When I was 16, I made my first big life decision. Before I had even gotten my first job, I decided that my sophomore year was going to be my first and only year attending highschool. After much consideration, I decided that I would be better off enrolling in my school districts Runningstart program. For those of you that don't know, Runningstart is a dual-enrollment program that allows 11th and 12th graders to attend their local community college earning both highschool credits and college credits; ideally going towards an AA degree. I had different ideas though.
For me, runningstart was my spring-board to something better. My entire life I have been endlessly fascinated with anything and everything STEM related but, with the way my highschool transcript was shaping up, it was unlikely that I would ever be able to study what I love. When my AVID counselor brought up the possibility of runningstart, I saw my opportunity and took it. My second huge decision was a calculated risk that lead to many beautiful and painful moments in my life. I decided that with my two years of free tuition I was going to work towards my Associates of Science; AA-S for short.
My first year, looking back on it, was a breeze. Of course at the time I thought I was drowning, but I had no idea the flood that was about to consume my life. I took three classes a quarter and worked as a peer tutor on campus, taking all my prerequisites for math and science as well as finishing all of my required humanities classes in a single school year. I spent the summer before my second year planning which universities I would apply to and how I was going to get my GED. The unfortunate part of how I used runningstart is that all of my science classes counted as simple electives to the highschool meaning that I would not receive my diploma. However, getting a leg up on my science degree was far more important to me than getting my highschool diploma.
September 2015 rolled around way too quickly and it brought with it some interesting things. For starters, I was approached by my supervisor at the tutoring center and was asked to be a Supplemental Instruction Leader. I was so excited to be considered for the position that I immediately accepted, not taking into account that being an SI leader is very time intensive. On top of working my new position, I was also taking the core classes for my degree. My second year of college courses consisted of calculus, chemistry, and biology each quarter. Sounds simple enough, but keeping track of three very difficult (and homework heavy) classes was extremely brutal. I spent 12 hours a day on campus 4 days a week and 6-8 hours on Fridays and Saturdays. My only day off was Sunday and I typically spent it sleeping all day. I still don't know how I managed it, but I made it through failing only one class; it was an actual miracle. However, the academic pressure broke me and I ended up spiraling into an all-consuming depression.
What I failed to mention is that halfway through Fall 2015 (the start of my second year) I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Anxiety, and Panic Disorder and started working with a psychiatrist to find a medication that works for me. I also had just turned 18 around this time and was struggling with coming to terms with the fact that I was no longer a child. It took about 6 months for me to find a medication that works well for me but it still wasn't enough to keep me emotionally stable with all of the stress and life changes being thrown my way. I kept all of my emotional and academic struggles bottled up and by the end of the year I was a train wreck. I didn't even show up for my biology final spring quarter because I was too depressed to get out of bed the morning of.
Once the school year had ended, all the emotions I had kept wrapped up tight found a way out. On August 13th, I went to work (a summer job at the mall to make some extra cash) like I did every morning, but something was different. I felt as if someone had turned off the light and left me cold and scared in a deep darkness. That night I stayed up late pacing and panicking. I was so convinced that I was a failure and that my life would never amount to anything that I decided I was going to try and OD off of my antidepressants. Luckily, SSRI's are very hard to OD off of and after going to the ER, I was given the help that I desperately needed.
Despite having a suicidal episode a mere month before school was due to start back up, I decided to continue working as an SI and taking classes. This was a huge mistake. While I was in a better place (and on better medication) I still had that residual feeling of being an absolute failure. I failed the one class I took in Fall 2016 and lost my job as a tutor because most days I was still too depressed or anxious to crawl out of bed. After a lot of consideration I decided it was in my best interest to take some time off of school to get my head back on straight and it was the smartest decision I have ever made.
When you're too close to a situation, it's hard to see what the best way out is. I thought, at the time, that all I would ever amount to is the cumulative GPA on my transcript. Little did I know, there is a whole life out there away from school. All I had ever known was school and the hardships that came along with pursuing your studies but over the last 6 months, I've gotten to experience a whole different side of life.