As the world crumbled below my feet, collapsing into itself and swallowing me whole, I grasped for fragments who I was. Name? Raquel, I think. I was born in Fremont, I think. Or was it Alameda? Age? The beach trip I took to celebrate my 20 years last March. Scattered crab legs around the shore. Recesses of sand with murky water rushing through them. I had smelled the salty air and yearned for more time, exponential amounts more.
Lying in the hospital bed, my whole life before this point shattered into broken mirror pieces, reflecting distant moments in time. I saw myself in them, but they were not mine to claim. Just a glimmer of the moment reflected upon the glass, before it shifted and the refracted eyes averted my gaze.
Nothing seemed real. Contacts on my phone were mere avatars, mere symbols, not real people I saw daily. I had lost it.
I will be taking a leave of absence for the Spring 2018 semester due to a stress-induced mental breakdown. I hesitate to write this blog post, worried that readers may interpret my story as a sign of weakness; taking a leave of absence does not necessarily indicate that one cannot finish school. I aim to inform readers of what a leave of absence actually means, in hopes of dispelling any stigmas against it. Taking a leave of absence is scarier as a first-generation student, because one already has the looming doubt of college being an unattainable achievement.
Reed’s four-year graduation rate is 64%. The most recent statistic for six-year graduation rate rounds up to 80%. This means 46% of students end up taking leaves of absences, and a significant amount of students who do so still graduate within a six-year span. There are many reasons why one may need to take time off school. Reasons my peers have cited include the death of a loved one, needing to save up money to continue paying for school, and for medical reasons. I include myself with the students who need to take time off due to health reasons.
Choosing to take time off was a difficult, invalidating thing to do. I felt like a failure. However, considering the high stress environment Reed is, I should not feel guilty over prioritizing my health. There are many benefits to taking a break from school, so long as one aims to return. In the two months I’ve had of free time, I learned to drive and finally got my driver’s permit. I’m learning to cook for myself so I can better budget for food when I return to school. I’m seeking help from therapists and psychiatrists that I never had time to during the school year, due to lack of research and time. I never realized how important maturity and life experience is to being a successful college student. Learning to take care of yourself is crucial. I downplayed how important it is to wake up early and get enough sleep at night. I downplayed how important it is to eat at least three well-balanced meals a day.
I learned to stop making excuses for my shortcomings and to take initiative to work with my challenges to become stronger. I contacted the Assistant Dean of Inclusive Community, a trusted former job supervisor, and we agreed to have monthly check-ins while I am on leave to assess my progress. I have also reached out to professors and let them know about my situation, and one even offered to mentor me and become my thesis advisor. Reaching out to faculty and staff and building relationships with these people is crucial to student success. As high school students, we learned to reach out to guidance counselors and teachers for help in applying to college and doing well in school. Well, it’s the same in college. Keep in mind these are people who could help one land one’s next job or help one apply to graduate school
I am glad this leave of absence served as a wake up call. I will be well-rested and in a mentally better place to take on studying abroad in Barcelona the upcoming fall. Au revoir!