.

You can be good and be angry at the same time.

Students on their first month abroad

Students on their first month abroad

Never as bad as it seems

Studying abroad taught me new ways to fight my anxiety

My first month abroad did wonders for my anxiety, but not in the ways that you would expect.

I decided to spend my third year at Sciences Po in Reims, France. I used to live in Lyon as a child, I spoke (decent) French, and I was familiar with the French culture. However, there are some key differences between moving to another country under the protection of your parents, and having to do absolutely everything by yourself.

French bureaucracy is notoriously slow and my experience was no different. Everything took longer than expected and the extent of the paperwork, online applications, and inefficiency was mindboggling. In addition, the French bureaucrats present every step of an administrative process with the seriousness and severity of a dictatorship.

“I need to do this, or I will be deported,” ran through my mind on a regular basis. Every time I received an email from a French government agency, my heart would skip a beat, and I would read and reread the vague French wording like it was an encrypted message. “If I could find the answer, the thought ran, I might be able to escape the horrific, anxiety-inducing cycle of bureaucracy.

But eventually, I started to realize that nothing was as serious or as final as it seemed. Despite the harsh and strict wording on the administrative websites, the people were — for the most part — understanding, patient, and flexible. And eventually, I found myself saying, “I’m sure it will be fine either way.”

As it turned out, optimism was the best cure for my anxiety. Instead of thinking of all the ways that my life could go wrong, I thought about all the benefits and the possibilities of it already going right. Studying abroad is a naturally stress-inducing experience, even for someone like me, who was going back somewhere I actually knew.

In all honesty, having to face the anxiety that came with completely uprooting my life and taking it somewhere else was really daunting. But the experience and confidence that my time abroad has given me is amazing. Even if it has not always been a complete success, at least I now know better for next time.

I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and my family still lives there, so coming to Toronto was in itself an experience studying abroad. However, it was a similar situation, where I was born in Canada, and I returned to Canada each summer — I knew the language, the customs, and the culture. Yet I had the same kinds of anxiety, the same now-or-never behaviour, that I have only managed to fight by continuing to push myself to keep doing these kinds of challenges. It’s not easy, and it very well might not be permanent, but each step provides me with the audacity to take the next. As someone who suffers from anxiety, pushing yourself to go abroad and furthering your world perspective is a great weapon for continuing to fight the good fight.

— Jillian Schuler


Sea change or ‘wee’ change?

Navigating life, traffic, and self in Edinburgh

Seconds after congratulating myself for ‘understanding’ Edinburgh, I wandered into the headlights of an oncoming taxi. “Bud, where did you come from?” I thought, as I scrambled onto the sidewalk and tried to block out the ensuing chorus of beeps, sneers, and obscenities.

I had glanced to the left before initiating my jaywalk: a simple yet deadly mistake in a country where cars come at you from the other side. Clearly, I still had a lot to learn — which is why I went abroad to begin with.

After nearly three years in the city, I fled Toronto for one simple reason: I was getting too comfortable. I had a great group of friends, decent grades, and a grasp of the landscape. But that was the problem — I was siding with the status quo too much, sleepwalking around campus, and defaulting into the same old routine. I needed something new.

I figured that the best way to reset and gain perspective was to travel. I knew it might be tough, stressful, or lonely, but I knew I’d get something from it. Or, at least, I hoped I would. Furthermore, I didn’t prance off to some exotic location; my trip saw me fly from Halifax to Edinburgh, Scotland. In other words, I travelled from one coastal university town to another — hopefully drunker — coastal university town.

But that was the idea. I wanted to experience new things, sure, but I didn’t want to plunge myself into an unrecognizable, far-flung universe. For me, shuffling off to, say, Warsaw or Moscow or Cape Town would have been very bold, but not very smart.

Edinburgh seemed like the perfect pick: the history runs deep, the scotch flows fast, and the school is second to none. Scotland and Canada have myriad links — my home province, Nova Scotia, translates to New Scotland in Latin. And I’d also be close to some great travel destinations.

