Stepping down from SGA: It’s okay to not be okay

By JASON PLUSH

As every undergraduate student has recently learned, I have chosen to step down from my position as Executive President of the Student Government Association. This has been one of the most difficult decisions that I’ve ever had to make, but I know wholeheartedly that this decision is what’s best for the school and what’s best for myself.

The main reasons that I’m stepping down are as follows: to begin, I’ve been suffering from mental breakdowns. It’s not easy for me to admit this because this information is personal, but the student population deserves to know that I’ve been struggling to stay positive while balancing a multitude of other responsibilities during my term as President. I’m having trouble focusing on my job responsibilities despite the fact that I’ve been working harder and harder every day to serve the school to the best of my abilities. I can barely sleep at night because I feel like there’s always something more that I need to be doing to make the school a better place. I’ve been averaging four hours of sleep per night, a rate that is deemed by professionals and counselors I’ve seen to be unhealthy. I’ve been sacrificing my mental, emotional and physical health while working to make the student experience better each and every day. It hasn’t been good for my immune system, my stress levels and my well-being, and it took me over a month to fully recognize it.

It hasn’t been easy hearing from my peers and colleagues and family members that I “don’t look like myself” or that I’m “working myself into the ground” and that I’m “in need of a day free of commitments and meetings because I look like I’m about to fall over.” It’s never easy to hear from the people you care most about that you aren’t yourself. However, at the same point in time, these are the people who know me and look out for me and have my back and best interests in mind. It hit me very hard to hear that so many people were concerned and worried about my stability, and it forced me to reevaluate as to how and why I was putting so much pressure on myself to do this job. I ran for this position last spring because I wanted to make a difference and guarantee that I was the best person to improve the Johns Hopkins campus for the undergraduate student population. As it turns out, I was the only one who ran last year and suddenly, it hit me that I was going to be the next student body president. At that time during the spring, I felt like I could handle all of the responsibilities while still achieving and learning as a student and staying involved in my passions and organizations around campus. I’ve quickly realized during the first half of the fall semester that I was overly optimistic and have reached a tipping point in which I really need to take a step back and reevaluate my happiness, my overall stability and myself.

Another component of this decision is the fact that I’ve been suffering inside of the classroom. Academics have taken a backseat to my presidency and other responsibilities on campus, which is unacceptable. The first priority of a student at Hopkins or at any institution for that matter is to learn, mature and grow inside of the classroom. I have lost sight of the importance of my academics as a result of my heightened stress levels and decaying mental and emotional capacity, and simply put, it’s concerning. I came to Hopkins to become a better student and to take advantage of the numerous opportunities that this school has to offer in a wide variety of curricula. I need to address this issue and reprioritize my academics before I let them completely fall by the wayside.

Finally, I chose to step down because it simply is not fair to the SGA as an organization, to the school community at large and to myself if I continue to serve my role as President. I’ve been a dedicated member of the SGA for over two years now and have thoroughly enjoyed the experience of serving my classmates and my constituents. The organization has provided me an outlet to effectively lead and implement change with some of the most passionate students on campus. I chose to run for SGA my sophomore year after a vacancy in the class council opened up because I was and still am dedicated to making Hopkins a better place to go to school. Two years later, I continued to serve on SGA for the same reasons. I love Hopkins. Is the school perfect? Absolutely not. Do I have problems with the University? Without hesitation, the answer is yes. That being said, I’m passionate about making the school better every single day because it has provided so much for me.

My love for the University and making the student experience better for each and every individual on this campus makes the decision I’ve made even more difficult to come to terms with. It is simply not fair to the SGA and its ability to function at the highest level to be compromised because I’m struggling to handle my own mental stability and emotions. Though I’ve been working my absolute hardest to do what is best for the organization and for the school, I still find myself coming up short because I’m spread too thin and I can’t handle all of the emotional and psychological stress in conjunction with the responsibilities of the position. Beyond that, if the SGA is not operating at the highest possible level because of its leader, it is not fair to the students because we are the main representatives of the undergraduate population. I don’t want to be the reason that the SGA struggles to find efficiency. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far in the fall and I know that the group is capable of doing great things for the school. I don’t want the SGA or the school to be mired as a result of my current stability. Because of this, I believe that stepping down is what’s best for the SGA, the school and for myself.

It’s never been easy for me to admit to myself that I’m overwhelmed or taking on too much or not leaving enough time in the day to collect my own thoughts and reflect. Conversely, it’s incredibly easy for me to dedicate myself to the things that I’m involved with here on campus, almost like an escape from reality. I struggle with the ability to say “no” to people; it’s arguably one of my biggest strengths and greatest weaknesses. On one hand, it is beneficial to be there for my friends, peers and colleagues; I love being absolutely dedicated to my organizations, and I have chosen to get involved in a variety of different avenues on this campus throughout the past three-plus years. My involvement has been a tremendous source of happiness and a main reason why I’ve felt so at home at Hopkins. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people from around the world who bring different perspectives, skills and talents to the table. I’m not only grateful for the opportunity to get involved, but also for the relationships I’ve formed.

On the other hand, I sacrifice my personal health and well-being every time I say “yes” to a new opportunity. I find myself using my involvement to escape away from reality. As a result, I sacrificed my own mental stability and I didn’t even begin to realize it until I was approached by close friends and family to seek help. While this was surprising and scary to hear, I quickly began to realize that they were right. It’s unhealthy to continually sacrifice my mental health for the sake of an organization or group.

