It’s a quiet Thursday evening in my apartment. The roommates and I have made dinner, the kitchen is as clean as it’s going to get for the night and we’ve all settled into our favorite spots on the sofas to watch an episode of some reality TV show. Roommate 2 announces that she’s going to put on a face mask, maybe of the charcoal variety, maybe papaya peel. “Treat yourself!” she says. The other three of us agree, and as she leaves to go apply some concoction to her pores, I begin to think about what “treating yourself” really means. I wonder, is self-care as easy as a face mask?
Denison poured a lot of time, energy and money into “student wellness” this year and I think it’s a great overall initiative. Having an administration encouraging us to put ourselves first, to take time for our health and our mental balance is utterly fantastic. But it’s one thing to encourage wellness and entirely another to create a culture of wellness–something I would argue is far more difficult to jumpstart and build.
As a second semester senior, I look back on my Denison journey with a lot of joy. I also question, on a weekly basis, why I overcommitted myself to so many other people at the expense of time for myself. That isn’t to say that I regret the opportunities made available to me, the ones that I wholeheartedly took up, but I do wonder if I placed too high of an onus on aligning myself with Denison’s culture of “busy.” It’s a hard thing to rationalize and I admittedly haven’t quite figured out just how much I should have cut out, nor do I really want to. What I do know is that I linked my sense of self-worth and fulfillment to how many meetings I had in a given week. I also know that since my term ended last semester on almost all of my extracurricular commitments, I’ve been to the gym four days a week and I am eating better than I ever have in my life. I feel good.
A common trope I heard (and frankly often delivered) to first-year students when they arrived at Denison is to “sign up for everything” at the involvement fair and then “narrow down what you’re really interested in later.” It starts here; when the advice we give to incoming members of our community is to overcommit immediately. What if we told them something different. Say to them, maybe only sign up for three or four things you truly find interesting. Ask as many questions as you can of the people representing those organizations. Understand their stories, why they’re passionate about their group, how you can, as first-year students really make an impact in that club. Getting involved is a fantastic thing, being over-involved isn’t.
If we can change the culture surrounding wellness to mean more than staying in and throwing on a face mask, I think things will change for the better. It doesn’t mean slowing down till you’re bored or staying in the whole weekend, but simply taking the time to enjoy the time you have with yourself. It’s probably one of the most important things I’ve learned from my time at Denison. So hone in on what you love, and for goodness sake, take a walk.