So, after mulling it all over, I decided to buy the ticket and take the ride.

It’s been fantastic so far. The culture shock has been minimal. Of course, the slang is odd, the people are new, and the food is different, but that’s part of the fun. Grappling late at night with the notion of haggis and debating at what point you’re qualified to say ‘mate’ instead of ‘man’ is what makes exchange so entertaining. All the new stuff keeps you on your toes, analyzing and questioning and learning as much as possible.

It’s a great reminder of that sacred rule: never get too comfortable. When I did in Toronto, my ability to scrutinize, explore, and be creative atrophied. I became a ‘wee’ bit arrogant, and my drive to change — to grow — was muted.

The signs can be subtle, sneaky, and gradual, but they can also come right out of the blue — horn honking, headlights on, middle-finger up. Either way, it pays to be wary and to do what you can to maintain perspective and humility through it all.

— Ted Fraser


Freedom in France

Learn a new language for phone plans and food

“Did you know I went to Europe?” I shout to my last remaining friends as they get in the car and drive away from the ditch on the side of the road they have abandoned me in. “Did I mention that I studied abroad in France?” I say, as my family signs the papers removing me from their will.

Though I may have no love left in my life and no home to go back to, I have zero regrets about the month I spent in Tours, France, a little city a few hours south of Paris — which I also went to, in case you were wondering.

As a disclaimer, I fully wore rose-coloured glasses during the entire time I was abroad, wherein I studied French and ignored all my problems. I’m also very aware of the luck that is inherent in getting to fly across the world and muck about for a month. With that being said, perhaps this mediocre chronicle of my adventures can be my way of ‘paying it forward’ — the least I can do is to allow less fortunate folks to live vicariously through my glamorous Parisian escapades.

I arrived in France thinking that I could coast on my high school language skills, and I ended my first day sobbing in bed, clutching my French for Beginners dictionary. Who would have guessed that French people exclusively spoke French?

What brought me to the point of uncontrollable tears was my attempt to buy a phone plan. More than food, shelter, and clothing, this is the most important thing you can do in a new country, and also something that will completely destroy you if you can’t speak the language. Never have I been a larger advocate for a universal language than when I was trying to figure out how to say ‘data’ in French. Luckily for me, I had arrived with some other U of T students who were actually fluent and I placed my life in their hands. I was pressured into buying a slightly more expensive plan, but that’s just a part of the Experience™.

From that disastrous beginning, I realized that I probably needed to learn the language, which wasn’t too difficult seeing that I was in France and enrolled in French-language courses. What further motivated my desire to learn French was my need to be able to understand menus, so that I would not accidentally order raw meat.

And that was how I passed my month. I spent the days learning French, the nights tasting wines, and the weekends getting lost in Paris. I celebrated la Fête nationale by the Eiffel Tower and I biked the countryside visiting châteaux. I met people who have remained my friends to this day.

As I’m writing this in my room surrounded by dirty plates and textbooks, I realize that I probably peaked that summer. But it will all be worth it when, one day, I’m old and gray, sitting by the fireplace, and showing my 10 cats pictures of the most delicious pasta I’ve ever had.

— Josie Kao

This winter, the time is nigh to catch your feelings

Let’s talk about sex, ‘Netflix and chill,’ and cuffing season

This winter, the time is nigh to catch your feelings

The cultures of the world have changed much in the 700 years since feudalism was Europe’s ‘hot new gift’ to society. If you ripped a fourteenth century peasant out of their straw-thatched home and somehow got them on Twitter, you would probably be solely answering frantic, God-fearing questions for the foreseeable future. 

But after careful translation and explanation, one thing would still be abundantly clear: humans are and always will be walking contradictions.

Human languages are efficient at describing everything except the ironically unplanned ‘love child’ between our grey matter and the fact of the matter: love, and its adjacent cousin, intimacy.

Based on the millions of artifacts, documents, and tweets produced by us since time immemorial, you’d think that our willingness to admit how caught up we are in love would somehow ignite a sense of cultural candour. But no — the peasant would certainly agree — that would be too simple for us.

