Something’s not right. I’m either paralyzed by panic, or completely numb, and I don’t know what’s worse. I don’t know how to make it stop. Sleep, therapy, Klonopin, nothing fixes it.
My psychiatrist changes my meds.
But going to school is impossible. Completing homework is even harder. Everything is harder. It’s a miracle from God that I get my college applications in on time.
I miss weeks, months of school.
My friends text and check in on me at first, and then the texts die out. When I do get messages, they’re angry and annoyed that I’m not there. What am I supposed to tell them?
My vice principal and guidance counselor call Mom and me in for meetings. We’ve been having these on a regular basis since I started high school. Most of them consist of my guidance counselor trying to manipulate me into doing things her way. My guidance counselor believes she has better ideas about how to help me succeed than my parents, therapist of three years, and psychiatrist of seven years. She argues that if the therapy and psychiatry were working, I wouldn’t still need them. No offense, but my guidance counselor can go to hell.
My vice principal says that if I don’t go back to school immediately, I’m at risk to not graduate. He says he’ll send a truancy officer to my house, even though I have doctors’ notes for all of my absences.
We tell my psychiatrist about the threat. He laughs and says, “They’re sending the police to your house? That’s assault!”
I drop all of my electives except for newspaper so I can dedicate all of my extra time to catching up in my two core classes. I catch up on all of my work in one week. My government teacher shrugs when I ask what he’d like me to do for the rest of the semester. I spend all of my time in the newspaper workroom. All of my teachers think it’s best that way.
Newspaper goes to New York City for another journalism convention.
My pill container opens and all of my meds fall out and get crushed in my backpack. I go through withdrawal and am in excruciating pain while my friends and I go to seminars on journalism and design on Columbia University’s campus and see Broadway shows at night.
I break down crying during an intermission because I’m in so much pain. My newspaper adviser, a literal saint, consoles me, asking if I want to leave.
No, I don’t want to miss anything. I have to stay.
Gina gives Megan and me a ride home from school. I laugh and tell jokes. I think I’m being normal.
“When will the real Shannon be back?” Gina asks.
I don’t have an answer.
I still haven’t decided where I’m going to college. My psychiatrist tells me just to pick one.
I flip a coin in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Columbia, Maryland next to his office. The quarter I flip tells me to go to VCU.
I send out a Tweet, I update my Facebook status, it’s official. When I get home, I start my New Student Handbook.
I’m a Ram.
I never had an 18th birthday party, so I have a half birthday party.
Midway through the party, all but three of my friends leave to walk to someone else’s house a few miles away because he didn’t show up.
I’m not looking forward to college, but I’m looking forward to finding friends who won’t leave me.
It’s the day of my AP Lit exam, my dad’s birthday, and the day we’re scheduled to pick up our newest additions to the family, Duke and Casey.
I finish taking my exam, my dad picks me up at school, and we immediately make the drive down to Roanoke to pick up our boys. It takes hours, but pretty soon my arms are full of 16 pounds of fluffy golden retrievers and my heart is too big for my chest.
I’ve been sad for so long, and now I have these two boys to love.
It’s graduation day.
I smirk when I shake the hands of all of my school administrators and my guidance counselor. They doubted me. They didn’t believe in me. They tried to plant seeds of doubt in my head and turn me against the people who do believe in me, who do build me up, who do support me–my parents, my teachers, my doctors.
I did it.
And it’s done now.
End of August.
I move in and get settled at VCU. Because I require accommodations, they put me in disability student housing and I live in an apartment style suite with a room to myself. My roommate is nice, but we don’t click.
There’s an earthquake and hurricane my first week on campus. I try to ignore what feels like signs from God that this was the wrong decision. I wander around campus and try to get involved with my school. I’m hired as the webmaster for the college newspaper, The Commonwealth Times. My name is on the masthead.
I’m excited. I’m terrified. And I’ve never felt so alone.
Mom asks Leah to drive all the way from Virginia Beach to take me to church. I like Leah, I’m glad she’s dating Nate, but I don’t want to go to church.
Leah takes me to Sacrament Meeting and the bishop lambastes all of the members for not being more active, for not doing more missionary member work, for not doing All The Things. Leah senses my discomfort, we skip the second two hours of church, and get pizza in Shockoe Bottom.
I start going to group therapy provided by the school. I don’t know if it’s making things better or worse, because I cry for a half hour when I get back to my dorm after every session.
I miss my therapist. I miss my friends. I miss my parents. I miss my dogs.
My friends are having “real” college experience.
I go to class, I reheat meals my mom cooked and froze for me, I do my homework, and I’m in bed every night by 11 PM. I don’t go to parties… I don’t even know how to find a party to crash.
I make my parents pick me up almost every weekend because I can’t stand staying in my dorm by myself.
I have never been so ashamed of myself.
I run into Ben and Sarah on campus. We start eating dinner together nearly every night. Sarah and I go to Trader Joe’s on weekends and we go to Ben’s dorm to watch Ghost Adventures on Saturday nights.
When I’m with them, I don’t feel like I’m suffocating. I don’t feel like I’m failing. I feel like everything is going to be OK, even if it isn’t.