An open letter to myself at graduation season
I know, it’s here again. Your least favorite time of year. GRADUATION SEASON.
You always think it’s going to be different… like, time heals all wounds, and it’ll get easier, right?
You had a plan.
Well the plan failed.
And many days, you tell yourself that you failed. But that part’s not true.
Your body failed you—the dysfunctioning systems in your body failed you. They are what kept you from your classes, from completing your classwork, from being able to read and comprehend what was in your textbooks and in the lectures.
That’s what brought you home.
So you stayed home, to learn about your body’s illnesses. To treat them. To try something else. To try something better. And in so many ways you flourished beyond everyone’s expectations.
And you tried to go back to school, you tried to stay on “the right path” — the path of your peers, the path that gets you the college degree, the $50,000 in student loans, the memories, the new friends, the this, and the that—
Your body decided, “I need to stay.”
And so you stayed.
You stayed sick. You stayed broken hearted.
You watched your friends grow. You heard story after story about parties and exams and roommate drama and boyfriends and break ups and late nights at libraries and streaking the quad and drinking and dollar slices and clubs and honor societies and papers and study abroads and internships and—
And “what about you, Shannon? What’s new with you?”
You could feel your heart sink into your feet every time that question was asked… you wanted to retreat into the earth and report “nothing. Nothing that matters. I’ve done nothing.” Because in comparison? Who cares about your home life?
You were supposed to be in college, having experiences. Living life.
And instead, you were home, sick.
So every year when graduation season rolled around, the pain got worse. The shame was stronger. The burden heavier.
And the year you were supposed to graduate—The Class of 2015—you knew you wouldn’t be able to bear it—so you asked your mom to drive you 1,000 miles away from all of your friends so you wouldn’t be asked to attend any graduation ceremonies.
You couldn’t be happy for them this time. You couldn’t even pretend.
It took all of your grace to tell them you were proud and you loved them because every cell in your body was screaming “It. Should. Be. Me.” and “this hurts too much” and “when do we get our turn?”
It’s been eight years since you graduated high school. You tell yourself, you should have been able to graduate college twice by now.
But should you?
What good would it have done you?
During your “college years” you started to learn how to treat dysautonomia—the thing that’s been incapacitating you since you were a child.
During your “college years” we tested so many different ways to treat the depression—and we finally found the methods that work.
During your “college years” you did actually take a ton of classes through your local community college–those prereqs are basically gone.
During your “college years” you fell in love with Dysautonomia International and made them your support group, your sorority/fraternity, your everything.
During your “college years” you found lifelong friends who you never had to fight with over boys or roommate issues or class projects or anything, really. Unless you wanted to fight about which pizza to order or which show to watch first.
Your “college years” were anything but traditional, and they were hard as hell, but all in all? They were good.
As soon as they bring out the graduation cap products at Target and grocery stores and shopping malls… it still hurts.
It will always hurt. It just will.
You might be one of the only members of your family without a college degree. And sure, you’re still young, there’s still plenty of time to get one…
But do you want one? After all the pain and bull crap?
The heartache you feel at graduation season would suggest, yes, you want one more than anything in the world.
But it also suggests that maybe it’s one of the unobtainables in life.
Sort of like being able to stand for extended periods of time unaided by medications or excessive amounts of water and sodium and electrolytes and ultimately sitting down.
It’s OK to not have a college degree. It’s OK to not know if you’ll ever get one.
Your parents said a few years ago they want you to finish your bachelor’s.
But you also know that your parents want you to forge and follow the path that leads to your own happiness.
“Now we have to figure out, what does that look like for you?” your therapist says All. The. Damn. Time. (Why doesn’t she just TELL YOU THE ANSWER? She obviously knows it by now.)
So… for now?
Hang. In. There.
You did not fail. Your body failed.
And look around (look around, how lucky we are to be alive right now) —
You have an amazing job, with benefits!
An amazing family.
Two beautiful golden retrievers.
You are doing so well.
So don’t worry, and enjoy this season.
Because you’ve got this.