If I Went Off-Campus, So Can You

The Newberry Library, one of the most amazing places on the planet. (via Wikipedia Commons)

I cry easily. In fact, I have crying in public down to a science. On this map, I have more instances of public weeping than anyone else on the Thrill’s staff. This is not something I take lightly. I have anxiety. Consistently nervous about absolutely everything, I have difficulties talking to people, speaking up in classes, and a whole lot of other stuff that I won’t bother you with. Some days even walking across campus is hell for me because of my constant negative thoughts. When it comes to People Who Probably Shouldn’t Leave Campus For A Semester, I thought I’d be on the top of the list. But when I was presented with an opportunity that I was too excited to say no to, I left.

The Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Newberry Seminar is a semester-long program in Chicago where participants have the opportunity to do primary source research in the coolest library in the world. While there, I worked closely with dedicated professors and students and was intensely engaged in my academic work. It was academically rigorous, but I don’t think I’ve had more fun in my life. My program is not for everybody, but it was perfect for me.

So I left campus and I flourished. Leaving campus has given me more confidence in myself, in my academic work, and in my ability to live and work in a new environment with different people. But more than that, it allowed me to see a future where I could not only cope with psychological shortcomings, but live freely and happily, something that I never found at Kenyon, sad as that is. The trick was to find the right program for me. And if I could do that, so can you.

I didn’t do something exciting or exotic. In fact, being from the Chicago suburbs, I was able to go home and do laundry once or twice, and my mom and I would meet up for dinner when she got off of work. I didn’t climb a mountain. I didn’t take a selfie with the Mona Lisa. But I still learned that I can function outside of Gambier. In fact, the anonymity of the city allowed me to be outside of my own head for the first time in what feels like forever. I felt free. Being off-campus gave me the chance to learn about myself without taking me so far out of my comfort zone that I was rendered immobile and unable to function.

If you are someone who has struggled with mental illness, do not give up the chance to leave campus because you are scared. I was, but I found a program that suited my needs and allowed me to grow. Do research and find something you are excited and passionate about. It doesn’t have to be the most incredible or ridiculous program that you can find; it doesn’t even have to be out of the country. Stretch yourself, but not so thin that you feel defeated. And if you do, there’s no shame in it. Try. Just try. At the end of your experience, your abroad blog and Facebook photos may not be glamorous, but you may end up feeling like a new person.

I know I do. I only cried in public twice in Chicago (and once was during a movie).

6 responses

  1. Thank you for putting yourself out there. I’m so glad you had such a positive experience! I hope it further helps you to know that many people are very sensitive and emotional. Anxious, too. I think your anxiety will ease as you continue to learn and grow and become more comfortable in your own skin. For most of my life, I viewed myself from an outsider’s perspective. It was almost as though I were floating over myself, watching my actions and hearing my words. Eventually, I gained more confidence and also busied myself with so many other things that I had much less time to stew with my own thoughts and self-consciousness. In many ways, you sound like me. And I would never use the term “mental illness” to describe either one of us. We are human. We are quirky. All of us are. That’s what makes us who we are, and we help make our society whole. Keep challenging yourself. Keep stepping out of your comfort zone. You already rock. As you combat your anxieties, the rest of the world will be able to see your awesomeness.

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