Get out of your head, kid

An ode to the ins and outs of the Collegian


Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian (2023)

By Lulu Kesin, Sports Editor

My mom told me giving birth the second time was worse than the first. She knew the pain coming; she knew what to expect.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that for months.

It’s September 2022. Amherst is buzzing, but not everyone is back on campus yet. My pink pants from the Urban Outfitters sale section lay on my bed. I should be editing, but instead, I am thinking of what shirt matches best. Actually, no, I couldn’t focus on that either. My eyes were becoming wetter, my tears collecting on the smudged, damp keyboard.

Something felt deeply wrong inside.

It’s a few days past move-in day, and the weather couldn’t be more beautiful. Nearing 6 p.m., some of my best friends are downstairs and across the hall. I call one up. My now-roommate Colin doesn’t blink before his arms are around mine, not asking questions, just comforting.

The truth was — I wasn’t ready to be sports editor again.

There’s a reason this only happens rarely — two years in a role that feels like four full-time jobs in one. I thought back to my mom. She knew what was coming with her second kid, and I knew what was coming in year two. I’d never compare my job to the strength necessary from my mom in having me, but the analogy pierced me.

Every thought I had from August on, heading into my senior year, circled back to it.

Julie Taylor once said in an episode of Friday Night Lights, “I was shaped by my town.” Applying to colleges, she recognizes (finally) all that the mythical town of Dillon, Texas has done for her. I had my Julie Taylor moment the second I knew journalism was for me, I thanked the Collegian and continued to recognize the positive impact it had on my life. I am a proud Collegian-made journalist.

I was grateful, but I was so scared to do it all over again.

In 2021, my therapist told me I suffer from toxic stress, and before I could understand the physical effects of my anxiety, I was working with a constant a stomachache. I didn’t know much coming into my first year as sports editor. The preparation and training guided by Ana Pietrewicz, the incoming editor-in-chief, and my right-hand man Joey Aliberti supported the transition, but for the most part, I had to figure a lot out on my own: running meetings in person after learning the world of Zoom, covering sports with virtual streams of National Championships and navigating leadership at a paper I felt like I just joined.

I had to give myself credit, and as I reflect in my senior year, I wish I did more of that often. However, for my first year in the role, I needed outside approval.

It’s hard for me to admit, but I did.

“Am I doing this right?” “How can I be better?” I wanted to delegate tasks to my assistants, but if I did it too much, my voice as a leader was lost.

If I’m being honest, so much angst towards the Collegian came from the fact that while leading the section, I was writing so often that I was burnt out, craving outside approval and failing to support myself.

I got deeper and deeper into my own negative thoughts: a never-ending feedback loop.

Beat coverage, feature stories, previews of my own never took a back seat in addition to my role as head editor. I wanted others to notice. I spent nights writing late while also concerned about my writer’s well-being, if they felt heard, if they were doing well.

Maybe I’d be ready for year two if I didn’t care so much about what other people noticed. Instead of supporting myself, I imagined fake scenarios with outside approval and praise nearly every single day.

If I could tell myself one thing looking back at my time at this paper: get out of your head.

When I reached out to Quinn McCarron in September 2022, I was incredibly depressed. Socializing was a chore; my bed was a safety net. I knew nothing about Quinn other than his Reindeer costume, but he sat with me on a sunshine-filled day, outside the Campus Center, patiently, as my energy didn’t match the weather. My notebook blowing in the wind irritated me.

About 20 minutes in, he was telling me about his mother almost dying.

All along, there was a voice in my head telling me to write this story, to reach out to Quinn. So, I did. But once the story was out, I retreated into my own self-doubt. My own feelings of inadequacy.

My mind told me I couldn’t take credit, that it was just luck.

The voice in my head grew harsher, louder.

I thought, “Since you asked Quinn on a whim for an interview, you shouldn’t soak in the praise for your story.”

