Absence, uncertainty and gratitude

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(CW: mental health) 

To cut a long story short and give a TLDR, I’m taking a leave of absence this term. I wasn’t sure if I was going to, but after slogging through the first week of classes I’ve decided to do so for my own wellbeing. This will be the only op-ed you see from me this term and the only edition of the op-ed section edited by me. Needless for me to say, this was an immensely hard decision for me to make, but one that in the end felt very necessary. 

To be brief, I’ve been dealing with some mental health issues the past few months that have made the idea of schoolwork and college seem like a fairly daunting task. I won’t go into specifics, as they are not too important for the purview of this op-ed, but do understand that I am safe and staying at home with my parents who care about my wellbeing, and I will also be closer to the advanced and more reliably trans-affirming healthcare infrastructure I am privileged with as an insured resident of Minneapolis.

The past few months have been quite difficult for me for a number of reasons I won’t go into, but I want to spell out some of the missteps I’ve had along the way. This is in no means a way to judge or get down on myself; a lot of it clearly couldn’t be helped, but I’ve learned from my mistakes and want to spell out some of my feelings on all that I’ve been through. 

Even as it is the most conventional of conventional wisdom (and most of what I have to say is), seek help before things get worse. I’m so privileged with a caring family and access to good healthcare, yet I played into the double-edged realities of two of my qualities that I’m most proud of – resilience and self-efficacy. Because of this, I ended up waiting and hoping I would simply start to feel better for far too long. I’ve been able to tough through many things and also have often been competent enough to find solutions and opportunities without help, but something as complex as one’s mental health is not what you want to gamble your resiliency and independent spirit on. 

Much of life deals with us playing with uncertainties. I had no reason to be certain that issues I was having would resolve on their own, so I just gambled with the risk of things getting much worse before they got better and I lost pretty hard. It got to the point I’m at now, with more questions than answers and a term of school ahead of me that I do not feel up to tackling. It’s at a time like this that I’m trying to count my blessings and feel gratitude for everything that has kept me safe despite my mistakes. 

I’ve been trying to take the time to feel immense gratitude for my family that cares for me despite my inevitable foolishness. I’m grateful for friends who accept and understand me and are always there to delight in or complain about life with me. I’m grateful for professors who’ve had confidence in and patience with me despite my brain often firing on all cylinders and in all directions at once. I’m grateful for myself for being courageous enough to take the time I’m taking to try and be kinder to myself and figure out what I need to figure out. 

It’s been difficult as so much of this has come at the same time as, though not completely related to, my gender transition. I have few misgivings that coming out to myself a year ago and starting HRT six months ago have been anything less than miraculous. With this, however, comes the tenderness of any pubescent child coming to know themself and how they stand in the world, paired with all the youthfully invincible zest and exploratory sensibilities of a 20- year-old ready to take on the world. As puberty is something we’ve all experienced at least once, we can reflect knowing the experience to be terrific (in every sense of the word) and delicate from all angles as we look back. 

 I’m well aware that I’m in a more privileged position than many who may deal with similar issues, but I think the wisdom still holds. There are more people than you realize who are looking out for you. All it may take is a clear-headed and kind-hearted acquaintance and some brave sincerity to ask for help and you may very well receive it. I had help all around me and didn’t realize I needed it or could ask for it, but I got there eventually and feel so much better for having gotten to where I am rather than trying to stick through situations that weren’t working. The humility I’ve felt about it is immense. 

I’ll miss my beloved Lawrence community and so many wonderful friends and professors while I’m gone, but hope to be back with you all and feeling healthy for Spring term!  

Sending love, light and lots of warmth,