Even in our most intimate moments, when we’re allowing someone new purchase into the most vulnerable parts of us — in every sense of the word — humans get afraid. 

Humans reacting negatively out of fear? What a hot take! But really, our collective unwillingness to vulnerability is a bit of a cultural phenomenon. 

Take ‘Netflix and chill,’ by which the bashful — I mean uncreative — mask the embarrassing advent of planned or possible sexual intercourse with dinner and a movie. 

Take the idea of ‘cuffing season,’ when for a whole five or more months, we collectively use cold weather and seasonal affective disorder merely as a complex gateway event for prospective coitus.

It’s one thing to commit to watching Disney’s Mulan, but if you’re using it as an excuse, like so many of us, to sugarcoat your vulnerabilities instead of ‘getting down to business’ to defeat some ‘buns,’ that speaks to a common impulse. 

It’s in our nature to be skeptical — our mere existences are extant proof of that. It’s kept us as a species alive for a couple hundred thousand years.

Though we’ve learned to put aside our inward urges to create the civilizations and institutions that make us distinct from our feral ancestors, these are failsafes of a much different time. We feel the need to give ourselves excuses to be intimate, instead of just being intimate, simply for fear of being hurt. 

And if you think these symptoms of our fear — our ‘Netflix and chill,’ our ‘cuffing season,’ or whatever other excuses we may conjure up — seem inconsequential, they are only the tip of our anxious, dubious iceberg. 

I’m aware that I’m preaching to the choir; this isn’t news to anybody.

What should be, though, is the realization that we have the capacity to resist this side effect of fear that’s been homebrewed inside of us for millennia. It’s an audacious, courageous claim to choose trust over skepticism, to be vulnerable even when you aren’t ready for it.

And I don’t blame anybody for their doubt. Many cultures, including our own, gladly trade and reward empathy for cold exactness. The world is such a hurtful place that it’s practically revolutionary to be sincere.

It’s high time for us to break down the walls we’ve become so accustomed to building. Watch your movies because snuggling is the best, or because the plot is airtight, or because it gives you an excuse to procrastinate, or just about anything other than denying yourself your right to candour.

I’ll level with you — odds are not in your favour. You will get hurt by being wholehearted. And you probably already know that.

But I say that it’s worth it. 

Suffice it to say, our world is not that of our forebears. Singlehandedly, humans forged societies with opportunity for class growth, the existence of equity, and the chance to diversify our narrow, single-world views. Being frank and heartfelt could be the next insurgency that brings us to be better than we ever were.

Even if it’s one small opportunity — one TV show, an obligatory date, a conversation you’re beating around the bush for — there exists a space for frankness that we can fill with probity.

And maybe if we’re broken when we come out on the other side, the cracks in our façades may give way to a better foundation that will last us for generations to come.

Free pancakes changed my life

We need student organizations to create community on campus

Free pancakes changed my life

From the outside, UTSG is an odd collection of dissimilar buildings. It’s a mosaic of clashing architectural styles, filled with students and academics of wildly different disciplines.

Yet, on any given day, in any given building, you can probably find a fold-out table with buttons, stickers, and a cardstock sign that says “free food.” At Woodsworth College, you’ll find this table every Wednesday from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, staffed with dedicated student volunteers flipping pancakes to hand out to their peers.

Student organizations are what bring university to life. With thriving clubs, course unions, and student societies, a collection of buildings becomes a vibrant campus.

It was a Wednesday at Woodsworth that I found out about the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA), and later decided to run for mental health director. I found more than free breakfast every week; I found a group of students who work to make our college a home for everyone.

The WCSA uses student fees to create social events, professional opportunities, wellness workshops, and so much more. When our $7.50 student levy each semester becomes a pizza party with a make-your-own sundae bar, a coffee social with free donuts and boardgames, or an open-mic night, it becomes conversation, friendships, and community.