I continued to beat myself up. And then someone reminded me that maybe there is some beauty in my voice.

In my head.

In me.

In April, about 10 minutes prior to our weekly meeting, I wrote down 15 personal facts about myself, ranging from childhood flaws, music choices to my love language for an exercise to practice feature writing. I gave writers time to connect those 15 random things about me together, to find themes, and then we spent the next hour writing on the board, breaking what could be a simple sentence into meaningful hints that would ultimately drive a powerful story.

Mike Maynard then walked up to me and thanked me. “I will remember this meeting for the rest of my career.”

While I hate that overthinking, harsh voice in my head, Mike’s comments reminded me there is a beauty to the way my brain is wired. If talking about my anxiety, my tattoos or my favorite sport growing up provides any writer the chance to grow, learn or feel confident in their abilities, I’d do it again. If I can stand in front of 30 people, publicly discussing the most vulnerable parts of my life to further guide them into understanding that they too can find the depth, beauty and honesty that goes into a feature story, I will.

Empathy, within ourselves, within our stories, is what all of this is really about. I just had to find that out for myself.

Now I see it’s in the way that I pick up on small details, I hunt for layers of emotional vulnerability; I give my heart to those around me.

I spent so much time in my head that no matter how good the experience was, it wasn’t ever fully enjoyed. Now, I know that my journey is bigger than me. Others have helped me see what really matters.

I wanted to make a positive impact on this paper, not for me, but for others. From the time I was hired for this role as a 19-year-old writer with no assistant editor experience, my peers lifted me up.

I laughed till my stomach hurt in 2021 with Joey and Freddy Hanna at my kitchen table. We were supposed to be thinking of questions to ask Julius Erving, but instead, we laughed. Ultimately, it turned out Dr. J would tell us a story about his freshman year roommate at UMass skinning squirrels instead, a hilarious, bizarre, precious moment I’ll never forget.

We recorded podcasts debating the best UMass coaches; I was handed tissues as I sobbed at Joe Burrow’s 2022 Super Bowl loss. I passionately cheered on my section as we beat the news team in Jeopardy before winter break (sorry Ella, more on you later).

I watched my friends and mentors walk across the Mullins Center stage last year, saying goodbye to the older siblings that guided me through my first year.

I drove 24 hours straight through the backroads of Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and more with Michael Araujo and Nathan Strauss, laughing and singing. The excitement of covering the then-No. 5 Lady Vols never dissipated; we explored, we wrote stories and saw places we hadn’t before. Three friends, CookOut crispy chicken ranch wraps and memories.

Maybe I wasn’t in my head as much anymore, too.

The Collegian, like so many have said before, was my light; it was my constant. My Reindeer feature in my worst depressive episode reinforced that yes, I am meant to do this. I have so far to go, and I can’t wait to grow, to learn, to become a sponge in the journalism world, but first:

To Colin McCarthy, you saved me. There is no me without you. Your career journey is what I look forward to witnessing most, as nobody deserves more happiness than you. To Joey, you made me a writer; pushing me, supporting me, always providing a breathtakingly new edit, perspective. Ella Adams, the news editor dealt a difficult hand but never once gave up, thank you for being you. Catherine Hurley, the funniest roommate and a heroic op-ed editor, I am so proud of you, what you’ve done and what you will do. My assistants past and present, Kayla Gregoire, Pedro Gray Soares, Kevin Schuster, Freddy Hanna, you made this job possible. Johnny Depin, this is your time. You earned it, and I know you will be incredible. Borat impressions included.

To my parents, I’ll never have enough words to thank you for your support, but I promise I’ll spend every day saying how grateful I am. To my peers at the Collegian, to my first and forever home in the sports section, believe in yourself and thank you for believing in me.

Be kind, spread love and in the words of my favorite movie, “no matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

To Lulu, get out of your head kid; the real world is waiting for you.

Lulu Kesin was the Sports Editor. She can be reached at [email protected].