At the beginning of May, I received a piece of news that would essentially change my life. It called for a time of reflection, and thus came my initial motivation for writing my Me At 22 series. Well, I’ve been in this head space for well over a month, and although I consider the time I spent writing very important, I am eager to move onto the next chapter of my life. I have accepted my situation, and as proof, I can casually say “I didn’t do too well in school this year so I have to take a year off” in my everyday conversations. So how did this happen, how am I dealing with it, and what am I going to do next? I have a few more stories for you.
A few weeks after my 22nd birthday (aka Facebook hype vs irl), I started summer school for an organic chemistry course (CHEM 233). The stakes were high because it was my 3rd time taking the course, which required special permission, and failing it would mean that I would have to switch out of my Behavioral Neurosceince major.
By no means was I proud to be at this point. But let’s just say that I became intimately familiar with the cycle of anxiety where I would procrastinate to feel better, only to accumulate more work, which obviously exacerbated my anxiety further. The problem was that, even though I was aware of this phenomenon (I mean I studied psychology after all), I couldn’t escape it when I was under stress. It was crippling. It always came down to whether I wanted to feel like I wanted to die or watch some YouTube videos.
What I was only recently able to identify was that I had a bit of hikikomori thing going on (it’s like a culturally specific pattern of depression/anxiety that I resonate fully with). I was literally too anxious to go outside, and sometimes that was even going outside of my room. And I could name the various abnormal psychology things* I’ve experienced myself under social isolation, but the point is, university was really difficult under these conditions.
What made it possibly worse than having a full blown meltdown was that I was able to get by. I have thought of getting help, and it probably would have been good earlier on, but the combination of pride, shame, and just not knowing or understanding what was going on made me continue living like that. And with every new term, I would strengthen my resolve to do better, and also increased the sense of pressure and failure in a domino effect. Skipping became a really bad habit too.
Funny thing was, I was still mostly passing. And over the years, the fluctuation in the cycle of getting better and getting worse became less dramatic. The struggle was still very real, and as time went on it sometimes felt heavier in feeling like it was never going to end, but I really did get better with processing, adapting, and understanding these challenges, especially from taking psychology courses. University still seemed doable when I changed my goal to just pass my courses. So I was actually surprised when I failed chemistry for a second time and got roughly the same grade.
Going in for the third time was a bit of a wake up call. I planned out strategies for success. I quit smoking weed (along with other reasons). When I studied, I actually thought the material was interesting (crazy what happens when your professor is passionate). When I wrote my exam, I barely left any questions unanswered. I felt good about it. Plus over the years, I’ve seen some real miracles regarding my grades, and I know that if God wills it, I can pass. But I didn’t pass…
When I saw my grades though, I was strangely at peace. And this was so different from me in the past sinking into despair with depression and anxiety triggered all over again. ‘God has a plan for me’, I thought, and I remembered that would trust in Him. I’ll be okay… right?
And sure enough, despite some anxiety over the circumstance, the situation resolved fairly quickly within that week, as I switched over to the Cognitive Systems major. I was actually happy because I’ve always wanted to do a computer science component, and this was my chance. For the rest of the summer, I worked on eating well, exercising, and working on my mental well being
When my 5th year of university started, I was surprised to find myself with more commitments than I’ve ever had in my life. All the time I used to spend being anxious and not going to my classes were now filled with work, RWB, Young Life, and DJing/producing. Oh and anime. So much anime. This was doable because I was taking 3 courses a term. What made it extra stressful though, was that, because of my academic history, one more failed class meant that I would be put on academic probation, as well as no longer be eligible to receive student loans. This was a make it or break it situation, and I didn’t have any snooze button hits left.
So even though things went pretty well that term, in terms of not really getting depressed (maybe like half a day max at a time), not really falling behind, and actually enjoying my classes, it was understandably an incredibly stressful situation; something that the past me would have broken down under the load of. What kept me going was anime, and the new found sense of leadership through Young Life.
I really enjoyed that term, as it was a time of healing and thriving. But something that happens while healing though, is the re-surfacing of all the hurt and problems that are yet to be reconciled. It’s a tender experience. And something that really bothered me in particular was my relationship with my dad, in that he doesn’t really know me, because we’re not in such a relationship where we can talk. My initial resolve after graduating high school was to never see him again, as I couldn’t process or forgive him for the things that he has done.
