Summer is meant for swimming—even if you dislike the water or don’t know how to swim. There are puddles, pools, oceans, and our brains. Yes, as might be the case for a lot of people, my own mind is a place where I’ve been swimming a lot lately.

“If you take care of your mind, you take care of the world.” – Arianna Huffington

There are many questions and emotions to paddle through right now—especially when stuck inside to confront them. For most of us, distractions are farther away than normal. The at-home theatre seats have fallen to the floor from overuse, the at-home workouts all blend together, and the “We’re in this together” momentum can feel just as leaden as the homemade bread that has the consistency of concrete. The internalized struggles we may have avoided for months, years, or even decades are now at the forefront. I only want to write this all now because I’m finding more and more often that I am not alone with these sentiments.

Conversations about mental health are becoming more widely accepted as people begin to understand the language surrounding these specific health issues. An individual’s mental health is entwined in their every word and action. We need our minds to be healthy in order to survive. I’ve decided against sharing the specifics of the conversations I’ve engaged been in because I think it’s more important that you start your own. Take the time to see where they goes. I invite you all to participate in discussions with those around you—have the uncomfortable conversations that make you question your position and that also help you better understand others.

Here comes the plug. Come to a caucus—one, two, even all of them. Attend not just to support NIRSA, but to support yourself. The variety of caucuses means there should be at least one that will be an appropriate space for you to learn. Panels and Q&As are on the way. We’re swimming in ideas as well as sharing them. So jump right in—the water’s fine! Information I’ve learned from others has gotten my mind going—not in an endless monologue I want to shut off, but in way that’s rejuvenating.

“Every human is like all other humans, some other humans, and no other human.” – Clyde Kluckhon

Sharing authentic interactions reminds people why we are here. I admit to being distracted by the screens so often in between us. So much so that I have lost sight of the impact and joy to be found in the work of social justice. It’s easy to get distracted by pixels and not see beyond them. It takes some special voices to awaken our autopilot hearts.

Every word uttered in these Zoom conversations has left me feeling invigorated and empowered. After leaving each call, I spend a moment staring at my blank monitor and shout “This screen is not a barrier, it‘s a doorway!” Through these channels I have met people I may never interact with in the real world and with whom I certainly have never had such raw unedited dialogue, which is how we’re engaging now almost daily. This is the fresh air I have been craving. I wonder if anyone else has been feeling this way too.

Our minds can be tangled and scary places when we barely ever explore them. Rather than cower from the hoarder’s nest in our heads maybe we can start picking up the broom. That’s where I am: Gently sweeping up the half-explored struggles and the forgotten hurt. For many years, my cleaning techniques have consisted of spraying the mess with a toxic positivity air freshener in hopes it would clean the place up. I realize now that I was just polluting the air and blinding myself while the clutter built up around me. We need to embrace and take care of these minds of ours for the rest of our lives.

“You live most of your life inside of your head. Make sure it’s a nice place to be.” – Anonymous

Part of my routine is using baking to break up the ongoing monologue in my head. But I’m not baking bread now since I really cannot survive another wheat-filled tragedy. Instead, I watch my cakes rise and I feel a sweetness in my gut. Not from the digested sugars, but from a sense of unending hope. Seeing the bubble and lift of a chocolate horizon in an artificial oven light is like seeing the sun rise. It means everything is going to be ok. If we take a second to just look, we can see the pieces of our lives falling into place around us.

It’s easy to get lost in comparisons—we can’t help but place ourselves next to others and take stock of our accomplishments and the work we all turn out. In an increasingly digital world, validation of our efforts needs to come from different places. Tiptoeing around the concept of validation for fear of sounding whiney, I was quickly met with some clear words of advice: “All humans need validation.” Our passions are real even if the products they yield feel less tangible. People coming into my life are showing me more and more everyday that the greatest achievements, the lands unconquered, all lie inside of us. What more mysterious landscape, what more thrilling discovery, than to spend time figuring out who we really are?

Fitness and Wellness Graduate Assistant at University of Kentucky | NIRSA Profile

Tanika Santos, NIRSA Student Leader, is currently the Fitness and Wellness Graduate Assistant at the University of Kentucky.