This post is a little delayed, due to a mixture of poor excuses, but a few weeks ago I finished my second year of college. I reached the halfway point, and successfully completed the hardest year of my life. (Clarification – I have always labeled my years by my grade in school, not the traditional January to December. It’s silly, I know, but it’s just how things work in my head).
During my freshman year of college, I had a rather lengthy period of depression. For three to four months, I only left my room for classes and to occasionally scavenge for food (once I found food, I would take it back to my room to eat). I wore pajama pants almost constantly, purposefully avoided sleep because with sleep came realistic and painful nightmares (from which I often woke crying), and spent most of my time in bed. Some mornings my will to exist was so little I would talk to my dad while lying in bed, because I just needed some outside source to motivate me to continue being.
At the top of that depression was the knowledge that nobody cared. My college friends didn’t notice how much I was hurting, didn’t encourage me to leave my room, to get better, or to seek help. I don’t remember ever being asked what was wrong (or if I was okay, apart from when June and I skyped). A lot of the time they were upset that I wasn’t spending time with them, but they never seemed concerned with the why portion of things. They just wanted me to go do things more often. The two people I had relied on emotionally for years up until this point were absent from my life – Sean and I weren’t speaking, and Travis was on a ship somewhere. I didn’t want my parents to see how much I was struggling, I was a little embarrassed, so the most support I had was from Maggiey and June, both of whom are very busy people and also live pretty far away.
In other words, I was alone.
Once I moved out of this place of depression, and had time to breathe and heal and reflect, I truly believed that would be the hardest struggle of my college career. I didn’t believe life could get harder than that until I had graduated and had actual real life problems.
Well, guess what – real life problems don’t wait until you graduate, or until you’re ready for them.
My sophomore year of college began with me resigning from my position as an orientation leader, a job and leadership opportunity I had been looking forward to and preparing for all summer. I was pumped to be in a position to help incoming freshman adjust to Carthage, a place I loved so much. But during the last month of summer, I contracted mono, and was bed-ridden for about two weeks. On top of this, and another infection, I was having some serious pain in my lower abdomen. At first, we blamed the mono – my lymph nodes were swollen and tender, it made sense. However, as my mono symptoms became less and less, the pain remained, then worsened. My family physician recommended that a few weeks into the school year I have a second MRI, to check up on my lymph nodes.
When I returned to Carthage, I was sleeping approximately 11 hours a night, struggling to focus because I was still so weak, and getting worried about my abdominal pain. Overall, it was a pretty stressful start to a semester. (I also had a small bout of homesickness, but that happens every time I go back to school, or even see my family).
Three weeks into the semester, I went to the hospital, where I had some standard blood tests done, and was given two huge bottles of barium to drink before my test. My parents came up a couple days later, and the MRI happened. Fast forward two weeks, a Kenosha surgeon is telling me that my MRI came back normal. They have no real idea what’s wrong with me, and he wants to run this test and this other test, and he’s not answering any of my questions.
With the help of my family physician, we decide it would be best to come home and meet with a surgeon we know and trust, because this guy made me very uncomfortable. At this point I’m feeling constantly ill with worry – it’s hard not to think about being sick with a constant pain there to remind you. My parents (and I) keep googling symptoms, scaring ourselves. It’s bad.
I get permission from all of my professors, do a lot of extra homework to help ease the stress of an unexpected trip home, and prepare for the 6 hour drive.
One long drive, two appointments with the surgeon, and one ultrasound later, we discover that I have gallstones. We talk about short term dietary actions I can take, make a surgery appointment, I drive back to school to finish the semester.
I know I haven’t talked about my first semester classes at all yet – those actually weren’t too stressful, luckily. My professors were all very understanding of my illness. One of them let me turn in a paper the day of our exam, even though the paper was due during the weekend I went home. I did struggle with my business class – she was very picky, and refused to give 100% on papers. She would knock off 5 points no matter what – even if she didn’t see anything wrong with the paper. I managed all A’s that semester, in spite of everything, and am very proud.
Winter break – guess who had surgery 3 days before Christmas? That’s right, this girl.
Break started out pretty simple – had surgery, took drugs and whined for a few days, Sean visited for about a week at the beginning of January (we rang in the actual new year together, it was the best). After he left I went back to work at the insurance agency in town – I chose not to take a class during j-term in case there were surgery complications.
The end of break is where things started getting stressful again. The first week of February, the week before I went back to school, is when my parents decided, once and for all, to get divorced. Those of you who follow my blog know that they have been dancing around the idea of divorce since the day of my high school graduation, the first time my mother moved out. Well, this time it was final.
I went back to school with their divorce heavy on my mind. Sean and I began fighting constantly – I was moody, wasn’t sleeping (this is a common response to stress for me, in case you haven’t noticed), and was really just losing my faith in relationships as a whole. Additionally, most of my friends treated the divorce like a joke – they had seen me get upset thinking my parents were finally separating three times already, and when I finally got up the nerve to tell them what had conspired at the end of my break, many of them laughed, or asked if I was serious this time. Pretty much everyone I looked to for support took the situation lightly. I began to feel very alone, with my only real support coming from someone who lived 712 miles away, from a relationship I was having a lot of doubt about.
