As much as I’m sure we’d all like to wish it, life isn’t always easy. A lot of times it can be difficult. Overwhelming. Painful. And at times, it can even be incomprehensible how we will make it through to the next day-sometimes, incomprehensible how we’ll make it through the next few minutes.
After losing my dad, I was all too familiar with these feelings. The first year after his death I had a challenging schedule my senior year of high school, a boyfriend, and a long commute back and forth to school each day to keep me distracted. But I wasn’t immune to being overcome with pain, sometimes even in the middle of a school day. I wanted the world to stop for a few seconds to give me the chance to let me catch my breath. But it didn’t, and so I kept pushing on even when I knew I should have just slowed down. For that first year, distractions were what I needed just to survive. But after that, I realized they were only a short-term solution.
I decided to take time off of school the following fall while my peers went away to their first semesters at college and sadly, I broke up with my boyfriend. I needed to learn to be on my own, to figure out just who I was without my dad, without school, without a boyfriend-without the things that had become my identity. Stripped of my security blankets, I was alone with myself for the first time in a long time.
It was scary. I didn’t recognize myself at all. Consumed with pain and grief, I had trouble connecting to the people closest to me. Accepting that I could not get myself out of this alone anymore, I finally reached out for real help. I got involved with a bereavement group in my community and started seeing an individual counselor once a week.
Slowly, I came to find myself again. I learned the things I liked to do that I had almost forgotten. I started writing each day. I immersed myself in literature and my grandma was calling me “bookworm” once again. I began listening to music that truly filled my soul and began playing in a local orchestra. I learned the things that made me feel fulfilled. I learned that even though I was alone, I didn’t have to be lonely.
I created a profile of the woman I wanted to become. She continually changes as I grow and evolve but she has some core characteristics that always remain the same. She is confident. Self-assured. Hard-working. Determined. Each week I felt myself transform into her.
This was not an easy journey. There were plenty of bumps in the road. Some weeks it felt like I was taking three steps forward and two steps back. I felt discouraged about this until my best friend said, “Yea Abbey, but that’s still one step forward.” I realized that one step was still progress, no matter how small. And when I didn’t know what to do, I kept asking, “What would the woman I want to become do?” And all the answers would be right there.
In the spring, I got myself back in school part-time at my local community college and began applying to colleges for the upcoming fall. Somehow, I managed to get everything sorted out in time and found myself ready to go away to school at the end of the summer. During the months before my move, I continued to come into my own. I made a conscious effort to do things that created memories that would last and make my summer fulfilling. I took my little sister to the Museum of Natural History, got my first summer job, spent my own money on concerts that would ring in my ears long after they were over, and took a creative writing course where I learned that I have a story worth telling. I found my voice.
And by the end of the summer I was eager to finally come to college. I felt like the whole world would be at my fingertips. But I didn’t anticipate how challenging the transition would be. I thought after working so hard to finally get here that I would have no problem adjusting to my new life. So when suddenly things started to feel uneasy, I was blind sighted and feelings of anxiety hit me like a brick wall.
If I learned anything last year, it was that when you feel you can’t do it on your own anymore, just reach out. Help isn’t going to come find you; sometimes, you have to find it. Asking for help isn’t weak; it’s smart. It’s knowing your limits and knowing when you need someone else to give you a hand. It takes a lot of courage to admit you can’t do it on your own but my dad’s friend explained it to me very simply once. “If you don’t know how to swim, you get swimming lessons. If you don’t know how to play the piano, you get piano lessons. It’s the same with getting help for your mental health. If you don’t know how to do it yourself, you get someone else to help you.” So when feelings of distress began bubbling within me at college I immediately went to the counseling center on campus and started seeing a counselor in town. Somehow, things got better just by having someone else to talk to that wasn’t my roommate or the pages of my journal.
It’s my second semester at school and at times I still feel unhappy, dissatisfied, or unfulfilled. And unfortunately for me, these feelings tend to creep up at the most inopportune times: at night when no counselors are available to help. So in these times, I reach out to a friend. Or I call an aunt. Just by picking the phone up and connecting with another person helps. No longer is the burden just for me to handle on my own. Now I have someone else to help me carry the load. Suddenly, it becomes easier to manage.These feelings become moments, and they all pass.
My dad’s friend also explained this well, by saying that in our lives there is an imaginary line. On one side there’s “happy” and on the other there is “sad”. And we are always crossing back and forth over this line. We must remember that when we are on one side, the other still exists and that at some point we will return there. I think it’s important to remember this pendulum of emotion, especially when we are on the “sad” side. Even when we think we can’t go on, we must hang in there. Because the moment will pass and eventually the pendulum will swing to the other side.