The Fifth Year and How I Got Here

Today marks the first day of my last year in college. Last time I’ll spend an extra hour getting ready in the morning in an attempt to make a good first impression. Last time I’ll get to watch nervous freshmen wander into the wrong classroom. Last time I’ll strut to class with a superior demeanor because I know that I have more experience at my campus than 3/4 of the student population. This would be way more exciting if I hadn’t already celebrated my “last first day” a year ago.

I am about to start classes as a fifth year senior. All of my friends have graduated. I’m living with strangers. I’m the oldest person in my classes. I feel like a fish out of water, like the one drunk person who won’t leave the bar even though everyone has cleared out, the lights have come up, and the busboys are sweeping around their feet.

This wasn’t the plan. The plan was four years. Four years is what my parents expected. Four years is how the normal people do it. Only stupid people and slackers need to stay past their expiration date. Believe me when I say that learning I was going to be stuck here, alone for another year felt like being punched in the stomach.

My college education has been less than ideal to say the least. As an A and B+ high school student, my world was totally rocked when I dropped out of calculus first semester freshman year. I had been struggling in the class, something that was completely foreign to me, to the point that I had been brought to tears in the middle of lecture on multiple occasions out of frustration. Try as I might, I couldn’t comprehend the material, and after two months of beating myself up, I finally had to drop the class or take a failing grade. I felt like the stupidest person in the world. Out of my failure, I developed somewhat of an inferiority complex and lost nearly all confidence in my academic ability. When I received my grades at the end of fall semester, I burst into tears when I saw my final GPA.

I chucked my failure up to culture shock and vowed to make a fresh start. Things seemed to improve second semester, and I started my sophomore year by declaring a major in Journalism. I had always loved writing, and journalism seemed like a practical field to translate my interests into a career. It only took about five weeks in two intro classes for me to realize that I hated it. Reporting the daily news and spitting out boring quotes and facts seemed like a nightmare from hell. Not everything related to writing could be boring, though. Right? My love of reading and writing had to go somewhere,right?  And it was in the spring that I stumbled into my first creating writing class. It was exactly what I had been looking for: taking what I loved to do and turning it into something tangible, something that I could watch myself improve at. I figured that if I was going to study something in college, it should to be something that I actually liked; this was the semester I changed my major to English.

This was also the first semester I got sick at school. Up until this point, I hadn’t even had a simple cold. But my immune system was making up for lost time by handing me a nasty throat infection. I was out of class for almost two weeks, just enough time to throw a wrench in my schoolwork. When I came back to my classes, I was completely lost and spent every day playing catchup. It was like freshman year all over again, and I barely made it out of the semester alive.

The next year and a half was complete hell. I felt like I was constantly sick, contracting strep, the stomach flu, mono, and two relapses of mono, all with sporadic throat infections sprinkled in between. See, my fear of failure had become so overwhelming that I developed serious anxiety about my schoolwork. The anxiety lead to constantly being sick, and the constantly being sick lead to struggling in class which lead to more anxiety. It was a horrible cycle that I couldn’t crawl out of. And on top of this we also get to throw in worrying if I was in the right major, pressure from my parents to figure out what I wanted to do with my life (something I have never had a clear plan for), and my grandma passing away, only a year after my grandpa. As I watched my grades sink lower and lower, my self-esteem plummeted, and I fell into a depression. I had no motivation to go to class or do homework. I knew that my grades were important, but I didn’t care. I didn’t see the point. And if I failed because I didn’t try, that seemed like a better option than trying and failing because I wasn’t good enough. I spent the majority of my time in bed, sleeping the days away and feeling sharp pangs of guilt as I watched the clock count down to the start of each of my classes from underneath my covers.

Last Christmas after getting my grades for the semester and seeing the classes I had failed, I knew I had to face the reality of my situation, something that I had actively been avoiding. My parents confronted me about what was going on in my schoolwork, and I had a total meltdown as I tried to explain myself. It was like all the feelings that I had been suppressing over the past year and a half came flooding out in a matter of seconds. I had always been the child who excelled in school, who my parents expected so much of, and I felt like I had completely let them down.

After a long, tearful discussion, we resolved that I wouldn’t be graduating that spring. It was like a rock simultaneously being dropped on my head and lifted off my shoulders. Saying out loud that I wouldn’t be graduating college in four years was heartbreaking for me. It was the first time that my projected lifeline had been thrown off course. I felt it shift in a concrete way that I had never experience before. But without the time restriction, there wasn’t as much pressure to be a perfect student. For the first time in over a year, I felt like I could start to relax.

This past semester wasn’t easy, but the fog has been lifted. Or rather, the fog has migrated from swirling around my head/throat area to trailing behind my feet. The main thing that has come out of this spring is the realization that I wanted to change my major. Without an overall negative attitude toward all of my schoolwork, I was able to reflect on where my lack of motivation was coming from, and I concluded that I wasn’t invested in my English classes. In fact, just the thought of having to sign up for another English class was enough to give me anxiety. Shwoops. Time for plans to change again.

So here’s the new plan: 1 more year. 1 new major. 100% effort. In case you haven’t read any of my previous posts, I am very interested in gender issues and sexual politics. Therefore I have decided to change my major to Gender Studies. And let me tell you, the second I entertained this possibility, I got a genuine surge of motivation and excitement for my upcoming education, something that has been missing since the start of my college career. I’m taking that as a good sign.

My parents have been amazingly supportive of my decision and helpful in making my transition. Though my timeline isn’t ideal, they are excited for me and want me to succeed. And I want me to succeed. And I have this beautiful, confident feeling that I will.

After all, fifth time’s the charm!