By: Katherine See
As a kid, I was a die-hard reader with an infinite imagination. One could’ve found me with a book in the stands at my brothers’ hockey games, in the car, even in bed late at night with a stolen flashlight. My love for poetry began in high school. The way I could create a rhythm and make words rhyme while expressing my thoughts and feelings was therapeutic. Reading and writing were not only hobbies, but coping mechanisms. Words on a page—whether it be my own or someone else’s—allowed me to escape this world and be a part of my own. Fantasy meshed with reality, though, when I decided creative writing was the ultimate career path for me.
When I first began community college, I had a plan: transfer to Oakland University after two years, then immediately obtain a professional writing job. All of that changed as soon as I fell prey to life-altering issues such as my parent’s divorce, my hypersomnia, and a five-year long on-off toxic relationship. During it all, the pain became so unbearable, I quit writing as often as I wanted to. My anxiety was to the point where there were days I’d stare at the computer screen unable to comprehend what I was learning. Depression and hypersomnia became a lethal combination, for I spent countless hours of free time sleeping. I stopped reading, or rather, reading books. Latest news and health or relationship articles became my kryptonite; catching up on the latest political scandal and celebrity drama as well. Getting my degree and earning money at the same time became my focus, to the point where I didn’t stop to truly heal from what I’d endured from my childhood to the present.
As soon as I came out of the old toxic cycle, a new one began. Anxiety attacks over “being behind” frequently came, especially when it seemed like my peers knew so much more than I did. Ample time was spent pleasing people-pleasing, obsessing over things I couldn’t control, while less time was spent writing. My mind insisted that I push through the pain and issues, and that each semester would be the semester I magically got everything together and I’d go back to normal.
Over the course of five years, I failed. Repeatedly. I kept taking on too many classes and work hours while my body, my mind, kept working overtime to deal with issues I kept avoiding. Each time, I learned a lesson within those failures: as long as you learned something, you didn’t fail. It wasn’t until the end of 2020 when my GPA was above a 2.0 again.
My struggle didn’t stop there, though. The following semester resulted in the same issues: a brand-new job and my refusal to break bad habits. For years, I wrote through pain, and then about the drama and issues I’d endured. Not only did I try forcing myself to write about it when I wasn’t ready, but I also assumed I could use it all to create conversation with marketable material.
This semester, I quit my job to pursue writing. Although I’m still learning how to set boundaries, I can say I’ve been healing long-term. Getting involved in volunteer work and organizations again has guided me towards a new career direction. Although I’m not quitting my goal of publishing my own work someday, it’s become less of a priority as I continue to follow new interests. This might be my eighth (and final) year of college, but I’m confident I’m right where I need to be.
If you’ve been through trauma and hardships like I have, seek help in various ways and don’t worry how long it takes; it’s better to take the slow route than to keep relapsing on the road to recovery. There’s no shame in understanding what you can and can’t handle, at least for the time being. Comparing yourself to your classmates will also worsen your state. Sometimes it means scrapping a story you’ve tried to write a thousand times in your head. Other times, it means your personality changes and you feel like an outsider, or that you want to give up on passions and dreams. Don’t give up. A solid work ethic and compassionate heart will go farther than your GPA, and writing simply to impress others with shock value. Authenticity will never come from forcing the pen to the paper, or fingers to the keyboard when you aren’t ready to; neither will it allow you to explore other interests and career paths. As a creative writer in this advanced, intense, technological society, I can tell you it’s difficult not to see other writers as competition. It’s even harder not to get caught up in toxic cycles and drama online and in person with each other. Life is too short to not be kind and supportive of people. Life is also too short to miss many opportunities due to an overload of work, school and personal problems.
Take the time to pursue relationships with people you meet while at work, in line at the coffee shop, wherever you feel comfortable. Support and take care of friends and family when they need you. Take a solo trip to another state or with a group to a foreign country. Explore options of jobs and places to live. Go to that concert with your best friend and scream the lyrics to every song. Dance in the rain, in the grocery store, anywhere. Be unapologetically you. Your future self will thank you. Had I not ventured out on my own, I wouldn’t have found my interest in food, travel, and nonprofit work. Neither would I have grown and learned more about the world and those who reside in it. Maybe I’m not the novelist/poet I pictured myself to be at this age, but I’m proud of the writer—the person—I have become. Whoever is reading this should be proud of themselves, too.