My first two years in college were the best of my life.
I loved learning. Every class was exciting and mind-blowing. I ate up classes in so many subjects: philosophy, history, French, sociology. I studied Latin on the side with a professor, for no credit, just because I was fascinated by linguistics. My first semester, I decided that sociology would be my major, and I dreamed of becoming a professor so that I could talk and talk about the stunning revelations I’d had. I had a nearly 3.9 GPA–I strove for excellence, and aimed to become a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
I was very active in clubs, quickly becoming the secretary of my school’s LGBT+ group. I didn’t yet realize that I was on the spectrum; I just had friends and loved ones who were LGBT+ and wanted to be active in some way in support of them. I remember going to a Pride parade and getting drunk with my friends afterward. I went on a “social justice leadership retreat” which was difficult, but eye-opening.
I faced my social anxiety and applied for a work-study job as a web editor at my university’s marketing department, and was hired. The job was tedious, but good experience. And so despite my social anxiety, I made quite a few new friends, quickly forming a tight group. I mustered the courage to talk one-on-one with professors.
In the spring of my sophomore year, I even went to Paris. I discovered the city alone and with friends, travelling also to Amsterdam and London, until finally visiting my grandparents in the south of France and working at the Cannes Film Festival as a ticket person.
But this is where things start to go downhill. Or rather, it started to go downhill a year earlier–at the end of my freshman year, when I foolishly decided to smoke weed with a stranger, the second and last time I’d ever do that. I had a massive panic attack that lasted for hours, which remains, to this day, the most traumatizing experience of my life.
That began a slow descent into Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which showed itself in Paris and in Cannes as a fear of failure, social anxiety, fear of a panic attack, etc. This was coupled with depression, which began after I left Paris, as I’d foolishly fallen for one of my professors and was actually stupid enough to think I had a chance with him. Rebuked, my increasingly mentally unhealthy mind began to obsess, and I thought about him every hour of every day for a year afterward. (Which I realize is totally fucking creepy, and I feel bad about it, but I had an anxiety disorder and depression. I only reached out to him over Facebook, like, two times–and he never replied. Two times is two too many, I know! But I couldn’t control my mind!)
By the time school picked up again for my junior year, back in the U.S., I was a mess. I was now living off-campus and had to run around trying to pay my bills. I’d developed a cigarette addiction so I smoked all of the time. I was obsessed with moving back to Paris, and so every day was torture; every day was time wasted that I could have spent in Paris. I downloaded an app to make a countdown until graduation, and when I read “500 days,” I died inside. By the end of the semester, I had dropped my sociology major, opting for French, and had gotten a C in one class and pass-failed another.
This was also the semester during which the November 13 terrorist attacks on Paris occurred, which I watched unfold in real time on T.V. I watched as people ran screaming and crying on streets that I’d walked down only a few months before. I imagined myself being in the Bataclan concert hall, or one of the cafes, bleeding to death or hiding in a closet, waiting for death.
These were intrusive thoughts. And my anxiety manifested in the assurance that I, safe in my little university town, was about to die. I bought catastrophic health insurance in the case that I got hit by a truck. At Wal-Mart, I was sure a shooter was going to gun me down. In class, I couldn’t concentrate because I was focused on figuring out if I was about to have a heart attack or a brain aneurysm.
During the spring semester, I had to medically withdraw from school. I’d gotten panicked in a classroom and suddenly had a phobia of classrooms. In a matter of weeks, I was agoraphobic. While I’d shied away from medication before (under the delusion that I had everything under control), I gladly took it then. I began to see a therapist that specialized in anxiety and finally found the “right” mix of anxiety medication and anti-depressants.
But now, I really don’t feel like myself. It’s been about a year since my medical withdrawal, and while I am stable, I don’t feel like my old self. I tried to reason it away with the idea that I’m just a different person now, but that never suffices.
I’m bitter now. Whereas I used to think I could conquer any challenge, I now know that I can’t. I’d tried to stay in school but anxiety was just something I couldn’t beat by myself. My friends try to convince me that the fact that I got back up again and came back to school is proof that I can do anything, but I don’t really buy it. I’m doing this because I have to. I need a degree so that I can free my parents on their financial burden and also so I won’t live on the streets, or make so little money that I can’t afford anything but necessities, which doesn’t include cigarettes, though they’re necessities to me.
I don’t feel pleasure where I used to feel it, and no motivation. I know that I’m definitely burnt out, but it’s more than that. I don’t even dream of Paris anymore. I dream of nothing. Life seems pointless. What am I doing this for? I’m never horny. Linguistics, music, sociology–still vaguely interesting, but not exciting and awe-inspiring like they used to be. I don’t want to be a professor anymore–a Ph.D. sounds like too much work. As for some other career, what would I hate to do the least? I’d like to do something that helps people, like maybe become a social worker or counselor. I like the sound of being a counselor, but how can I help people when I don’t even know how to help myself? The most I can offer is an empathetic ear, someone who understands their plight. But I can’t very well preach to them things I don’t know how to do myself.
I’m also just exhaustingly cynical. Trump is president, how can I not be? Hate seems to be encroaching. The rich blame the poor for all of society’s problems, and the already oppressed and marginalized are further weakened and stepped on by society’s unforgiving boots. If you’re not white, male, heterosexual, cisgender, upper-middle-class, etc., then you’re “other,” and your problems don’t exist. The system protects that privileged class and the rest wither. I could leave and go to France, but that would be scary and difficult (my anxiety talking), and besides, Marine Le Pen might get in…and that’s not a France I’d like to live in.
I’m on medication. I’m seeing two therapists, weekly. The hell else am I supposed to do? I guess I could just…increase my medication…try a different medication…but I have little faith that it will do anything. I feel like maybe my depression is treatment-resistant. I would like to just force myself to “buck up” and do what I need to do, and be who I used to be, but I can’t. I just can’t. I care that I don’t care, but I don’t care. Not enough to make any real changes.
This is not who I am. Who I really am would want to get a Ph.D. in sociology. Who I really am would want to be a professor. Who I really am would want to adventure off to France, at least for a while. Who I really am would face challenges head-on, suffer from social anxiety but face it nonetheless; they would feel joy and love and inspiration. Life wouldn’t be easy–it never was. But it would be doable. I would have hope. I would have willpower. I would have confidence. And all of that is fucking gone.