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To the College Student Who's Not Graduating When They're 'Supposed' To

As a high schooler, it often feels like our path is laid out for us: go to college for four years, get a job and then (of course) have a happy and healthy life. I never questioned that path because it’s what everyone else seemed to do.

What that path didn’t account for was my struggles with mental and chronic illness.

I left my first semester of college early because of mono. I ended up taking the next semester off because of complications due to mono, depression and my eating disorder.

I then transferred schools, hoping it would be the fresh start I needed.

It wasn’t.

It seemed like every time I went back to school for one semester, I would take another semester off. The third time I took a semester off turned into two full years. During that time, I took online classes at a community college, was in a terrible relationship, struggled with my chronic illness and worked two jobs just to pay my bills and save up money for the day when re-enrolling full-time at a university didn’t intimidate the shit out of me.

My parents kept hinting to the fact that I would never go back and graduate. My boyfriend at the time would avoid the subject every time I brought it up. It made me feel like a failure, on top of the fact that my mind and body felt like they were failing me.

I finally knew I was ready to return back to school for a fourth time when checking my email didn’t make me anxious.

That only lasted three semesters. I took an internship in Los Angeles, and ended up staying there for a semester to seek treatment for my chronic illness.

It took everything I had to go back and finish my last semester, and that last semester was utterly grueling. I spent more time than I care to admit in the school’s counseling center, talking about how I didn’t fit in and how hard completing my schoolwork was because of my health. I was terrified of failing a class, because that meant this process would never end. And I beat myself up day after day because everyone my age seemed to have already graduated and been in the workforce for over three years.

While this may not be your exact journey, if you’ve taken time off of school for your health and well-being  — mental or physical — and feel behind or like a failure because of it, I want you to know you’re not alone. You’re also not a failure.

Because what I never realized in high school was that this path of twists and turns — and the seven and a half years it took me to graduate — still led me to getting a job I love. The hospital stays, odd jobs, time spent getting treatment, random classes I took and the crappy relationships I had along the way opened my eyes to things I never would have learned in school. It also gave me an enormous amount of empathy for those who are going through something.

I think we need to start redefining that path to “success” so others don’t feel the weight of expectation on their shoulders. If it’s taking you — or has taken you — longer than four years to graduate, leave a supportive message in the comments below for others who may feel discouraged. Lift that weight off someone else’s shoulders and, more importantly, lift that weight off your own. I’m proud of you for getting through the bullshit life often throws our way, and I hope you acknowledge how far you’ve come, even if others don’t always acknowledge it for you.

Getty image via anyaberkut

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