The importance of free food to university students should not be understated, but the role of student organizations goes beyond providing snacks — they also advocate for and empower students. The WCSA provides professional development grants, funds clubs at Woodsworth College such as the American Sign Language club and the Woodsworth College Racialized Students Collective, and meets with administrators to lobby for student interests.

My position, mental health director, was added last year to further mental health advocacy on campus. Our equity director is spearheading the push for gender-neutral washrooms at Woodsworth College.

The WCSA dedicates funds to mental health and equity, not only to make our college a safer space, but also to signal to the administration that equity and mental health are priorities to us as students and to push the administration to dedicate further resources to these areas.

Being involved with the WCSA and The Varsity, I often receive questions about whether extracurriculars take away from academics or the ‘real’ reason for my being at university. But I can’t imagine school without these outlets. I’m developing skills I know will help me after I graduate, including email correspondence, teamwork, and project management.

Beyond professional skills, I’ve found my voice as an advocate. If it weren’t for joining the WCSA as mental health director, I would never have applied to be part of Plan International Canada’s Youth Advisory Council (YAC), where I work with young people from across the country to advocate for gender equality.

As trivial as it sounds, I’m simply a happier person because I’m involved on campus. Writing for The Varsity, serving on the WCSA, competing in moot tournaments, and being part of the YAC have all had a positive impact on my mental health. These activities provide me with a support network, structure, and a greater sense of purpose. It’s difficult to imagine succeeding in school without these communities.

But I’m worried for the future of student organizations in the wake of the recent announcement of the tuition cut and “non-essential” non-tuition fees becoming no longer mandatory. Involvement in student organizations and the student press is something I want to be available to every student. When tuition is cut, funds for student associations may be the first to go as they become optional.

By cutting these opportunities, the provincial government is doing more than putting free pancakes at risk — it is taking away our outlet, our community, and our voice.

A retail worker’s Black Friday

Being lionhearted, dealing with indecisive shoppers, tidying up to Lorde

A retail worker’s Black Friday

Black Friday — the time of year when even the most sophisticated stores are redesigned by former window shoppers to match the aesthetic feel of a flea market.

Five weeks prior to the day, the countdown begins. Calls are made daily to sales associates to ask not if, but when, we are free to work the notorious weekend. During this time, the excuse of ‘focusing on school’ is a luxury reserved for the lionhearted — those associates who, in the weeks leading up to the big day, can withstand the relentless pleas of stressed and understaffed managers.

I am not lionhearted.

Still, for the sake of my sanity, I try to limit the proportion of my shift spent dealing with customers. Last year, that meant working from 5:00–10:00 am so that by the time that we opened for business, I only had an hour left of work. This year, I worked from 5:00 pm to 1:00 am — less of a treat, since we don’t close up shop until 9:30 pm. Fortunately though, that meant that a decent portion of my shift was spent peacefully rearranging the store in the wake of the consumer hurricane that had swept through the store throughout the day to the calming tunes of Lorde’s Pure Heroine.

No purchases for me.

The “DOOR BUSTING SALE!” the store had offered was the employee discount I normally get, with the only difference being that any purchase I would make on this day would come with a complimentary 30-minute line-up paired with claustrophobia.  

The real disappointment: I didn’t even get to enjoy the mall food, my habitual break-time treat. Much like the rest of the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, the Urban Eatery — my third home — was infested with eager yet slow-walking shoppers who don’t have their orders memorized and also like to kick off their lunches with a million samples. Meanwhile, the decisive ones among us watch from the back of the line, frustrated.

No, thank you, I’ll settle for a chocolate bar from Shoppers and a cigarette.

Still, I can’t deny that there is a part of me that loves Black Friday. It’s a joy to hustle with my retail family, bringing good cheer to eager shoppers who probably care about material possessions more than they should.  

We’ll save that discussion for New Year’s resolutions. Just kidding; see you next year.

Watching my team from the stands

The life of an injured athlete

Watching my team from the stands

Injuries suck. As an athlete, the worst thing I’ve ever experienced is being told that I can’t play. Throughout my years of competing in high-performance field hockey, my most difficult moments are when I’m forced to watch my team play from the stands.