I want to clarify though, that my doubt was not coming from our relationship, but from watching the relationship I had looked up to my entire life crumble. If my parents, who had done long distance, who had been together for 20 years, who were more stable than any of my friends’ parents ever, couldn’t make things work, how could anyone? What point was there in even trying? If this one thing I so firmly believed would always be there could just fall apart, how could I put so much faith in anything else?
Similar to my time of depression during my freshman year, I began spending more time in my room (less pajamas this time though, I didn’t want to go back to that place). One of the few times I chose my friends over time with Sean, I felt utterly separated from the group. Part of this is because Nora, who decided we weren’t friends during the second semester of our freshman year, was there, and she makes me uncomfortable. But part of it, honestly, is that I didn’t feel close to a single person there. I wanted to be, I am desperate for close personal relationships with people at Carthage, who live near me, but at the same time I find it hard to make connections with people who I feel sat by during a lot of times when I was in serious need of support. Who constantly demanded I spend time with them, but never checked to see if I was okay, or asked how I was doing with my health, or my family, or my relationship (something else I feel many of my friends take lightly – they look at aspects of my relationship, such as that Sean and I leave our skype calls open while we sleep, and laugh like it’s some kind of joke, even though for Sean and I it’s an extremely comforting thing to do, and it makes us feel much closer. Being in a long distance relationship is tough, things like that are really necessary sometimes).
To combat this severe loneliness and all the negativity and confusion I was feeling, I began seeing the school’s counselor. It was a big step for me to admit that I couldn’t handle my self emotionally, and that I needed that outside support, but I am immensely glad that I did. I needed it. All she did was sit there and listen to me talk and cry for an hour, occasionally telling me that I was doing the right thing by trying to avoid my parent’s situation, or offering a suggestion for how to make myself happier, but I felt so much lighter after sessions with her.
On top of my parent’s phone calls and texts and the stress of everything happening back home, I was having a whole new health issue – my back. Something about the way I was sleeping after my surgery (probably the many nights I spent in a recliner) had caused a small left-ward bump in my spine. If I sit still for too long, lay down for too long, sleep for too long (pretty much if I relax), it begins to hurt in such a way that it’s hard to breathe, and sometimes I think I’m going to throw up. For about a month this was an almost constant issue, and it was very stressful. I would go to bed afraid of waking up in pain.
And then, to bring this back to school, my sophomore year second semester classes were the hardest classes I’d taken yet (including the college classes I took during my senior year of high school). My statistics professor was middle eastern, had a hard time understanding, speaking, and writing in English, was difficult to follow because of this, and refused to teach us all of the material he expected us to know because he believed we expected him to “hold our hand” too much. Because, y’know, it isn’t the professor’s job to teach or anything, obviously. My graphic design professor, while being incredible and very helpful, expected a lot from us. His courses were very work heavy, and I often struggled to meet his requirements while still getting enough sleep (even this long after having mono, I still need about 8.5 hours a night to function well. From what I understand, mono stays in your body forever, and sometimes you’re just really tired because of it). My other two classes had easy homework, but were very discussion based, so I had to be pretty alert and up to date in those classes – no putting off reading until the end of the semester or anything.
Academically, I made another big step second semester, by going to a tutor. I never struggled with work before college, so a large part of college for me is simply learning how to study, and admitting when I really need help. Well, I really needed help if I was going to pass my statistics course with a decent grade. So I went to a tutor, and I studied for the final exam for two weeks straight. About two hours a night.
Final grades for the semester – three A’s and a B in statistics. I was so relieved with my final grade for that class, I actually cried.
This school year, I feel I really grew as a person and learned a lot about myself and my limits. I overcame multiple illnesses (and an inability to eat a lot of easy to get food on campus because of them), poor professors, hard courses, heavy workloads, my parent’s divorce, 712 miles between myself and Sean, and the incredible loneliness that ate away at me all year. I overcame all of these things I felt were going to break me, and managed to come out on top in the end.
I finished the school year with all A’s apart from my B in statistics, and I’m so proud of that B because I worked so hard to get it. I earned it. I also finished the school year with a design portfolio my professor believes could get me real jobs in the design world, simply by working hard in classes and doing a few extra projects in my limited free time. Plus I got a job as a resident assistant next year – I never got the orientation leader experience I wanted, but I’ll get to be in a position of leadership next year and I couldn’t be more excited.
Despite how much I’ve always relied on others, always looked toward my friends for love and support in times of need, and despite how much I long for meaningful relationships, I also managed to support myself frequently this school year, and to remind myself that God has blessed me with an incredible amount of strength and independence.
After this school year, even though I still look back and go “wow, that was so hard and painful and just plain terrible sometimes,” I believe I could take on any situation, no matter how scared I am or how alone I feel. I have gained an incredible amount of self-confidence and, though I’d really like things to be a little easier for a while, I am definitely ready for whatever comes my way.