I went away to college two states away from home, where I didn’t know a single soul. In my excitement and anticipation for change, I failed to realize just how difficult it would be to start over. My parents were only gone for half an hour before I completely broke down and called them, begging them to come back and take me home. I was terrified. How was I going to make it on my own? It was too big of a change, and I didn’t want to stay.
They gently reminded me that I chose this path for a reason, and deep down I knew they were right, but in the days that followed, I never felt so alone. It was a new state, a new experience, and a new independence; I felt lost in a sea of strangers. I don’t know how many days I cried for. I barely came out of my room to eat. I didn’t care, because nothing quenched the loneliness and fear of my new normal.
The depression soon gave way to severe anxiety. I had struggled with anxiety to a lesser extent for years, but the stress of the move put me into such an anxious state that I was too terrified to even leave my apartment to attend class. What if something happened to me and nobody helped me, because nobody knew me? What if I had a panic attack closed in a classroom with strangers, unable to escape?
That was the beginning of the downward spiral that landed me reluctantly in a psychiatrist’s office. After a lot of talking and evaluation, I was eventually diagnosed with several anxiety disorders and began treatment for them. As much as I didn’t want to be on medications to address them—as the fog cleared and the fear dissipated—I realized it was a small compromise to make to feel like a functioning human again.
It wasn’t a quick or easy road, and to this day my battles with anxiety and depression still have to be dealt with on a daily basis. But the help I got back then was what I needed to survive, and survive I did. I finished college, graduated with honors, and even went on a field study trip to Europe. All of which would never have been possible if I hadn’t gotten help.
It was also during that time that I made some of the best friends I could ever hope for. Friendships that have grown stronger year by year, despite time and the distance created when I moved back home after college. I can’t imagine my life without them in it, and without the many beautiful memories created during that season. Something incredible would have been missing from my life if I hadn’t stayed.
This past year, following a difficult knee surgery, I began experiencing a myriad of strange symptoms that to this day my doctors haven’t completely figured out. The only thing they can agree on for a diagnosis is a type of dysautonomia (dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system) called POTS, along with multiple related conditions, which have left me housebound and mostly bedridden as I struggle to keep up with this roller coaster my body is on. Not knowing what body system is going to malfunction next has wreaked havoc on my mind as well as my body. From the severe anxiety caused by trauma and the illness itself to the depression of having life as I knew it stripped away, I am facing perhaps an even greater battle than the one I faced when I walked into the unknown all those years ago.
This season of darkness has made me question everything. It has taken away my peace and riddled me with sorrow as I’ve had to take a back seat to my own life and watch the world continue to turn as I sit still. It makes it easy to wonder how much longer the fight is worth it—because I am exhausted in a way I can’t put into words.
The obvious thing to say would be that I reminisce about the good times to get me through. When in actuality, I recall other dark times that I never imagined I’d conquer and the good that came from those challenges. So many of the most beautiful things in life come at the end of difficult seasons, and looking at those triumphs remind me that something good will come from my current battle, and something good will come from yours too.
The strength of the darkness you’ve overcome in the past is igniting hope for the future. So hold on to that thread of hope like your life depends on it; stay for the light you can’t yet see around the corner. There is so much more to life than what is happening in this exact moment in time, and I firmly believe that a few years from now when you look back, you will see the good that came from the darkness and think to yourself, “I am so glad I stayed.”
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