Today was the first day of my last semester of undergrad. For most people that is a pretty exciting day as they wrap up their four year degree and think about finding a full time job or continuing onto graduate school. It's a relatively straight line from point A to point B; graduate high school, pick a four year university, follow a schedule, and graduate. For me, the final semester of my undergrad is a serious milestone. It has been the farthest thing from a straight line. It has been messy, and sometimes cruel.
My college road map has looked something like this:
I graduated high school in 2006 and went to Central Michigan University without a clue what I wanted to study. Everyone else was going to college, so I thought it made sense to follow suit. Maybe it was the pressure to succeed or the fear of not knowing what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but these were the years when my eating disorder really took hold of my life. So, naturally, for my first attempt at college, I decided on dietetics as a major because I thought it could "fix" my messed up relationship with food.
Didn't work. Imagine that.
After two semesters I was placed on academic probation for poor grades and after three I had officially failed out. I didn't tell anyone about this at the time, but I remember finding an empty parking lot and sitting in my car for hours because I was too paralyzed with anxiety to go to class. I was living with my parents at the time and didn't want them to get suspicious about my lack of attendance.
The next semester I worked a part time job and did not go to school. In fall of 2008, I went back to school for the second time and took two classes at a local community college. I don't think I passed either one. School didn't seem important to me. All it did was cripple me with anxiety and make me feel dumb.
On a whim in 2009, I decided to apply to culinary school and got in. It didn't feel like I had any other choice. No other schools would accept my failing status. To make things worse, my eating disorder had made me so obsessed with food that in my sick mind it made sense to study it. This was now the thrid time I attempted school. Somehow I managed to make some really good friends, do quite well in my classes, landed a dream internship in Aspen, CO, and had a full time job right after graduation. The future seemed bright.
However, a bright future can only last so long when your entire life is engulfed in eating disorder behaviors and now drinking alcohol excessively. In 2012 I got my first DUI, was admitted to a psych ward, and spent four months in a residential eating disorder facility in Ohio. Apparently culinary school was not the best fit for me.
After gaining fifty pounds, sobering up, and getting my life on track, I went back to school for the fourth time in 2013. This time I decided social work would be a better fit. I was on schedule to graduate in 2016, but ended up getting my second DUI and going to three different rehab facilities during my senior year instead. I was so caught up in making other people happy and adhering to the stereotype life had given me, that I had completely lost myself in the process. My shame was so heavy that it kept me from thinking clearly.
Last fall (2017), for the fifth and final time, I landed back in school with a plan to switch my major to sociology and graduate in the spring of 2018. And here we are. I told you it has been a complicated journey. I can't even count how many times I thought college just wasn't meant for me; that I wasn't smart or capable enough. That other people must not experience this same anxiety or fear of the future.
Today people ask what my post-graduation plans are, and after twelve years I remain unsure. The difference between this fifth attempt at school and the previous four, is that I have finally accepted that it is okay to not know. It is okay to feel lost and afraid of the future. It's okay to not fit the "social norm." My anxiety and shame are still there, but I don't feel the need to run away from it or cover it up with unhealthy behaviors. I have the opportunity to face it every single time I decide to show up for class, and each time it gets a little easier.
Most importantly, I have finally realized I am not the only one who feels this way. In fact, there might be more of us who struggle with this than not. I don't know about you, but anytime life gives me five chances to get something right I feel pretty damn lucky. Opportunities will always present themselves, we just have to be brave enough to reach out and grab them.