The Accomplishments I'm Celebrating During Graduation Season

Graduation season is upon us. The days of celebrations, recognizing others’ hard-earned achievements and seeing the pictures of lives moving forward can leave a chronic warrior feeling left behind – a feeling we all know too well.

It took me seven years to finish my bachelor’s degree. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease the year I started college and I’ve been forced to take two year-long breaks on my journey to the finish line. I started my master’s and low and behold, I have to leave again. Now all my friends are graduating and starting their careers. The pictures are popping up on Facebook, the parties are being planned and everyone is celebrating all of their hard work. For a while, I was very depressed. I felt as though my life was constantly being put on pause and every new friend I had made was passing me by. I felt defeated, alone and a failure.

This couldn’t be more inaccurate.

Yes, my friends are making moves in their education and moving forward in their careers and I could not be happier for them – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t made strides myself!

I let myself forget that I am a badass.

Statistically, the numbers were against me.

  • 70 percent of Americans will study at a four-year college, but less than two-thirds will graduate.
  • 65 percent of students who drop out plan to return, but only about 38 percent return.
  • 30 percent of college freshman drop out after their first year.
  • Dropout rates rise to 40 percent as you get older.
  • Only 11 percent of students with a disability attend secondary education institutions.
  • 40 percent of college dropouts have parents with nothing beyond a high school diploma. (I am the first in my family to go to college.)

All of these statistics tell me I should have let go of my college plans after I got sick. I could have accepted my fate and taken the easier path – but I didn’t. Not only did I keep coming back, but I won the Best Thesis Award in Psychology at my school. I raised thousands of dollars for Lyme disease research through various fundraisers. I started a small handmade card business to make money from home.

When did I stop achieving? When did I fail?

The truth is I never failed, I just didn’t take the path I planned. My depression made me focus only on the negatives. It is a dark, scary cloud that blacks out all the goodness in life. There would be this film playing over and over in my head; I would be laying on the couch in a great deal of pain with side effects taking over my whole body and darkness enveloping my soul. I was having this nightmarish, black and white film on repeat in my mind. The only way to get through this, the only way to stop the black and white film reel from playing is to rewrite the story. You have to literally get out a pen and paper, list all of your accomplishments (big, small and everything in between) and hang it somewhere you can always see it. If you walked to the mailbox today, write it down. If you prepared a whole meal by yourself, highlight it. If you got out of bed, shout it from the rooftops! Whatever milestone you hit, make sure you take note of it and celebrate your accomplishment.

Yes, your accomplishment may not have been a diploma, but you worked just as hard and deserve much praise and respect. If you have not applauded yourself today, then allow me to do it for you. I am literally clapping out loud just for you and am raising my glass of gluten/sugar/taste-free water in your honor!

Keep fighting, warrior.

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Thinkstock photo via Digital Vision.

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