I had my plans set for the next three years after high school graduation: I was going to get married, attend Pellissippi State Community College, make money singing in the school choirs, graduate, and take some time to write worship music. When I started school, everything I had planned for was happening and going perfectly. Unfortunately, other things that I hadn’t planned for also happened. 

Not too far into my second semester, I started experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue, left-sided numbness, muscle spasms, muscle dysfunction, pain, mental confusion, memory loss, etc. I wish I could say that those were all of my symptoms, but that would be lying. I had doctors tell me that my auto-antibodies were higher than that of a lupus patient and I needed to see a rheumatologist. I had other doctors say it sounded like a brain tumor or Multiple Sclerosis. After several medical appointments and bloodwork, we figured out that I most likely had a stroke two years prior, due to a blood clotting gene/disorder that created a blood clot in my brain. I was shocked, as I had thought that it was a blood sugar issue that caused that episode, not a stroke. The doctor told me to take a baby aspirin in seasons of high stress, and I would be okay. She seemed to think that anxiety was the biggest factor of my illness. Wow. That’s it? I was thankful to have been given good news that I do not have a cancerous tumor or chronic disease, but I was discouraged that anxiety seemed to be such a huge factor for me. Most of the time when people say that they have anxiety, you don’t think of a debilitated person that gets extra grace for their shortcomings. I felt like a moron. A drama queen. And I rejected that diagnosis for over a year. I think that this proves to be an issue for our culture because so many people use the word “anxiety” out of context. Nonetheless, I persisted to figure out how to take care of my health. 

As I continued school, I had days where I could barely breathe enough to sing or focus enough to understand. There were many times that I wanted to drop all of my responsibilities and quit school entirely. Despite all of this, I remembered the “why” behind my yes to further education. I was doing this for myself, my future family, my music, my identity shaping, and because I will be proud that I did. I wish I had known at the time, just how important the “bending” was for the building of my resistance to “breaking.” Through most of my first year and a half at Pellissippi State, I spent all of my time wondering how I was expected to do everything that the Professors wanted me to. I stayed up all night studying, worked on homework all day long, did every extra credit assignment… I have always been and will always be a type A overachieving people pleaser. 

One day as I was speaking to an instructor, I mentioned this internal struggle, and I will never forget her response. She said, “you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to do your best.” She told me that the staff are FOR me and not against me. Even though I knew this, it was like lifting a heavy burden when she said these words. This moment was the beginning of the rest of my life. I knew I owed myself the grace to address my mental and physical needs and stop pretending that I have to be perfect. Once I made this mental shift, I started seeing myself not only enjoy school, but thrive in it as well. I was confident in my abilities, while humble enough to ask for help. I was honest with my Professors about anxiety being an issue, and more importantly, honest with myself. Don’t mishear me, there are still days when I write more than I need to for an essay, stay up way too late, and worry about things that don’t matter as much as I think they do; But on days when I hear “why,” I have learned to answer with: Because I can and because I WILL. 

If you are attending College, I encourage you to view school as a garden to grow in, not a pit to be trapped in. We as students are safe and cared for by our Professors, and we have a team of people cheering us on because we can, and because we will succeed. You are capable and destined for this.