No injury of mine has been more difficult to cope with than the concussion I sustained in an August pre-season match against the Calgary Dinos while preparing for the 2018 Varsity Blues field hockey season. With 30 seconds left on the clock, I reached out my stick to trap a loose ball when someone knocked into me. I didn’t know if she had come from beside me or behind me, but I knew that my neck and my head hurt. As I fell to the ground, the half ended and, with some assistance, I waddled uncomfortably to a seat on the far side of the bench, away from the team. As I sat frozen still with the floodlights stinging my eyes, only one thought entered my mind: this is not happening.

I knew what a concussion felt like. My season ended one game too early in 2017 when a ball smacked me in the eye, leaving me with a nasty black eye and a moderate concussion. Sitting on the bench while our therapist asked about my symptoms and tested my memory, I tried my best to downplay how I was feeling and score perfectly on the tests — but I soon knew it was over. Based on my sensitivity to the bright back-campus lights, my difficulty focusing on the words that the therapist kept repeating, and the general sensation that I was spinning, I could tell I was concussed. After the game, my teammates repeatedly asked, “You’re okay right?” to which I responded, “Yeah, don’t worry, my neck just hurts a little,” attempting to convince them I was fine as a way of trying to convince myself too.

A doctor’s appointment the next day confirmed what I already knew but refused to believe: I had a concussion. In the weeks following my injury, I spent time away from the team — missing meetings, practices, and weightlifting sessions. Focusing on my rest and recovery, I still had two weeks before the regular season started to get myself back into the lineup. Those two weeks passed, and despite my dedication to my rehabilitation program, I achieved minimal progress. The team traveled to Waterloo to open the regular season and I stayed at home. Part of me was sad to be missing the start of the season, while part of me was relieved. I knew my concussed brain couldn’t handle the bus trip, the game, or the emotional experience of sitting out of our season opener — a moment I had looked forward to and trained for over the past nine months.

As the season went on, I stayed home while the team traveled. After a month of sitting out, it became clear that I would not step on the field for the 2018 field hockey season. I mourned this news for weeks. I sobbed as I sat at home every night knowing that my team was on the field without me; because of the severity of my symptoms, I wasn’t even allowed to go watch. Maybe I was so upset because it was my fourth season and I felt like I was reaching the peak of my career, or that I devoted most of my summer to training for the season more than I ever had before, or because I’m a captain and I felt that I was letting my team down more and more with every game I missed. Likely, all three reasons, combined with my concussion symptoms, trapped me in a gloomy haze of mourning over field hockey. I was unable to look at pictures, read game recaps, or look at my stick without choking up.

It was not until the final weeks of the season when I embraced my role as an injured player. Due to several other injuries throughout the season, a group of injured players began to emerge — some of whom were also concussed — and we helped each other navigate the difficult experience of sitting out. We formed a community of support, always there for each other because we had a shared understanding of how brutal injuries can be. My fellow injured teammates and I helped the team prepare for games and kept them focused. We cheered them on as loudly as we could from the stands, and we were the first ones to comfort them during tough losses. I felt more a part of the team during these weeks than I had earlier in the season, when I still pictured myself on the field.

Despite never attending a practice or stepping on the field in a game, this season taught me the importance of every member on the team, no matter how seemingly small their role. I learned that I am a valued member of our team, even if I’m at home in bed during practice or in the bleachers at the game. Watching this season from the stands also made me realize how much I love field hockey. Watching my teammates thrive on the field was inspiring and I wanted nothing more than to be out there with them. I still look forward to the day when I pick my stick back up.

Perhaps most importantly, I realized how much I take my health for granted. With my days full of uninterrupted dizziness, difficulty focusing, and struggling to do any basic exercise without provoking symptoms, I long for the healthy field hockey player I used to be. I picture the athlete who enjoyed her afternoons in the gym weightlifting with her team, her evenings and weekends at the field, and sharing in the collective struggle of the climbing machine with her friends. I know she’ll be back soon and I can’t wait.