Almost two years ago, I graduated high school with just a stroke of luck. My senior year was full of real turmoil. I often could not bring myself to get out of bed in the morning since I was so depressed. I was admitted to a psych ward three times for suicide ideation and a suicide attempt. It took all the support of my friends and adults in my life to get me to finish senior year. Ever since I was a child, it was expected of me to go to college; my parents never went to university and expected me to attend. But as senior year came to a close, I just couldn’t imagine leaving my support systems in my hometown. The year had worn me down and I had no interest in going to the colleges I was accepted to.
My parents were not okay with me just dumping college. I figured they were right, and we came to an agreement that I would just attend the local community college. That way, I could be close to my family and familiar support systems while still receiving an education. I still remember feeling so nervous but excited as I enrolled in three general education classes. It was my first semester of college, and I decided to be intensely focused. I’d never loved school before, but now I took joy in it. It seemed like I was getting ahead on a new start, that my depression had vanished. Then, a few semesters in, I started to doubt myself.
No one had ever said it to me outright, but I could tell I disappointed people by attending community college instead of a four-year university. I started to feel regretful about my decision–despite my unique circumstances, despite the fact that community college was much more affordable for me. On top of that, I became obsessive about my future. I thought about different majors, wondering which one would land me the best job. I began to drown in questions like should I just get an associate’s degree? Do I really want to transfer to a four-year university? What if, after all this work, I still end up poor and unemployed? With all the pressure I was putting on myself, as well as the feeling of being trapped in my own daunting thoughts, I felt like the only choice was dropping all my classes. I told my parents and peers that I intended to go back the following semester, and I generally received more disappointment.
I began to drown in questions like should I just get an associate’s degree? Do I really want to transfer to a four-year university? What if, after all this work, I still end up poor and unemployed?
However, I view the time away from school as a blessing. The space I gave myself proved to be beneficial for me. I figured out how to focus on myself, practicing self-care and being more kind. I reflected on my time at school and made plans on how to better care for myself when I went back. Perhaps most importantly, I came to accept the fact that it is okay to go at my own pace. I don’t need to know what I want to do for the rest of my life and I don’t need to listen to other people’s thoughts on my choices, especially when they haven’t personally been in my shoes.
The reality is that if I ended up going to a four-year university, the entire transition would have been terrible for me; being away from my family would have crushed me. Who knows what kind of dangerous activities I would feel the need to participate in due to my unstable mental health and no supervision. Dropping out from a four-year would mean owing a ton of loans, and probably, knowing me, more shame.
I’m excited to say that this Spring semester, I’m heading back to that same community college that I love. The time I had away gave me time to be still and find the voice truest to myself. Ultimately, community college has been great for my mental heath because I know that no matter what happens, no matter how slow I go, it will always be there waiting for me.