Arianna Dunham: Gaining composure

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Each year, graduating editors are given 30 final column inches to reflect on their time at The Hatchet, published in the final issues of the year. Journalists historically used “-30-” to signify the end of a story.

Writing this column is probably the hardest assignment I’ve taken up at The Hatchet. That’s not to say that my work here hasn’t challenged me, but it’s more of a testament to how difficult it is to describe what The Hatchet means to me.

How do I even begin to explain my feelings for the institution and the people who’ve helped me become the woman I am today?

Moving away from home and starting college isn’t easy for most. Anxiety is a common feeling most freshmen have as they adjust to their new life. For me, my anxiety pent up relentlessly throughout the course of my freshman year.

My anxiety paralyzed me. I often chose to stay in my room because it was one of the only places where I could quiet my mind.

I had a tough time concentrating in class because worried thoughts raced through my brain tirelessly.  

On one particular day, I needed to go grocery shopping. Safeway was a short walk from my residence hall, but I couldn’t seem to convince myself to go. What if it’s busy? What if I spend too much money? What if I don’t bring enough reusable grocery bags? Do I really need to go? Can’t I survive off of the box of rice I have left?

I could feel my heart beating faster with each thought. My stomach began to turn and my palms started to sweat. What may have been minor inconveniences or bouts of laziness to another person were world-ending for me.

When I entered the Safeway, I felt like I was in a fun house, not a grocery store.

I made my way to the bread aisle, which seemed to be where everyone else in the store wanted to be, too. I tried to find my usual honey wheat, but it wasn’t anywhere to be seen. I grabbed for my handwritten grocery list in my pocket. My hand shook as I tried to read, and for some reason, I couldn’t make out any of the words on my list. It was like I had written them in a foreign language.

My throat started to close up. The aisle seemed to be getting smaller and smaller like the shelves of bread were closing in on me. I dropped my basket and left the store. My heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest and onto the Safeway parking lot. I couldn’t catch my breath. I thought I was dying.

After minutes of pure panic, I began to regain my composure. I made my way home, void of honey wheat, and defeated.

I later learned that what I had experienced at Safeway was a panic attack. I would become well-acquainted with these attacks as I left my anxiety untreated and began to experience them more frequently. By the end of my freshman year, I was having up to five a week.

When I went home for the summer, I began researching ways to cope with my anxiety. Among the lists of online recommendations, I became interested in mindfulness – a form of meditation and therapy aimed to calm one’s mind by focusing on the present moment. Pursuing the practice is what led me to videography.

In the fall of my sophomore year, I applied to join The Hatchet’s video section. I had never touched a camera before but was willing to take up anything that could quiet my constant state of panic.

My first assignment was to film the opening night of an art exhibit in Dupont Circle. I was paired with a seasoned videographer, Keren Carrion, who helped me learn how to produce a video.

On our way to film, my mind was up to its usual antics and reminded me of all the things that could go wrong. What if we’re late? What if I break the camera? What if we annoy people when we ask for interviews? What if the space is really small? What if I’m really bad at this?

Keren and I arrived at the gallery and began to set up the camera on the tripod. I started to get nervous. The space was so small. Was there really enough room for a tripod? As we set up, a man excused himself as he squeezed past our gear. “Oh no,” I thought. We were in the way and I was sure all of the guests were going to be annoyed with us.

Before I could get too wound up, Keren asked me what I wanted to film first. I noticed two people standing in front of a painting and suggested we film them. Keren motioned to the camera and I began to set up my first shot.

I positioned the camera just next to the doorway. Next, I had to double check my framing. Then, my focus. And then, the lighting. I hit the “ISO” button on the camera and began to turn the dial with my pointer finger to turn up the exposure. There was something about turning the dial that was soothing to me. As if one of my worried thoughts was obliterated with each turn.

As I set up more shots, I began to feel calmer. My mind was no longer occupied by being in someone’s way, messing up or annoying people. I was only focused on the shots I was getting.

Keren and I wrapped up filming after a couple of hours and headed to the Metro station to return to campus. The Metro was a fear-inducing beast to me, but the few hours of meditation with my camera made me less fearful of the underground system.

When Keren and I finished the video and it was finally published, I immediately sent the link to my parents. I couldn’t believe I had actually gone out and done something that seemed so daunting. I was hooked.

I took more assignments throughout the year. My next one was to cover a letter-writing party at a local coffee shop. Voters had gathered to write letters to their congressmen in the heat of the 2016 election. I had my usual fit of worry before going. How big is this coffee shop? What if there’s no room for me? What if no one wants to talk to me? What if I forget everything I know about cameras?

But I knew that once I got there and started rolling, I would be fine. The simple flip of a camera switch was like Xanax to me. In addition to providing me with a mindful activity, my camera also made me feel a sense of empowerment that my anxiety took away from me.

I couldn’t control how big the coffee shop was, but I could control the framing of my shots. I couldn’t control how many people showed up, but I could control how well my shots were lit. I had more control through my camera than I seemed to have in real life.

And so, shot by shot, I began to get my life back.

After taking so many assignments, I began to learn that all of the things I typically worried about weren’t that big of a deal. If I could go into a crowded coffee shop with camera equipment and film, then I could go in alone to get coffee like everybody else did.

But my camera wasn’t the only thing that comforted me during this time. The people I worked with at The Hatchet were encouraging and supportive of my work. I was surrounded by people who not only believed in me but wanted to see me succeed.

My panic attacks became less frequent. I stopped having them altogether my junior year of college, which also happened to be the first year I worked on Hatchet staff as video editor and podcast producer.

In the past few years I’ve spent in the video and podcast sections, I have learned more than I could put on paper. This job has been one of the most challenging and rewarding responsibilities I’ve ever had.

