The power of guilt

Courtesy of Levi Maynard

 Levi Maynard got the Facebook message close to midnight that Thursday evening, but he did not realize that his best friend, Dylan Airoldi, was in bad shape when he asked Maynard to Skype with him.

Maynard had gone straight from dinner to the library to write a paper, and from the library to his dorm to continue studying for his test the next morning.

He exhaustedly told Airoldi about his evening’s grind, about his test in the morning, and he told his best friend that they would Skype right after his exam that following morning.

 They never got to.

“He said ‘all right’ and I said ‘all right man love you, talk to you at noon,’ and then that was the last thing he ever said to me.”

Dylan Anthony “Snow Bear” Airoldi took his own life at 4 a.m. that day Nov. 1, 2013.

Maynard, a senior at Castleton University, got the call at 7:30 that next morning from Airoldi’s roommate, informing him that Airoldi had “shot himself” around 4 a.m. At first Maynard was in shock, disbelief. Time has a way of speeding up events in life, and in some instances reality seems to just stand still.

 “You don’t know how to respond to that…it’s like getting shot right through the chest,” Maynard said.

Maynard struggled to get ready and he, like he did every other day, made his way into Huden Dining Hall for breakfast. But this was not like every other day. As he tried to eat, an explosion of emotions eradicated any ability he had to maintain his composure that morning.

 “I was breaking down while I was eating breakfast, I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t go to class.”

 Approaching two years now after Airoldi’s death, Maynard still struggles at times with coming to terms with his friend’s decision.

Courtesy photoby Levi Maynard

The pain in Maynard’s eyes flashes as he describes recognizing how his best friend was acting differently, but he said he never imagined that Airoldi would commit suicide. Maynard, uncertainly, explains how the two of them were so close that they even thought about things and reasoned in their minds similarly. Sorrow stains Maynard’s discussion of his best friend and how his taking of his own life cast a shadow on Maynard’s perception of his own emotions.

“Him and I were best friends, so he was telling me all this stuff that he was worried about. And I was like, dude, just relax — what’s this conspiracy got to do with you? But he kept at it,” he said.

 Maynard now lives with the guilt of losing his best friend, a struggle he says he is getting better at dealing with. He has a magnificent tattoo of a snow-covered bear claw, with Airoldi’s name in it, covering his chest and up near his shoulder. When asked how the battle goes with his own emotions concerning “Snow Bear” Airoldi, Maynard admits the harsh truth.

 “If I think about it, I still get angry, I still get emotional.”

 Emotions drive us, they define us. We try to control our emotions so we can choose when we want to be happy and when we want to be focused. We try and pump ourselves up when it’s time to work out or perform, but how in control of our emotions are we? We try to not think about something that is making us feel guilty.

It has taken Levi Maynard more than a year to come to terms with the passing of his best friend and it’s a fight that he still works at to maintain his positive attitude.

 How do you deal with your emotions? Do you let your emotions define what kind of day you will have, or do you try and influence your emotions so that you have more control of how you are feeling and acting?

Castleton University sophomore Elizabeth Fyles says, “I try and stay busy…I try to stay busy with school, going to the gym, and hanging out this people.”

Typically, we try and distract ourselves from the situation that is causing us negative emotions, but are we hurting ourselves more by avoiding those emotions?

High school guidance counselor Donna Monahas said she does the same thing.

“In all honesty, I think about it and I think about it. But I get so busy with life I get to forget about it. It’s my coping mechanism, I don’t remember things and I keep myself busy. Keeping busy helps you not think of things, and me happening to forget things helps me move on,” she said with a laugh.

Keeping busy and going to the gym seems to be a common coping trend.

When asked what helped Maynard control his emotions and come to terms with his best friend’s death, his answer was, “talking to people… and working out.”

 Talking to friends about your feelings can be a healthy outlet too, but only if (as Maynard points out) the person has the right connection with you.

“Sometimes talking to friends helped, but sometimes it only made me angrier,” he said.

Maynard told how some of his peers who reached out to him trying to console him, like a best friend, were not in fact that close to him or Airoldi.

Some suggest the smart thing to do then, when faced with a traumatic experience, is to talk to a professional. Maynard sighs and states, “I definitely should have seen a counselor.”

Castleton psychology professor Terry Bergen and philosophy professor Jim Hagan weigh in on our ability to wrangle what’s going in in our minds. Bergen and Hagan both explained how it comes down to being aware of what emotions you are feeling.

“One of the ways you come to influence your emotions more effectively is by becoming more aware of them. You notice I say influence, and not control, as control suggests complete control – stop and start. People don’t stop and start their emotions. People live with them, and they live with them with more or less conscious influence,” he said.

Hagan tried an analogy to explain how to deal with emotions.

“You have a machine, but you don’t know how to fix the machine. If you have a car, a mechanic knows how to fix the engine. The everyday person can’t. Similar to the mind, the everyday person has no idea how to fix it, or how it works. That’s why a lot of humans have many problems. Most people neglect the most important element or aspect of life, the mind. If you don’t investigate it and you don’t know how it works, you stumble around and cause problems for yourself and other people,” he said.

Monahas gives advice to her students when she is counseling, recommending that they be aware of their own “emotional intelligence” and that they should come to terms with what situations affect them in different emotional ways.

Fyles said there’s an easy way to try to avoid feeling guilty too.

“I try not to feel guilty by telling the truth. I guess the last time I felt guilty was when I, uh, got that ticket. I ended up telling my parents about it, I try not to do things that will make me feel guilty – cuz it’s a bad feeling,” she said, adding that hiding things from her parents usually is the root of her guilt.

Often times, we bear guilt and blame for instances when maybe we should in fact, take a proactive role in determining our emotions and feelings. Everyone deserves to be happy, even if life can deal us with almost unbearable circumstances, like it did for Maynard.

 Seeing Maynard today, it’s motivational to see him doing well in school, being a beast at the gym and having fun socially. But he maintains that he bears his mental scars along with his honorable bear paw tattoo.

Emma Faucher, a senior, picked up a cool slogan to help people cope with traumatic experiences. The slogan emphasizes that nobody is ever ready to deal with hardship.

“It’s not your fault, it doesn’t happen all the time, and it doesn’t happen everywhere you go,” she said.

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