Using Storytelling to Unite the Sick and Healthy on College Campuses
By Heena Nissaraly and Evelyn Caty
Elaine Scarry, Harvard English professor and advocate for narrative medicine, said: “To have great pain is to have certainty; to hear that another person has pain is to have doubt.”
We can never truly know what someone else’s pain feels like, or truly understand another’s experience with illness or injury. But we are mistaken if we think that this gives us reason not to try.
As two sophomore Nursing majors and Medical Humanities minors at Boston College, we feel a personal responsibility to give voice to stories of pain—including the suffering associated with physical, emotional, and mental illness and stress we have heard from our peers. We also feel called to elicit and validate the stories of pain which haven’t yet been told. Many suffer silently every day on campus, and our hope is to provide space for these people to share their stories and thus feel less isolated.
“Underheard HSC” (@underheard_hsc), the Instagram account we’ve launched, is dedicated to sharing anonymous short health stories and art pieces by and from college students. It aims to make stories of illness, disability, and loss in college more accessible to the students facing these challenges, to encourage those who aren’t naturally inclined to write about their experiences to share their stories, and to help those who haven’t experienced such challenges to join in conversations about health and illness with those around them.
In college, there is great stigma around diseases or injuries that are considered unusual in our age group. We are expected to be young, strong, and resilient to whatever comes our way. This presumption of healthiness makes it challenging for those who undergo debilitating illnesses to express themselves. When these experiences are under-discussed, it leads to misunderstandings about the reality of being sick, and about how to best respond to and care for those around us who are experiencing these challenges. For this reason, we are particularly interested in reaching college students through our work as interns at Health Story Collaborative.
Our hope is that Underheard HSC becomes a space where young people feel less alone in their pain and comfortable enough to submit quotes or short stories about their own health.
Each of us has or will deal with health challenges in our lifetime. It’s time to start talking about it. By taking the time to listen to and express care for the stories of our peers, we will not only be showing them kindness, but we will also begin to make space for a kind of storytelling which can lead to emotional healing. Our greatest ambition is to inspire better communication and deeper human connection. We hope that this platform welcomes students to share and serves to validate and honor every health story.
Supporting unique projects and starting new conversations can sometimes be scary, but the barriers to discussing the difficulties of illness which we have comfortably hidden behind until now are the very reason we must take a leap and open our minds to the infinite stories of illness and pain existing around us. Please join us in taking a small but important step in showing our peers that we care: follow @underheard_hsc on Instagram.
For questions or to submit a story, please email Evelyn and Heena at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heena Nissaraly is a sophomore at Boston College majoring in Nursing and minoring in Medical Humanities. She aims to become an empathic nurse specialized in anesthesia or hospice care, and hopes to eventually improve healthcare in Madagascar.
Evelyn Caty is a sophomore at Boston College majoring in Nursing and minoring in Medical Humanities. She discovered for herself the utter inexpressibility of pain when she suffered from undiagnosed back pain for many years, and she hopes to use this knowledge to encourage her peers struggling with health challenges to begin healing through the telling of their own stories. She, too, hopes to use her passion for the medical humanities and for storytelling to become a compassionate and effective nurse.