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I Am What I Am

By Maddie S.

I sit at the desk I always sit in, next to the people I’ve known for the whole semester, but on this windy spring afternoon in the middle of March, something is drastically different. Something is wrong, my mind starts to race and my heart feels like it is going to burst out of my chest at any moment. My Spanish teacher is going off about how well we did on our last assignment, I look at the grade on the essay as she smiles wide and puts it on my desk. I feel like I didn’t even write it because I don’t remember doing it. The room is spinning and I just become scared, I have to get out of here. I feel like a stranger in an unfamiliar room. I jump out of my seat and everyone begins to stare. Sweat is dripping down my face as I grab my belongings and race out of the room.  I dash out of the Modern Language Building and head straight across the street to Panera. I order a bagel with cream cheese and down it before I even sit down. I go up and order another one and I do the same thing. All I can do to keep from hyperventilating is eat and eat and eat.  Three bagels later, I walk outside and call my parents. I begin to ball and ramble about how I don’t know what is going on and how I feel so lost. My mom tells me to take deep breaths, get some rest and tomorrow will be a new day. That is exactly what I did, but for the next two weeks nothing changes.

I am going back and forth in my mind about what to do. At this point I am so far behind in my classes; I just keep giving my teacher excuse upon excuse and during office hours they look at me like a hamster spinning on a wheel that cannot shut up.  A usual homework assignment that used to take me around thirty minutes is now developing into a three hour catastrophe. I look at the assignment a thousand times, coming up with the answer but then changing it. I always find something wrong in my response. I feel defeated and that I will not be able to finish anything. I switch rooms, switch buildings, add breaks but I simply cannot make one decision and stick with it.  By the time I leave the library I am frustrated, overwhelmed and exhausted.  At this point, I am severely alarmed that I will have to withdraw from my classes and go home.  By now my advisor’s number is on speed dial and I call her non-stop in a tone of panic and fear. I don’t know what is happening to me and I don’t know why I act the way I do.  I suddenly feel I have a timeline to my life and it is about to end at any second. How can all the sudden I feel like superwoman and on top of my life to feeling like a 5-year old living on my own?

All I can do is think of everything at once; there is no such thing as breaking things down into steps and doing something one at a time.  In due course, I refuse to get out of bed. I did not go to class nor did I want to shower, speak to anyone or have anyone see me. My boyfriend thinks it would be a good idea to write down a fifteen-minute increment schedule telling me what to do and when to do it. It works for a bit but eventually I just toss the paper into the trash can under my desk that is now covered in junk food and a mess of homework I tried to accomplish.

My friends are petrified; they are in so much shock all they can do is tell me everything is going to be okay. However, after a while they start to become annoyed. Not in the sense that they are angry, but as I keep going to them for help they keep telling me they don’t have the answer. That is something I still ponder to this day. What was I trying to get out of people when I asked them “ what should I do?”  Obviously, I knew they could not give me step -by -step instructions on how to live my life but for some bizarre reason, that is exactly what I wanted.  A couple days later my best friend drags me to CAPS (the counseling and psychological service that the University provides for their students). I talked to a counselor for an hour and a half going over the exact same questions such as what to do and why was this happening to me and receiving the exact same answers such as you’re overwhelmed and you need to slow it down. For some reason that was not enough for me. He was giving me two options: either I seek out medical treatment with medication or I drop a class. Yet again, another decision was put in front of me and yet again, it was another question I could not answer for myself.

I started to ponder what it would be like if I dropped a class. Yes, it would be embarrassing, but it would also get rid of a lot of work and pressure. Then the difficult part came…what class to decide to drop? I went back and forth for hours; in the end I made it seem like I couldn’t drop any of them. I felt like I didn’t understand any of my classes so what was the point of dropping one? Funny part is, I had As and A-s in all of my classes up to that point. Up to that very day I had felt comfortable with all the material and felt happy and at ease being at the University of Michigan. In a way you would think that because I realized I could not handle any of my classes the apparent answer would to be to drop all the classes and withdraw from the semester.  In order to do that however, I was told that I could no longer come back to Michigan until at least the winter of the next year. This was not what I wanted to hear because even though this was the scariest thing in my life, I knew I could get my life back in order eventually, and when I did, this is exactly where I wanted to be.  My mom came to visit me that week and together we had an appointment with the dean in order to figure out some more options. In the end, we worked out a plan that if I withdrew and worked really hard over the summer and showed improvement I could return at my request. This was the best news ever; however, the embarrassment and shame of having to withdraw was unimaginable.

