What I learned in college outside the classroom
In May 2015, I walked across the stage at my college graduation. It was the culmination of the hardest and longest growing period of my life. College made grow up and face things I was too afraid to, before. It forced me to look inside myself and find the things that were bothering me and fix them. It taught me more about myself than I had imagined
In September 2010, I was a freshman. I was scared and shy and thought the world was against me. I had come from a small, predominately black high school where a lot of people looked like me, but I didn’t have too many friends and was the only person there in a wheelchair and that experience was damaging, to me and I was still struggling emotionally due to some issues from high school, but because I was starting college I buried them inside because I was starting anew and wanted to put those things in the past. Once I felt I had put those things behind, things on my college campus looked bright; I was adjusting well, had more than I’d had before and I didn’t feel judged or bullied any longer. It was a rosy way to see the world; I was becoming more outgoing and felt like I had found a place where I felt like I belonged. I spent with my friends, in their dorm rooms, at lunch and at lots of campus events on our small campus.
Less than a year into college, after my first semester, something had gone awry. The emotions I thought I had buried had found there way back to the surface and were uncontrollable. I wasn’t going to class anymore. I didn’t feel like getting out of bed and had was removed from a campus role by the powers that be, that I really cared about. I felt extremely sad and it had gone on so long that by December 2011, I needed an answer and I went to the doctor and got one and I was terrified.
Depression was the answer I had received, something I had already felt like I’d known. This diagnosis, which was a relief to receive was also overwhelming and it meant that I had to put myself first and that was hard and I didn’t want people to know so once again, I defaulted to my old way of dealing and stuffed the diagnosis down and acted like it didn’t exist, until I failed out of school for the second time.
I had officially felt like I had let myself down and felt worthless. I decided then I needed to learn what self-care was and how to put it into action and how to deal with the many things that were emotionally conflicting to me. I started taking my medicine and going to a therapist, regularly. I got back in school and went to class and started to try and glue my pieces back together and along the way I opened up to more people and found that my struggles with emotions weren’t just my own, other people my age were dealing with the same or similar diagnosis.
I had found a community to exist in and was proud of myself, but I knew that there were more communities that I belonged to and needed to get involved in for myself and for the students that would come after me. I started getting involved with more LGBT people and activities on my campus. I knew that I couldn’t neglect this part of myself any longer and I knew that confronting my sexuality would only improve how I had felt about myself and that alone, made it worth it. I had always known who I was, I just needed to accept it and once I started hanging out with other LGBT people, accepting myself was easier and other parts of me were fulfilled and happier.
Emotionally, I was doing better as well as academically, nothing was perfect but things were improving. As things were moving along, I realized I had to also confront my physical limitations. I had had cerebral palsy all my life and just ignored it. I knew that I couldn’t walk but I felt as though I wasn’t affected by it, but I was wrong. I realized that I had never really accepted my limitations and by this time I was the only person on my campus in a wheelchair, as others had moved on.
I had already been involved with making my campus more accessible, but I never saw it as something I needed to deal with within myself; I realized that I hated the thing that made me the most different and thus still hated myself. These emotions were combined with the fact that I had several problems with my power chair often, in addition to the fact that during the winter I missed lots of class, due to bad weather and had to keep my professors on notice; in fact, my senior year was my worst, I spent a week at home due to a very bad storm that had consumed the area where I lived. During this time, accepting my limitations and myself became harder and I knew those were things I had to learn to cope with because I knew it was something I couldn’t change and that’s still an ongoing process, today.
Towards the end of my time in college, I realized that my challenges were what made me, me and along the way I met people who showed me that everyone has a complicated story and as long as your still in it, that’s all that matters. As I moved towards graduation, I knew that the young, naïve person was in Fall 2010 was not the same person that was about to cross the stage in front of her family, friends and classmates. I was an improved person, a better person, a more open person and that’s exactly how I like it.
When the morning of graduation arrived, I got a text from my best friend that reminded me that though this part of my story was ending, this was beginning of a whole other chapter and that made me proud to close this chapter in my life. I realized, then that my life wasn’t a story, but a book of experiences and that the experiences that college gave me were the platform I could use to obtain and grow from other experiences that will come along in the future. College wasn’t about the classroom or future career, it was the water that grew the seed that grew into who I am today.
Angel Powell is a writer and poet. She has an obsession with long, brightly colored socks. When she is not writing, she is watching a marathon of her favorite youtube videos or trying a new recipe for banana bread. Follow her genius and mostly food related tweets @angelbrittanyxo.
[Image via iStock]