In the spirit of honesty, openness, and real talk, I’ll tell you straight out: I’m panicking.
Okay. Let’s back up.
The past few weeks and months have been an odd mix of saying goodbye to things I was involved in and preparing to say goodbye to the people who mean the most to me. It hadn’t hit me yet, though, the depth to which my life would be changing. all the little things I’ve grown accustomed to over the past four years. all the pieces of the mosaic that made up this glorious part of my life. I thought I was ready to graduate, I thought everything would be okay. I was feeling ready to accept this crazy, beautiful ride upon which I’m about to embark.
This weekend, though, it finally hit me. This is it. This is real life, it’s happening to me now, I’m really doing TFA, next year I will spend many of my nights and weekends working on something far different than what I’ve spent the past four years working on. I may be sad and lonely and I may struggle with the first year post-college, like nearly every recent college graduate does. I will have trouble cooking and I will mismanage my time, because that’s how life works. And there’s no going back.
I am, by nature, a pretty emotional person. I hate change, I hate goodbyes, I’m not adventurous. I’m not a risk-taker. I form deep, deep relationships. “Still waters run deep,” they say, and it’s true. I am notoriously attached to all the social constructions that make my life what it is. I find meaning in the littlest things and spend an ungodly amount of time thinking about my life.
So here I sit, on my bed, tearing up for what feels like the hundredth time since yesterday when all of this started. I can’t even put into words what I’m feeling except pure worry. I know my life is going to drastically change, and that there’s really no way to prepare for it. and in that sort of vacuum I panic.
Take right now, for example. One of the dorms is having their annual 90s Party and so I’m subjected to Britney Spears and Blink 182 and all those relics of our childhood. Normally, when I can hear other peoples’ music at 1 AM, my roommate and I sigh to each other and comment on how we can’t wait until real life when we don’t have to deal with this kind of stuff anymore. But now that I’m about to leave all this behind, I can’t let go. As I walk through each day on campus here I notice everything – the way the light hits the trees right at 5:25 PM, the familiar sounds of a tour guide leading campus visiters through the beautiful oak trees, the unspoken norms and traditions that mark my daily life here. And instead of being grateful for those things, I literally cry, because I know next year I won’t get to experience any of that anymore.
Today, one of my wisest and closest friends told me I’m overromanticizing my time in college and that’s probably true. I’ve had my share of ups and downs and I could never honestly say things worked out perfectly all the time. And I’m probably underromanticizing (is that a word?) my life next year – which I guess is natural – because though I know all the good things about the life I’m leaving behind, I have no idea what the good things are about the life ahead of me. yet.
Will I have fun? Will I be happy? Will I smile throughout the day? Will I be lonely at night? What will I do on the weekends? Will I meet people? Have friends? What if I’m sad? Will I be sad for a whole month? Semester? Year? Will people care about me and my happiness? Will I find a community to be a part of? Will I ever feel like I belong?
The questions knit themselves into my brain and then they burrow, deeply, until my stomach knots in anxiety.
My best friend (who graduated in 2012 and has spent the past year doing TFA in a different city) talked to me last night, as I sobbed on the phone, because she is the kind of friend who does things like that. and for that I am deeply grateful. she assured me that all the TFA 2nd year corps members we know made it through their first year. And all the college graduates we know made it through their first year post-college. she’s right. intellectually I know she’s right, but still, my stomach knots.
Back to the first friend I mentioned. The one who gives really wise advice. She told me that this year I might have to be a little bit more vulnerable, be more okay with asking for help, be more okay with reaching out to people and admitting I’m scared or hurt or anxious or just overwhelmed. she’s right, she’s so right. I know that TFA is a place where it’s okay – even encouraged – to ask for help, and I am lucky to be working for a place like this. But vulnerability is scary.
I think my favorite moments of college are the spontaneous ones, the ones with my closest friends, with my roommate, with unexpected friends made over the course of a long evening spent looking at the stars. deep conversations, thoughts about life, wonders about how life works in the “real world.” All the little things that aren’t planned and could only happen as a function of living alongside such incredible people, in an environment where things like this can happen. I know that my world next year will be very, very different. and that’s scary.
I’m worried I’ll forget. people, places, feelings. all the things that happened over the past four years, things that changed me at my core. I journal obsessively and write everything down for expressly this reason, but I worry I’ll be sucked into some sort of vortex where I forget what college was like, and I lose sight of all the things that make me who I am. I’d like to think I’m a strong person, but what if I’m only strong in this type of environment? I observed a classroom on Friday and at the front of the room was a quote that said, “Smooth seas never made strong sailors.” my life so far has been smooth seas. rough ones lie ahead. what if I can’t do it?
At this point, I will fully acknowledge that everything I’ve said so far is super irrational and overemotional and a little bit ridiculous. I know that it’s pointless to worry about things I can’t control and be sad for things I can never go back to. Because if you think about it, it’s not places that we miss, it’s people. The context in which we experienced those places. so even if I stayed here another year it would never be the same, because people change, and that’s what’s so ungodly scary about life, the way it just kind of keeps rolling faster and faster and faster and takes you right along with it.
So. This is what I’m feeling, and this is where I am. sitting here, in tears, listening to 90s music at 1:38 AM and wondering how in the world I am going to manage things next year. I know that everything will work out the way it is meant to be, and that along the way, I will become a stronger and more resilient person. I am extraordinarily lucky to be doing TFA in a city where I already have a support system and a non-TFA life. for that I am grateful. and I am also extraordinarily lucky to be working for an organization in whose mission I believe so deeply.
but even aside from all of that, sometimes, you just feel what you feel. and right now I feel panicked.