*Trigger Warning*: self-harm
Choosing yourself isn’t always the easiest thing, but Penn State law student Shane Kaliszewski learned that it’s the most important step in healing. Walking around campus, everyone holds past experiences on their shoulder whether they themselves or their peers realize. For Kaliszewski, wearing his scars on his sleeve turned from hurt and pain to motivation for growth, inspiration and representation.
Growing up in Erie, Pennsylvania, Kaliszewski experienced a unique childhood as a triplet with his mother and grandmother at his side. As time progressed, Kaliszewski would soon remember traumatic events that he had repressed.
The snowball effect slowly began to catch momentum, yet Kaliszewski would keep his eyes on the prize as a way to survive — the goal was to make it to law school. While it may seem like an achievable task to many, the obstacles faced only pushed Kaliszewski to work harder.
As an undergraduate student athlete at Shippensburg University, Kaliszewski experienced college as any student would do by making friends and socializing with other individuals. It was during this time when one of these straws would break the camel’s back.
After not hearing from his friend, he took the liberty upon himself to check in on her and what he found left him utterly in shock as he found his friend had passed in her home.
“I fell into this cycle of not knowing how to deal with it,” Kaliszewski said. “I felt like there was no way out for me. I thought I was stuck.”
To cope, Kaliszewski indulged in self-harm as a means to release the same dopamine one would get if they took drugs. This created a habit from his undergraduate years to his first year of law school. The cycle began to break as Kaliszewski stepped back to reevaluate with the help of therapy.
“There was a shift,” Kaliszewski said. “It went from wanting to get better for other people to wanting to get better for myself.”
Therapy was when Kaliszewski realized to look at his life and himself through different perspectives — one which involved seeing the value and worthiness of oneself and the other being the reason to want to.
“I had to pick me and say ‘I am deserving; I have all these skills.’ I had to recognize I’ll never be my full version of myself if I kept using this crutch,” Kaliszewski said.
That is exactly what Kaliszewski did. After making it into Penn State’s law program, Kaliszewski moved all his efforts into bettering himself and his education as he continues his journey to his Juris Doctorate degree.
After removing the facade and elaborate lie he so carefully crafted, ridding himself of toxic relationships and putting himself first, Kaliszewski has been able to flourish as he has remained clean for a year in his journey to continue his lifelong dream.
Unfortunately, not all stories have smooth sailing endings. After discovering his passion for military law, Kaliszewski’s next steps could be soon halted as he may be deemed unable to work due to his history of self-harm.
As he awaits the decision following the DOD provision, Kaliszewski is preparing to appeal the decision made by the military surrounding mental health issues. Kaliszewski realizes that because he has his scars he will continue championing and representing others who have dealt with the same issues no matter what he does moving forward.
“I’ll be opening the doors for people like me by setting a precedent and changing people’s minds and letting them know that just because you go through something doesn’t mean you can’t come out of it stronger.”
The new mentality created by Kaliszewski follows the idea of lifting others as you climb. In a parallel universe, this mentality contradicts the mentality set forth a year ago as he enters a positive cycle and aims to promote that in others as well. As one continues to grow and succeed, one must turn around and help the similar individual achieve the same amount of prosperity creating an endless loop of self-care and care for others.
“I thought strength was ignoring everything and putting your head down and going,” Kaliszewski said. “Strength is not like that every time. Sometimes it is that, [but] sometimes it’s realizing deep down, ‘I’m not happy. I don’t like this. I want more for myself.'”
While the battle hasn’t ended just yet for Kaliszewski, it has in a way just begun. After repressing traumatizing events and using them in ways that cause self-harm, the road to stabilization and recovery is not always easy.
Kaliszewski was able to begin the healing process as he took his past mentality and closed that chapter of his life. After realizing he must choose himself over others, he looks to turn the new page — a chapter filled with growth, inspiration, determination and self-worth.