Days went by and I slumped into a gigantic depression. My hair almost looked like I had dreadlocks, my face was oily and I smelled grotesque. I felt horrible for my roommate but at the same time I didn’t care, I didn’t really care about anything. Eventually, I went home and found my new habitat: the couch. I could not show my face coming back to school so I had my parents move me out.  Down the road, my grandma convinced me to see one of the psychiatrists at the University of Michigan Depression Center. It is a one of a kind facility being the only center dedicated to purely disorders and depression.  The drive from my house was about two hours and I made the trip twice a week, then once a week, then once every other week. I pretty much sat in the passenger seat and slept with a hoodie over my unwashed hair and told my mom how much I hope they could help me. The question of whether or not I was going to receive the help I needed to get me out of this was the haunting part of this whole experience. All I wanted was to be myself again and I knew it was going to be a huge commitment, but it was my life on the line. Luckily, my family was extremely supportive and always was there in my time of need.  Throughout this time period in April, May and June, I would have classified myself as a human zombie. I did nothing. I watched entire seasons of multiple shows while I chowed down on anything you could imagine. I mixed food that should never be eaten together and I munched on things that I normally never would have put in my mouth. By the end of the summer, I had gained twenty-five pounds. Consequently, the added weight gain made me even more depressed; sooner or later I never went outside in public.

My body would shake if I even walked into the grocery store. I wanted absolutely no one to see me looking like this. Eventually, I stayed in the house full-time. I never let my friends come by and even facing my younger sister was a difficult challenge. The only time my car got used was to go through a drive-thru window. I had to be forced to shower and go to bed. I literally felt like I had an 18 year-old body with a two-year-old mind.

Weeks went by and on a hot, sweaty, May summer day, I was walking in the trails near our house with my mom. We were talking about the same old things, of how scared I was, was I going to get better? And my most used one: “Mom, I can’t do this anymore.” As our hike progressed we went on talking about how at this time if everything had gone as planned, I would have been on my way to Los Angeles to see my boyfriend. I was devastated inside. My heart was beating so fast I thought it was punching me for my mistakes. The enrage in my body made me start to think of how I did not want this to be my life - sitting on a couch watching everyone else live theirs while I am just in a stand still.

In June, I was diagnosed with bipolar II disorder along with anxiety and depression. However, my doctor didn’t tell me about the bipolar part until much later in the summer. I worked with a psychologist and my psychiatrist all throughout the month of June. Tackling homework assignments as well as going to a restaurant where you might run into some people. Before, I would drive out about twenty minutes if I had to go outside. It took me a long time to accomplish these tasks but by the late part of June I was extremely different. The single thing getting in my way of my confidence and rehabilitation was my weight. However, I put this aside me and took a chemistry class at the local university in my town.

This was my opportunity to show the advisors at the University of Michigan as well as my family that I could do this.  It was a battle I had to win; I battled with my mind, my anxiety, and lastly, a battle to push through the distress of how I looked.  By the end of the course I had received a good grade, I started to actually wanting to hang out with my friends and enjoy the simple things in life like bonding with your mom at the grocery store. The world was not my enemy any more, I was running the show and it felt great. Sooner or later I was back up and doing my favorite passion, running. I channeled my regret of not going to anyone sooner while I ran. I ran every day, sometimes even twice, going over in my mind what I could have done differently.  I had pretty much ruined my entire summer eating and hiding; nevertheless, by following through on my treatments, I was able to conquer what I wanted in the end: the opportunity to go back to school and a second chance to do things a lot differently.

When I returned in the fall, I signed up with the services for students with disabilities and I was absolutely amazed by how many people attend this school with a mental condition. Not only that, but also the services and support we have here to guide and aid students along the way.  Students are assigned to their own professional academic and life coach who are literally there any time to help you in any way possible.  Mine is the sweetest woman I know and she has made my coming back to this school a positive and happy one.  She makes me feel like my situation was a common one and that I am not alone, which to me, is the greatest feeling I could ever ask for. 

Although this experience was devastating and one that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life, it will not defeat me, nor will it define me.  Thousands of students all over the world and I have the power to control and monitor our conditions. Yes, this situation was a hard thing to swallow, and yes, looking back it horrifies me, but it will never put limitations on what I want to achieve.


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