The day after I returned from spring break my favorite professor told me she is leaving Conn at the end of this year. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried.
In fact, I became so distraught that I had an intense out-of-body experience that led me to the beach at Watch Hill. I set my backpack down on a spot between Taylor Swift’s house and The Ocean House. I walked to the water and was shocked back into my body by the freezing cold water that I barely let wash over my feet. I sat down, pulled out my journal, and wrote for an hour straight. Normally my hand would cramp up, but this was a surreal experience that I needed to have, and it’s as though my hand knew that a little pain would not stop me so it didn’t even bother.
I cannot begin to explain what happened to me on that beach. The experience was deeply personal and moving. I would not have brought it up at all, but I felt disingenuous returning to writing on a public blog without acknowledging how writing in my personal journal completely shifted my entire being and frame of thought on that day. I feel reborn.
I thought about everything that led me to that beach. Honestly, while I was there I worked through a lot of personal traumas that had haunted me for years, and yet those traumas were not what caused my out-of-body experience. Liz telling me she was leaving was the final straw, the cause of my breakdown, the event that made me want to forget who I am and what I’m doing. Control is an illusion that I desperately tried to hold onto, and in that classroom with Liz my illusion shattered. I could not make her stay, acting as trusted professor and perhaps mentor for the remainder of my college experience. My college experience had been nothing like I had imagined thus far, and it was not going to be anything like I had hoped ever again. So more than any trauma, more than any hurt, it was the past year and a half of my college career that had been the immediate, short-term cause of my beach day breakdown.
This is for people who were told college would be the best four years of their lives, and who feel crazy because college was anything but that.
I haven’t even finished college and I already know that there is no way anyone with any critical thinking skills would say that college is “the best years of your life.” That is one of the things I love about Liz: she once told me that college just wasn’t for her, so she graduated early. I totally get it. Once removed from the idealized or nostalgic version of college, the experience doesn’t even sound like it should be mediocre let alone the best.
You’re surviving off dining hall food, cheap takeout, and caffeine mixed with bad, weekend party alcohol. You constantly have the stress of classes, homework, and exams looming over you. There is a good chance you are accumulating a buttload of debt. You aren’t fully independent. You do not have a job, family, or dog of your own (unless you are really lucky and your school allows you to have a pet). Finally, school as an institution does not encourage creative or individual thinking, and there is no way you can be a full person if you do not have and acknowledge your own thoughts and feelings.
That is a dismal picture. You’re probably thinking, “Hey, Julianne, where is the uplifting part of this?” I don’t know if my uplifting part is truly uplifting, because it puts responsibility and accountability on my shoulders. But it brings me back to what I realized on the beach: I have no control over what has or will happen to me. I can, however, choose what I accept into my life.
After a miserable year at what was clearly the wrong college for me, I was blessed with a second chance. I transferred to a college closer to home. I come home every weekend to intern, see movies, go into New York City to visit my friend, and anything else that makes me happy. I chose a path that gives me the liberty to adapt the college experience to work for me. The most enjoyable parts of my life right now have nothing to do with college. But I needed to work so hard to get here. Some people, upon realizing they are at the wrong school, stay there. Not I. I went through the process of reapplying to colleges, something I thought I would never need to do after I triumphantly closed CommonApp in early 2016. I got internships and discovered activities that brought me joy so that I would not feel like I am missing out when I leave campus. I am fortunate enough that I have the liberty to explore who I am as a person through my own happiness, but I got here in large part because I chose to get myself here.
This is what I have learned: it does not do me any good to wallow in my self pity. I was in that space for a long time, and it took so much hard work and a mental breakdown in the shadow of Taylor Swift’s Rhode Island residence to get to where I am now. For a long time I thought the things that happened to me were so unfair and I could not believe that I needed to live through them. But that could not change what happened. So rather than continue to wallow, I chose to stand and try my hardest to learn from what happened to me and proceed to live my best life in spite of my pain. I feel like a wise fountain of sage advice, and yet in that feeling I understand that I know nothing and I should question everything. I questioned the college experience, and I made it my own. My stubborn refusal to take anything at face value is a quality I see in Liz. Though I am angry she is leaving me, her announcement brought me to the healthiest state of mind in which I have ever been.