Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mission Accomplished?

Well, I am finally heading back home for the summer. The academic year is over; finals are done; I've packed up my dorm room into two suitcases, a backpack, and a UPS box (and the six small boxes that went back with my parents two weeks ago). I'm currently sitting in BWI Airport waiting for my flight, which is delayed for about an hour and a half. Yippee. Anyway, thought I'd take the opportunity now to write about the year I am now leaving behind. Many of my classmates from high school, I'm told, managed to pull extremely high GPAs for themselves during their freshman year- in some cases, 4.0 GPAs. I applaud them-- it is a tremendous achievement. My mom told me the other night that at the beginning of the year she had so hoped that I would sail through freshman year with a very high GPA, that I would be incredibly successful.

Well, that didn't happen. If I had to describe my freshman year of college, I would describe it now as nothing less than a battlefield-- a physical, spiritual, mental, emotional battlefield. I count myself lucky to have made it through the entire year in the one place. Many good things happened, of course, but this year has been irrevocably colored by what happened last fall.

I think it was at the very end of August, or maybe it was September. I don't really remember the time line. Nor do I remember the event particularly. My friends tell me that it was fairly early in the evening. The entire floor was in the lounge. I stood up into the TV, which was attached to the wall at about my ear height standing up. Or more accurately, I stood up into the steel shelf holding up the TV. My friend Jess told me that the entire TV moved upward about a foot, and the entire room got silent (that's an accomplishment-- I'm sort of proud of making everybody shut up for once). I didn't get knocked out, but I'm told I staggered quite a bit before waving that I was okay, and wound up with a pint of Ben & Jerry's on my head instead of in my stomach. People tell me I should go to the hospital, but I'm convinced I'm not concussed, so I don't.

A month and a couple of useless trips to Student Health later, I've lost most of my abilities to concentrate, am having trouble reading and looking at computer screens, and can't remember squat beyond a couple of days. So I go to the hospital. The first visit, they put me on Vicodin for the pain in my head. The next trip is the next night around 1 AM, because I'm shaking uncontrollably and my head still hurts even with the two Vicodin pills I have in me. I go see a neurologist about a week later, and she puts me on a low dose of amitriptylene, an antidepressant that often works to help with headache problems.

It works great for a couple of months, but then my headaches come back with a vengeance. I talk to the neurologist, and she ups the dose of the medicine twice. Result: a series of panic attacks, lasting about a month. The worst one lasted for two hours, went away for an hour, and then came back for another hour. As painful as the concussion and post-concussive headaches were, they were nothing compared to the trauma of the panic attacks. I could handle the physical pain, but the panic attacks tore me apart in deeper ways. In the end I decided that, although the medicine was working for the headaches, it was actually doing more harm than good. I was drained, having difficulty working with the constant anxiety, and getting more depressed by the day. I stopped the medication I was on and opted to try a naturopathic approach to stop the headaches instead of another cocktail of psych drugs. This has, thank God, worked so far. At this stage I think I can say fairly confidently that I am well out of the woods in terms of the concussion and its aftereffects.

Retrospectively, however, I in some ways can't believe that I made it through this year. I've battled migraine headaches that made me not see straight, concentration issues, memory loss, panic attacks, emotional instability, nausea, depression. I don't remember the vast majority of the first semester of my freshman year of college. In many cases I know what I did only because someone took the time to tell me. To this day, someone will ask me if I remember such and such an event, and I won't. This was just a few short months ago, but I have no memory of it at all. I went through a period of intense spiritual turmoil, a crisis of faith if you will. I've gained some very close friendships, but some of those close friendships have suffered because of the panic attacks in particular, which changed my entire psyche, a shift that has lasted. I'm more on edge now, less comfortable with myself and less confident because I feel like I've been ripped apart. My grades of course have suffered in both semesters, but particularly this second semester because the classes are more difficult. I managed to do fairly well first semester because I knew most of the material already, but second semester I've still had problems, particularly at the beginning of the semester when I was still struggling with headache problems. As a result, I missed most of the basic groundwork of my courses, which I think has been detrimental to my marks in general, although I guess I won't be able to say that for sure until I see the grades all posted.

Of course the year hasn't been all struggles like those. Many good things have happened. I've met a group of wonderful people, and have gained some great friends that I treasure, and that I largely credit with getting me through the year. This semester, which is the only one I remember, I got reacquainted with an old friend that I hadn't spent much time talking to except on email. The visit to University of Delaware to see him was one of the most enjoyable things I've done this semester. I also had a great time on a day trip to New York City with most of my closest friends at AU, and enjoyed touring the monuments at night several times. The Cherry Blossom Festival, which I had looked forward to ever since coming to AU, did not disappoint. I got more involved in the United Methodist Student Association, and was appointed co-worship coordinator for next year. Many good things happened, things that proved to me that the reasons I decided to come to AU were good ones.

Can I declare victory for freshman year? I'm really not sure. It was a gloves-off fight to get through, and that much I apparently won. Jury's still out on how I did academically. Everything else is split between struggle and success. I suppose it depends on how you define success. In the end, this year, I think I've done as well as I possibly could have given the circumstances I've been operating under. I can only hope that everything will pull back together for next year, given a summer of rest and work at home.

No comments: