When we’re feeling insecure, our first impulse might not be to make ourselves more vulnerable, but that can often be a crucial step toward feeling safer. Hokie Wellness and the Mental Health Coalition present Hokie Hiccups to let performers and the audience feel that process in action.

Hokie Hiccups, now in its fourth year, gives an opportunity for Hokies to acknowledge and celebrate the struggles, mistakes, or hiccups we all experience and to share growth through expressive arts and creative mediums.

This year’s event on Wednesday, March 22, will be at the Creativity and Innovation District Rehearsal and Performance Room. Spoken word stories, poetry, and singing by individuals and an a cappella group begin at 7:30 p.m. Food and mental health activities and resources from Mental Health Coalition members will be available beginning at 6:30 p.m.

“The idea of sharing your story can be contagious,” said Saad Khan, mental health initiatives coordinator for Hokie Wellness. “When someone shares their story, that inspires others to share theirs. That doesn't mean they need to share it in front of 100 people. Maybe they're sharing that story with a colleague, with a friend, or with family.

“Encouraging vulnerability, storytelling, and connection are a big part of what we do within the mental health area of Hokie Wellness,” said Khan.

The benefits of practicing vulnerability can seem paradoxical but show consistent clinical evidence in building emotional resilience, said Erica Coates, counselor and assistant director for partnership initiatives with Cook Counseling Center.  

“Without the risk-taking involved in expressing mistakes or embarrassment and having it met with acceptance, support, or understanding, our nervous systems get in a fight or flight or freeze mode. That can make us want to withdraw more,” said Coates. “But when we do feel supported, then it can be healing, make us feel more regulated within our nervous systems, and therefore we can take on more. We can do more.”

Coates said we can break the cycle of feeling guarded and disconnected by paying attention to who we feel safe with.

“I encourage anyone feeling uncomfortable with vulnerability to notice when you do feel more at ease with someone,” said Coates. "Get curious about when you feel more comfortable. Maybe it’s with a person you spend a lot of time with. Maybe they talk about things that are embarrassing to them, and that makes you feel more at ease. Maybe there are parts of you that you both share.”

Coates said by experimenting with the people we share with and how deeply we share, we build a safe and supportive degree of vulnerability.

Ryan Barnett, a senior communication major who performed at last year’s event and will be performing and co-emceeing this year, said his experiment in sharing through Hokie Hiccups should encourage others.

His spoken word piece described how he grew from wanting everyone to like him into an understanding that he would be happier by spending time with those who liked him for who he is. Barnett said his experience as a theater minor performing as a member of a comedy group didn’t prepare him for the emotion of sharing such a personal story.

“It was exhilarating to be able to just be completely honest with 120 people,” he said. “I remember wondering if my message would resonate with anybody. Talking to other performers and audience afterward, it was clear the messages resonated deeply and had really profound impact."

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