Getting to the Other Side
The year is 2014: I am staring at Lafayette Hall, wondering how the hell I’m supposed to find the registrar’s office before I have to leave for work. One daunting step after the other leads me around the first floor to B wing and a solemn face greets me (more or less). “Next,” the man behind the counter calls, and I step up, stammering the list of courses I need to take for the semester. A few keyboard strokes and mouse clicks later and I am officially enrolled as a Housatonic Community College student.
This place is a lot different than the school I transferred from, West Virginia University. There are about 26,000 less people, no sports teams, and only two buildings. How am I supposed to survive this year? I think as I head to the Metro North. Already my to-do list is growing exponentially: there are (expensive) books to buy, classes to pay for and appointments to make. Oh did I mention I have no friends here as well? I feel the anxiety creep in as I try to make sense of the upcoming tasks.
I force myself to stop and take a breath.
“Everything will work itself out, don’t worry,” my best friend’s voice whispers to me in my head. As my pulse slows down I realize how stressed out I have been lately. It’s been a huge strain on my life balancing a new school, two jobs in different states and personal issues. I always wondered how people seem to juggle everyday activities so smoothly and why I couldn’t.
Well, what is stress? It seems like I woke up one day wanting to rip my hair out. The Merriam-Webster dictionary says it’s “something that causes physical or emotional tension.” The American Institute of Stress (AIS) notes the term is “highly subjective” and depends on who is asked. What is known for sure it just doesn’t feel right harboring these strange feelings often. A little stress is okay; it pushes us to do better, to gain that extra edge in whatever is being done. It keeps us from getting complacent and lazy. Stress also reminds us that “crunch time” is a revolving door.
Since high school graduation, stress consisted of future plans looming over my head. People were focused on the next academic step instead of how things were at the moment. It was always, “What are you gonna do after graduation?”
“Where do you see yourself next year? Five years from now?”
Staying in the present seemed unavoidable. Eventually that mindset caught up with me: the constant worry about keeping up with people’s (and my own) expectations for things that haven’t happened yet took a mental and physical toll on me.
My eating habits changed, I overate to improve my mood. I became more agitated and irritable especially since it felt like I was running behind every day. I even lost sleep fretting about tasks to complete tomorrow and how everything would fit into my schedule. There was no time for me anymore. Sometimes I even struggled to fit a shower in (thankfully I did).
But then pops the ultimate dreadful question, “What is there to be stressed about?”
Besides tuition, books, work, family, friendships and relationships, there’s not much to worry about since we’re only in school. Right?
It’s as if people who aren’t in college think our lives are a piece of cake. Just go to school and get good grades. Don’t worry about haggling with financial aid or dealing with an incompetent classmate. I normally have a decent grip on my school life but when expressing myself to others about it they simply write me off as being lazy. Feelings of doubt and inadequacy would creep in shortly after those experiences. I’d begin to question myself constantly, wondering if I’m acting childish and unwilling to accept responsibility.
Thankfully sooner rather than later, I woke up.
During the summer I realized what used to work for me doesn’t now. It became clear to me that my life was no longer in my control. I worked too much and too far from home. Commuting from Milford to New York City three times a week left little time for homework or personal activities. I decided to quit my city job in order to have more time for me.
I also reevaluated my direction in life. That proved to be a little harder than expected because I have several interests in varying fields. For example, I love creative writing, working in the hospitality industry, and being around animals. Those can lead me into three very different places, depending on which road I take. So I sat down one day to prioritize my wants and needs. I strategized where I’d like to end up the most and honestly, which field would make me the most money so I can live a comfortable life. I had to force myself to develop a positive, more realistic point of view.
Flash forward to today: I’m sitting in Beacon Hall, feeling energized and ready to start my last round of classes for the day. My homework is done and submitted on time. I can tell someone how to get to the library without hesitation and finally call some people friends. There’s more time to explore my interests along with necessary alone time.
Exactly when I reached this mild nirvana, I am not sure. However I do know that it took work, patience, and guts. Housatonic honestly was a major factor in helping me get back to steady ground.