The expectation of many teens in the US is to choose a college and an academic path that will direct you to the ultimate goal of beginning the career that presumably will be what you do for the rest of your life. I chose a four year program that would lead to my Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2014, after which I would take the board examination and become a registered nurse and begin the rest of my life. I thought I had everything figured out.
Toward the end of my freshman year of college, I began to feel like I wasn’t myself. My sophomore year, depression slammed me to the ground. It took endless convincing to leave my dorm room. It was painful to interact with others. I felt guilty all the time for feeling the way I did. I began to self-harm. I spiraled. Fast. My junior year, I felt hopeless and suicidal every day. I was far into the addiction that came from cutting. l had an inpatient admission on a psych unit. I daydreamed about suicide and had a few attempts under my belt. I was self-destructive and felt heavy and small at the same time. Looking at myself through another’s eyes, I knew I needed more help than I was receiving from my outpatient therapist once a week. Inside myself, I was in denial because I was terrified. This couldn’t be me.
I listened to “Last Hope” by Paramore the whole time I sat squirming in the waiting room before my weekly appointment with my therapist. A stagnant, stuffy nausea had wrapped itself around me since I woke up that morning and I had a strange feeling that something scary and unusual was awaiting me in my session.
My therapist announced that the following week would be our last session. The sessions were not helping me. We both knew. She told me I could seek more intensive treatment or go without any help. What she was really telling me was that I could choose to live or I could choose to die. It was my choice, but when I thought about my loved ones, I knew it was never really a choice at all. It was my last hope.
I chose to live.
I was devastated with my decision. Maybe I could live, but the number of classes I dropped would set me a year behind and I wouldn’t graduate with my best friends. It truly felt like the end of my world because living on my college campus, taking classes, and being surrounded by friends and mentors is what kept me afloat for so long. However, it was so clear that it no longer did. So many fears rushed through my mind. Students and professors in my program would look at me differently. People would ask me too many questions about where I went. When I returned, I would be that student who nobody in my classes knew. I would live on campus without my best friends. I wouldn’t be able to make new friends. I would be alone and I would have no support. What if I couldn’t do it?
Three years later, having graduated and working as a registered nurse, eons away from that depression, I still refer to the decision as the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. I left my close-knit nursing program a month before what would have been my senior year, but it was only because I left that I was able to make it back.
When I returned to school for the fall semester, I decided to be active in extracurriculars, eventually becoming on the board of my campus’ mental health advocacy organization, becoming the editor of our nursing newsletter, and getting the grades that I never thought I could. I did two independent studies centered around psychiatric nursing. I participated in social events and made new friends. I wanted to do all these things when I was sick but I wasn’t able to.
I realized that my story is unique but not unlike many others’ stories. I realized I was never alone. I began to open up about my struggles and my triumphs and realized that others shared the same pain. Even those who didn’t know my pain reached out, people I never would have imagined. If you’re a college student struggling the way I did, please speak up. There are people who can help. The Dean of Students at my university made the process of taking a medical leave of absence so seamless. When I returned from my leave, my counseling center took me in with open arms and I was assigned to a counselor who worked so patiently with my needs. My professors were incredibly understanding and helped guide me through. People cared. People care.
Everything may not end up the way you initially planned, but I promise, you will end up exactly where you are supposed to be. Reach out. It only takes one person.
Choose to live. It may be your last hope.