Mental health is one of the largest issues that we’re currently facing on this campus and it is one that needs to be taken seriously. We need to be empowering students with the resources they need to be able to deal with their mental and physical symptoms and problems. It’s okay to not be okay! It’s normal to not be operating at 100 percent and to not be happy all of the time. It baffles my mind that I was ignorant of my own feelings for so long. However, one of the main reasons why I’ve struggled to make this open or public is the fear of being judged by my peers, being treated differently and being seen as fragile. Mental instability does not make someone fragile. Mental instability is a problem that is faced by numerous people on this campus. Instead of being judgmental, we should be commending students who have the strength and courage to step forward and ask for help. We should be open and honest about the resources available to students to cope with these conditions and expand the capacity of these resources to further aid undergraduates. Students should not have to feel trapped or looked down on for how they feel; they should be recognized for taking a stand to address their own issues and hopefully empower others to do the same.

In short, I’m stepping down from my position because I believe it’s the best thing to do for the school, for the SGA and for my own mental stability. I can’t thank the people who have supported me enough through this difficult, trying and unforgiving process. I know that this news is a bit shocking and surprising, but I’m confident that it’s the best decision for moving forward. I feel beyond relieved to have taken a stand for my own happiness and mental capacity, and I hope that others choose to do the same. There’s so much to gain by being open and honest about how you’re feeling. Express it to your friends, peers and family and don’t feel the need to hold anything back. It was difficult admitting to myself and to those close to me that I was overwhelmed… but I know that it’s the best possible decision I’ve made during my time at Hopkins.

Jason Plush is a senior Global Environmental Change and Sustainability major from Farmington, CT.

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10 responses to “Stepping down from SGA: It’s okay to not be okay

  1. Thank you Plush for all you’ve done. I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m continually awe struck by how hard you work on a daily basis to make this school a better place. I couldn’t think of a better person to have been SGA President. Also, thank you for being so forthright and honest on why you’ve decided to step down. It takes a lot of courage to acknowledge our own internal struggles, but seeing amazing people like yourself speak up is exactly what we need to help de-stigmatize mental health. You’re too classy for words my friend.

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  2. Sounds like you couldn’t hack it mate. Gotta delegate and focus. There’s been many a sga president with hella more commitments than you friend. Now you write this meandering whimpy peace. Shame on you

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    • Shame on YOU for trying to diminish someone’s struggles with mental health. This is a real issue that has nothing to do with not being able to “delegate and focus.” I applaud you, Jason, for being brave enough to speak on it and for doing what you believe is best for the school.

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    • Honestly, you sound like someone who is hurting.
      If you think that Jason prioritizing his own health – specifically mental health – is wimpy than you must feel similarly about your own health and its priority. Regardless of your position in life, be it student or otherwise, please take some time to think about what’s important and really, seriously start to value yourself on a base-line level.
      It takes strength to acknowledge that none of us are impenetrable physically or mentally and that it shouldn’t be an expectation – to do so is inefficient and damaging to everyone involved.

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  3. Thank you for sharing. At a place like Hopkins, we are told that we need to push ourselves harder and harder to achieve a certain level of “success”. It’s important to prioritize yourself and what’s best for you. We need more people to speak out to help de-stigmatize mental health.

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this Jason. This is something that is incredibly hard do and you are very brave in doing so.

    As a recent grad of Johns Hopkins, I experienced similar struggles with anxiety and mental health in general, nearly transferring my freshmen year. I know firsthand how hard it is to seek help for yourself and the shame/fear that comes with deciding to tell others about your struggles. Anxiety and mental health issues in general can be a terribly lonely experience, and I think it’s great that you as a student leader at Hopkins are sharing the problems you’ve been facing with the student community. Again, this is not an easy thing to do and you are incredibly brave for doing so.

    I hope that your openness will help other students who are struggling with similar issues seek help and not feel alone.

    Good luck and I hope you start feeling better soon. From personal experience, it definitely does get better with time and help from others.

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  5. Plush-

    I have no words for you other than I hear you, I’m in awe of your grace and eloquence, and think that you should be proud of prioritizing the most important thing in your life- your own mental health.
    I too used the counseling center during my time at Hopkins and found it to be an amazing, welcoming place with highly trained professionals who met me where I was and helped me to feel like myself again.
    I hear you. And it is okay.

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  6. Does anyone find it ironic that he’ll get more praise for stepping down than for anything he possibly could’ve done in office? Not to say that the job he was doing was bad or that he wasn’t properly performing his tasks, but rather that the students of this university are too apathetic to care about any good being done. Make a major policy accomplishment and there’s a news article. Step down (which is, regardless of the reason, negative for student government), and because it’s for a good reason he’s brave and amazing etc. I’m not trying to make a statement on Jason, I don’t know him; I just find it interesting that we will praise the bad for the right reasons over a solid and concrete good.

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    • His stepping down is an important act. He’s leading by example. How can the administration expect all their students to prioritize mental health, if the very students who are working closest to the administration are expected to sacrifice their mental health to be at their positions.

      Hopkins has a real and pressing issue of maintaining an environment that attracts, triggers, and then does not address anxiety, depression, and suicide.

      He is not necessarily being braze or amazing – he is just trying to survive and take care of himself. These are base-line concerns, not secondary or exemplary. This is something that all Hopkins students need to acknowledge and feel supported in their decision to do so.

      By trivializing the importance of his reasoning and action – you are making an unsupportive statement not about Jason but about all Hopkins students who are have felt like they cannot prioritize their mental health for whatever reason. To prioritize yourself – particularly in such a public, exposed way – is a major accomplishment and a much needed one at this university.

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