Failed dreams and a graduation

I technically graduated college in December of 2015, in the middle of the academic year. There was no celebration. I got my degree and award in the mail and that was that; I didn’t think much of it. In many ways, I still felt unworthy. I felt like I didn’t truly earn it.

At that time, I had no intentions of attending the graduation ceremony that would be held in the Fall. It wasn’t local, it was nearly a year after I finished, and I’d have to go alone, because I had no family. The whole thing seemed like more of a burden than anything.

It also wasn’t how I dreamed I would graduate.

Growing up, my academic prowess was the only good thing I had. I was intelligent, and it was consistently recognized. While in high school, I had dreams of going to an Ivy League school. I dreamed I was going to graduate as valedictorian. I dreamed of finally being free.

Going to college was supposed to be my ticket out. I applied to colleges all over the country. I got accepted into some of the best schools. I had full scholarships. Any reasonable parents would have been thrilled at their child’s achievements, and thankful that scholarships would relieve the financial burden.

But my parents weren’t reasonable. They took my achievement as an insult, that in some way the acceptances and awards made me think I was better than them. I never said or acted like I was, but that didn’t matter. Nothing I ever did was good to them, even when it was good to everyone else.

My college dreams fizzled away.

My mother started hiding my acceptance letters. I found a collection of them after I had graduated from HS, mysteriously “lost” in a convenient, hidden away pile. Every letter was an acceptance. Every school I applied to was ready to welcome me. Yet I ended up at a school I never wanted to be in.

I was disillusioned to think that my parents would ever let me go away to college. I couldn’t even leave the house. I didn’t have any choices. My mother decided my college career for me. I had to go to a local university, one that I could still be within my parents’ control. My father drove me to class, and picked me up as soon as I was done. I didn’t have any freedom, but I should have known that was going to be the case. I was foolish to think otherwise.

Even though I hated that school, I made the most out of it. I excelled once again. In my second year there, I was already receiving honors. I was top-ranked. My picture was in the papers. I was on track to be valedictorian. A part of my dream started to come back. I can still be something.

And then I lost that dream again. I forfeited my scholarship and gave up my academic achievements when I dropped out of school with a 4.0 GPA. My father was sick, and it was selfish of me to think of my education when my family was struggling. It was just another failed dream.

Whenever I thought about this recent graduation, all I could think about were those failed dreams. I should have been graduating at 22. I should have been up on stage, making my valedictorian speech. I should have been surrounded by family and friends who were just as proud of me as I was of myself.

Instead, I’m graduating at 30 years old. I won’t be making any speeches, and there won’t be any family in the audience cheering for me. I am alone. Why would I want to celebrate that?

But part of me did want to celebrate. Part of me knew all it took for me to get my degree.

Through it all, I finished with a 3.9 GPA. And when I say all, I mean it: several long-term hospital visits for pneumonia, a surgery, and four psychiatric inpatient hospitalizations. I had no breaks. I couldn’t take any sick leave. I had to get it done. I wrote my thesis in the midst of my escape to freedom. Through the chaos, I still did it.

I earned that degree just like I earned my freedom.

But I didn’t want to celebrate alone. I had no family. My new friends were too new. My old acquanitances were distant. I didn’t think it was possible, so I gave up my plans. Then, just weeks before, I decided I needed to do something positive for me, and this was my chance. I (hesitantly) asked my best friend from my old life if he would like to go, and to my surprise, he said he would. So I spent the last two or three weeks scrambling to get everything together.

This Saturday, my friend and I traveled to my graduation ceremony. It was overwhelming at first. Within minutes of entering the arena, I started to panic. There were hundreds of people around. I was in a new place, and the noise was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think. I had to calm myself. I tried to find a spot away from all of the people. I wanted to put on my headphones and drown everyone and everything out, but I couldn’t. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. It took everything in me not to have a meltdown right then and there.

But I got through it. I put on my cap and gown, and my honor cords, and walked out to the arena. I tried to look down at the floor instead of up at all of the people. It was the only way I could stay calm. I thought about what name I should use. Do I use my old name, or my new name? I hate my old name, but it’s still my legal name and the name I went to school with. I can’t just go up and give an alias. 

I debated with myself for an hour. I finally got up on stage, walked up to the microphone, and announced both of my names. It felt right that way, recognizing both who I was and who I am becoming. I shook a few hands and made my exit off of the stage. It was done.

I sat and waited for the other graduates to finish, not really feeling anything at all. Then the president of the university made his final speech. He took time out to acknowledge and thank students’ families for helping the students get to where they were today. I watched the audience as mothers and fathers stood up to be applauded. Then spouses, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, etc.

In that moment, I realized I had no family out there for me. Not just at graduation, but in the years leading up to that very day. My family didn’t help me get an education; they took it away from me. My family didn’t push me to succeed; they wished for my failure. Everything I did was on my own. I never had support.

I started crying because I realized what I had lost. I thought about all the shit I went through getting to this point. I thought about all the slaps to the face, all of the put-downs and the insults my mother threw at me just because I was trying to be a better human being. I remembered how my mother used to always tell me, “You think you’re better than me? You think you’re smarter than me because you went to college? You’re nothing.”

Her voice replayed in my head just as if she were there, sitting in the chair next to me. I stopped crying. I wanted to yell, but I knew well enough that my mother wasn’t actually there to hear me. Her voice wasn’t going away; it was like a broken record repeating the same part over and over. I couldn’t take it any more. I wasn’t going to let her ruin the moment.

