Brain Sushi

By James M. Heffernan

Surfing and Suffering: Late Night Conversations about Mental Health

In this column, one thing I have mentioned, but not emphasized enough, is the value of having conversations about mental health. So, when I suddenly remembered that I needed to write the last piece for my column while over at my friend’s house on Sunday evening, I decided to ask the guys I was with a few questions about mental health — feeling like it was an appropriate way to wrap things up. And I learned more than a few things as they answered my questions (perhaps, most notably, how a few drinks could turn them into “surfer-bros”).

While Covid-19 has been a major annoyance and a detriment to the mental health of myself and the rest of the student population, it hasn’t been much of an issue for these mates of mine. Although we’ve had the luxury of living in New Zealand, where there have been fewer lockdowns and overall cases than many other countries, through our conversation, I’ve come to believe that regardless of the public health situation, these guys would’ve been equally unaffected.

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“Okay” and “Not Okay”: The Destructive Binary of Mental Health

Back in 2019, I worked part-time at the local hospital. One of my tasks each evening was to push these large steel tanks containing patients’ dinners to different areas of the hospital, and one of the locations I had to deliver the meals to was the Intensive Mental Health Inpatient Unit. Many of the patients would enter from outside for dinner, and, while it may have not been the case for all of them, they seemed free to enter and leave the unit as they pleased.

Yet, there was a glass wall dividing the adjacent nurses’ office from the recreation room where patients would eat and a door that required a security card to pass through. Seeing this gave me the impression that some patients in this facility were dangerous, which stories from other orderlies corroborated. Though, trusting the security measures, I never felt unsafe, the fact that these measures were even in place often made me feel uncomfortable.

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Self-Acceptance, and Other Consequences of a Mario Kart Wii Addiction

Recently, I looked in the mirror after playing Mario Kart Wii for three hours, and thought to myself: Surely, if I can waste time playing a video game that hasn’t been relevant for more than 10 years and still look into the bloodshot eyes of my scruffy, beard-faced reflection — fully aware of the academic betrayal and personal disappointment that’s just befallen me — I must have finally accepted my addiction to Nintendo-related nostalgia as part of who I am. Hooray?

This rare moment of self-acceptance, however, got me thinking about what little of it students typically have, as a direct result of being a student. And, strangely, not for the first time, Mario Kart prompted an introspective journey.

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Wellness Days: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So far, my experience with “wellness days” has been mixed. To any Harvard student who isn’t aware of wellness days, before I fill you in, I should preface my explanation by saying that I admire your ability to ignore your emails. Oh, and I apologize for when your classmates and professors randomly failed to attend classes.

“Wellness days'' are Harvard’s pandemic-era reinvention of what was formerly spring break. Rather than a week-long vacation from college, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ split these five days of break and spread them across the spring semester, fortnightly, on rotating weekdays.

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Bench Press and Belligerence: The Plight of Masculinity

I don’t like the term “toxic masculinity,” or the concept of “masculinity” in general. Masculinity itself perpetuates a rigid idea of what being a man actually involves, and its involvement in the term “toxic masculinity” further suggests that your very identity as a man has the potential to be damaging, as if your gender is an excuse for harmful behavior: “It wasn’t my fault for acting this way, because that’s what being a man, and being masculine, entails.”

If what makes a man different from a woman is his masculinity and lack of femininity, then it feels wrong to suggest that what makes a man a man can be something negative.

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