As I wrap up my time in this position and as a student at GW, I’m feeling a whirlwind of emotions. I am leaving both The Hatchet and GW as a better woman than I was when I first arrived, and I have my colleagues to thank for that.

Joining The Hatchet didn’t simply provide me with a means to an end – experience to get a job in journalism – it gave me the confidence I needed to excel in school and discover the talent I had to offer to the world.

And, of course, when I say “The Hatchet,” I’m not speaking about the print edition delivered on campus every week. I’m talking about the passionate students who make the paper and the people who helped give me the most rewarding experience of my college career:

Keren: You’re one of the first people I met at The Hatchet and the first person to teach me how to use a camera. How lucky am I to have learned from such a talented woman? I would not be the videographer I am today without having you as an example and inspiration. Thank you for teaching me what I know and for leading the section with me. I am proud of what you’ve accomplished throughout your photography career and cannot wait to see what the future holds for you. This world is lucky to have such a talented eye as yours.

Danny: I am constantly inspired by your enthusiasm. You have such a natural talent for video and are always ruminating great ideas for the section. It has been a joy working with you throughout the year and watching you grow in the past few months. I cannot wait to see what you and the rest of the team come up with next volume.

Dante: You have been such a help on the video section this year! I can’t even count how many times you’ve come in to save the day with your quick editing and willingness to help out whenever needed. I’ve loved working with you as an editor and seeing how you lead our team of videographers. I know you’re going to do a wonderful job with the section next year.

Jacob: You are so passionate about every project you take on and are always coming up with great ideas for the section. You put a lot of time and care into your work and it shows. The video and podcast sections will be lucky to have your leadership next volume.

Heidi: I have been blown away by the work you’ve put in this semester. You’re always willing to help out on videos and have produced amazing work so far. You’re a fast learner and I cannot wait to see the videos you produce next year!

Leah: You are one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I love watching you work with your reporters. You always have a group willing to help you out on Fridays, and that speaks to the type of leader you are. Thank you for always being there when I have tough days and for brightening my Fridays during podcast recordings. I am going to miss working on the podcast with you, but I know you’re going to do great work next volume!

Meredith: I am going to miss laughing with you during podcast recordings and seeing your fabulous outfits every day. You are a talented and gifted reporter. I’m always blown away by how well you know your beat. I look up to you as a journalist and cannot wait to see what you do with the podcast next year!  

Cayla: Whenever I feel overwhelmed or burnt out, I look to you for inspiration. You balance so much, and you make it look easy, too. You’re an outstanding newswoman, leader and SNE. You’re also such a fun person to be around. I always laugh when I’m with you and will miss sitting in our newsroom chairs together during Sunday visual meetings.

Liz: Thank you for always pushing me to do and be better. I could not have asked for a better leader or editor this year. You’ve helped me get through tough weeks and have made good weeks even better.

Nia: You light up every single room you walk into and never fail to put a smile on my face. You are a talented reporter and gifted writer. I’ve been blown away by the stories you’ve worked on and cannot wait to see what you do next year. I’m going to miss hearing your laugh in the townhouse and seeing your GIFs in email threads.

Sarah: You have inspired me ever since I met you as a videographer. You are so dedicated to everything you do at The Hatchet. I do not know how you manage to balance everything. You’re an amazing journalist and I know that Volume 116 will be amazing under your leadership.

Barbara: Sunday nights would not be the same without sharing the back corner of the townhouse basement with you. The Hatchet has been blessed with your positivity, gift for writing and leadership. You have put so much love and care into your section, and I am honored to have had the chance to work on staff with such a talented newswoman.  

Elise: I’m so glad I got to work on staff with you this volume. You have such a kindness about you that is calming and welcoming, and you have served as an amazing MD this year! You have the ability to make every person you talk to feel at ease. Each week, I look forward to spending Wednesday afternoons with you in feature writing, and I’m going to miss reading your work in class, but I know that I will get to see more great work from you in the future.

Olivia A: You are an amazing leader – the photo section has been lucky to have you the past few years. I am in awe at all you do. You’ve taken on extra work this volume and have handled it with seeming grace and ease. I’m inspired by your dedication, work ethic and talent. On top of being so hardworking, you’re an easy person to talk to and I have enjoyed the moments we’ve had together in The Hatchet basement in the past two years. I cannot wait to see what you continue to do in the future.

Graeme: You are so talented. I’m constantly inspired by your work and hope to someday be half the photographer you are. I was absolutely blown away watching you work on your thesis while managing Hatchet work (and I cannot wait to see your finished project!) I’m glad to have had the chance to work with you this year and am excited to see the work you produce in the future.

Lindsay: You never fail to make me laugh. Thank you for making Sunday nights and podcast recordings so much fun. You took on your role as culture editor with such poise, and I’m proud to see the work you’ve done in the section this year. I’m sure the culture section will miss you just as much as I will next year.

Matt: You’re one of the most selfless leaders I’ve met. You put so much work into this paper – it would not be the same without you. Every single person on this staff is dedicated to The Hatchet, but I don’t know if there is anyone who is more dedicated than you. You put so much care and thought into everything you do here, and you manage to make it look easy. This paper is lucky to have had your leadership.

Tyler: We would have never been able to start our podcast without your leadership. I have missed working alongside you on the podcast this volume. Even in moments when stories on the podcast were being pushed and it seemed like the episode would fall apart, you were always there to offer level-headed guidance and a sense of humor to get us through it.

Emma: The podcast would not be what it is today without you. I have always admired your curiosity and eagerness to learn. Your drive always helped the podcast produce week-by-week. I miss staying in on Friday nights to record and edit segments with you and picking out funny outtakes to send to ed all. I’ve made some of my favorite Hatchet memories with you and the podcast team in our corner of the basement.

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