As I stood up to take the final walk down the aisle, I closed my eyes and answered my mother’s voice back, in a way I could never answer her back before. I am better than you. I am a better person. I am a better human being.

I always was.

Why I Chose Psychology

Psychology was not my original major.

When I first started college, I majored in mathematics. I’m not even sure why I did. I liked math. But what the hell do you do with a mathematics degree? Shit. You do shit.

Then I bounced around from majoring in English to communications to who knows what else. I was 18 and didn’t even know myself, let alone what I wanted to do with my life. All of the departments wanted me, so whenever someone grabbed a hold of me and gave me their pitch, I ended up changing my major to that. Looking back, it was such a hot mess. Thankfully, I didn’t waste too much of my life there.

I took a course in psychology to fulfill a social science requirement. It was my first psychology course – my high school never had anything psychology-related. I really enjoyed it and found it interesting. One day in class, we were discussing odd behaviors in childhood. Students were sharing their stories. I, for some reason, decided to share my childhood fascination (not the right word, I don’t even know) with saving my poop. Through the laughter, the professor came up with possible explanations for my behavior. Something in me clicked that day. If psychology gave reasons for my shitty (literally) behavior, what other things could it explain?

I soon switched my major to psychology. Unfortunately, a short time later, I dropped out of school. But I never lost my love for psychology; it only grew. I was determined to find explanations. I wanted to know why I had so many issues. What were the reasons for my behaviors? What caused my mental illness? What is really wrong with me?

And as I went along, I started seeking out answers to explain my mother’s behavior. What makes a parent hate her child? What makes people abuse others? How are people able to act one way in public and a different way in private? Are people like that aware of what they are doing? Is it mental illness, or is it a choice?

I needed answers. I spent so much of my 20s, even out of school, researching and reading and looking for answers. I needed answers. Some of the answers, I did find. But most regarding my mother were left unanswered.

I realize now that not every question has an answer. I may never know or understand why my mother did the things she did. No one knows for certain except my mother. But that won’t stop me from trying. I want to understand. I need to understand.

I turn to psychology to help me understand. I turn to psychology so I can help others understand. I want to know the ins and outs of the human mind. I want to understand behavior. I want to understand what makes people do bad things just as much as I want to understand what makes people do good. I want to know about resilience. I want to know it all.

I was meant to study psychology.

Dropout

I went to college right out of high school. It wasn’t the college I wanted to go to. I had scholarships to colleges and universities all over the eastern half of the United States. But it was the only college my parents would allow me to go to, because it was right next to home, and they could remain in control of my every move.

I went for 3 full semesters. I changed my major several times. Every semester, there was always a problem with my classes, some technical error messing shit up. It just added to my overall dislike of the college experience.

Then they put me in classes with students who were chronic failures. By that I mean, as a Freshman, they put me in classes full of upper-level undergrads who failed the same course multiple times, in some weird thinking that I, as a student around the same age, would be able to influence them and teach them in a way the professor couldn’t. I did not sign up to be a teacher. I wanted to learn.

Instead, I found myself dreading the days, semester after semester. I sat in my classes bored to tears. I saw the looks of frustration on my professors’ faces semester after semester. I shared in their loss of hope. A brilliant student with a bright future, wanted by all different schools, stuck at a college full of students who had little potential for success. And it wasn’t because they weren’t intelligent; so many of them were just lazy and didn’t put forth any effort. They were the athletes who came to class because they had to. They were the scholarship students who made it in based on factors outside of merit.

Despite my lack of effort and my loss of hope, I managed to achieve high rankings in my first year. I received an award medal. I was featured in local papers. And I didn’t understand why, because I didn’t even try. I felt so undeserving, because I was. I shouldn’t be awarded for something I didn’t even try to do.

So when my father got sick in 2006, it didn’t make me sad to drop out of college to take care of him. Even though I had to, it didn’t feel like a loss. I dropped out with a 4.0 GPA. I forfeited a $60,000+ scholarship. And it didn’t faze me one bit. I don’t think I would have lasted there four years. I lost my motivation to go there before I even started my first semester.

(When I wanted to go back to school, I couldn’t. Even though I financially supported myself, I was still considered a dependent and  my parents were not allowing me to go back.)

Why am I bring this up? Because I feel the same thing happening again. I feel myself leaning towards dropping out of grad school. I have a 4.0 GPA. I have a scholarship. And yet, here I am, seriously considering dropping out of the University I thought for sure I would have earned my degree at.

I’ve lost my motivation to go. My experience there has been ruined for reasons I still don’t understand (and for reasons I can’t write about). I feel a sense of dread about starting classes again. I am no longer a proud student. I am angry and hurt. I am disheartened. I feel let down. I feel attacked. I don’t think I can continue for three years at a place where I no longer feel comfortable to be myself, to be honest, to be me.

I’ve spent the last week exploring other options. Other options exist. Much more affordable options. At places where I can start over, and hopefully not be judged for who I am.

I need to be motivated. Once I start to lose that, even a little, it ruins the experience for me. And this has happened again, as it has happened so many times before in my life.

Twice a dropout. Twice a 4.0 GPA dropout. Twice a scholarship-forfeiting, 4.0 GPA dropout.