Letter from the Editor: Mental Health

October 01, 2020
hand holding envelopes with a pink background
Art by Kim Salac

When someone asks, “How are you?” what do you say? Maybe you bare your soul, laying out your triumphs and trials to a perfect stranger. Maybe you brush past every mishap, replying with only the highlight of your day. Or, if you’re like me, perhaps you rely on an old standby. If “How are you?” is Pavlov, I am its dog. Over many years, my people-pleaser brain has trained me to err on the side of politeness, and avoid at all costs any action that might be overbearing. So, my response is simple, tried, and true: “good.”

“Good” gets me through sidewalk encounters with flying colors, not a misstep in sight. It answers long-time-no-sees like an Oscars acceptance speech written weeks in advance. “Good” has been good to me, this much is true. But I’d be lying if I said I enjoy the routine of it all. I watch my mother have lengthy conversations with cashiers, and admire her willingness to share weekend plans and the reasoning behind every purchase — whether prompted or not.

In this edition of Iris, we’ve teamed up with freelancers from U.Va.’s Peer Health Educators for a publication centered around mental health and wellbeing — in all of its forms. Here, we ask, “How are you?”, and our writers, in all of their boldness, answer with stunning sincerity. 

In “I Am Who I Am”, Sadie Randall looks in the mirror and wrestles with what society mandates a Black woman should be. Pasha McGuigan reveals what lies beyond our biology in “my body a dinosaur”, a paleontological take on positive self image. In “A Gentle Reminder to Drink More Water”, Juliana Callen ponders the curative qualities of water, asking, “What is the fluid ounce equivalent of a single tear?”

Lulu Jastaniah mourns the damage caused by Western wildfires in “Quarrels with the Sky” and, in her own way, douses the flames they represent. In her collection of poems entitled, “Four Tortured Ponderings”, Chloe Lyda leans on the therapeutic nature of writing. Then, Lexi Toufas brings us childlike glee with “An Autumn Memory,” leaf-piles and all.

In their contributions, Peer Health Educators also answer from the heart. Gabi Szabó beautifully articulates the internal battle of mental wellbeing in “off the deep end or back up again”, wondering, “when would the fog lift?” In “The Best Thing”, Jessica Pentel shares her daily method for maintaining gratitude, and Muntaqa Zaman returns to her passion for writing in “trying to write again”.

Whether you find it in the crunch of autumn leaves, a glass of cool water, or exercising your passion, all of us at Iris wish for your sincere wellbeing. In this edition, we seek to go beyond the “good”, and find out: How are you, really? May your checkout chit-chats emulate the authenticity of my mother’s, and may this edition’s pages feel like a warm conversation over coffee with a friend.

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Letter From the Editor