About 2 years prior to that winter, I had this vision while I was high. Perhaps it was the weed, but I saw this happy idea of our family getting along. It didn’t really make sense, but I liked it, and so I prayed for it–I wondered if it could really happen.
But in reality, I didn’t want to talk to my dad. I didn’t think he deserved it. And plus, I was honestly scared of how he might react. The last time I went home for Christmas, we argued to the point where my dad told me not to come back. That got resolved somehow but there was no shortage of emotional pain when it came to family.
Still, I wanted to love my dad. I desired to have a good relationship with him. I wanted our family to get along. And who was going to bridge that connection if not me? I felt Holy Spirit prompting me.
Two things happened to me that term that lead me to make a decision: the real possibility of me going on academic probation (even if not now, then maybe later), and my friend’s dad passing away.
You know… people die. And honestly, I had forgotten about that. It’s not something that you want to always be conscious of, but it happens all around us. It’s just life. And how do you process death? And what can you do for your friend who is mourning?
In the end, I decided to tell my dad my situation because I decided that I loved him more than I feared him; my failed courses and my drug use. What I wasn’t expecting though was his rather casual acceptance. Like it was anticlimactic. But it was good. We both seemed to have grown a lot since our family first moved to Canada.
First slide: So, are you going to go home?
So it turns out I passed winter season. Phew. And 4 months later, I failed the spring season. The day I got my grades, I went over to Mike’s place seeking counsel. I was so confused. I didn’t know what the appropriate emotion to feel was. Complete despair or complete calmness because God loves me? Neither seemed appropriate.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I kept on thinking of this verse. And a bunch of other ones. One about God having a plan for me, one about Him being good, and one about waiting upon Him…
And I know it doesn’t make logical sense, but these weren’t just words. They actually had power because I’ve seen their truth. And so… I was… okay? I was feeling anxious about telling this news to my parents but other than that, I was kind of excited.
Excited is not the right word, but in that moment, I was able to see the reality of my situation. I was actually so blessed. How lucky am I to be able to go to school? How blessed am I to have parents to worry about? Mike then grounded me in the fact that the gospel is still true, and I’m still healthy. And really, that’s a great place to start.
Another thing that really helped me in this situation, as well as my situation last summer with my chemistry course, was that I was involved with Young Life. I see it as life giving work. It’s literally storing treasurers in heaven. It’s influencing someone’s eternity, and it’s something that I know is absolutely worth pouring all of myself in. Knowing that I still have opportunity to do work like this, I was okay. It’s like if I could do one thing in life, it was work like this, and wow, I’m already doing it.
God transformed my faith through Young Life because it wasn’t just words. I was living it, seeing actual kids’ lives change, and seeing myself change through the process as well. It pulls me out of my comfort zone all the time, and I used to hate it, but now I realize that it’s the only way to grow not just in my faith but as a person.
Young Life has helped me to trust people again, especially other Christians. It showed me how to be intentional with sharing life with other people. It also helped me to go outside more, to be more active and try things like camps and retreats. And in doing so, it gave me the necessary break–although I really didn’t like it at first–to be able to look at anime more objectively. It taught me about community, and what it can look like when done well.
Perhaps the greatest miracle I saw was seeing myself change, and seeing God work through me in ways I never thought was possible. And the one thing that kept coming back in times of apathy, depression, and anhedonia, was that sharing joy is the most enjoyable and joyful thing in the world. For me anyways.
During my 5 years of university, I can confidently say that I’ve been through a strange collection of experiences, ranging from bitterness, depression, drugs, loneliness, confusion, paranoia, and the list goes on. So many mistakes and weaknesses, but I can also say that God has been so good to me.
My faith, which comes from God Himself, is such a weird phenomenon. Like I’m not forcing myself to believe, and although it hasn’t always been this way, it now comes so naturally. It’s my world view. And this, is the greatest blessing I’ve received. To know that I’m loved, even when I’m so depressed. Like I can’t get super depressed anymore because I know that loneliness is a lie. (this is going to come to bite me later as I dip lower in my mood, but even then, it’s not the same despair that I once used to experience)
I’m no longer the same person, and this is key. I died with Christ, and He gave me a new life. My past is behind me, and I know I’m forgiven. I know I am loved, I know have value–even more so than I can imagine–and that my identity is in Him. That’s just who I am. I was made aware of the truth, and somehow, here I am, running with it.
So going into this next season, what will happen to me? I have absolutely no idea. But I’m genuinely excited to see what God will do next. I’m so excited to see how God will use me, with all of my mistakes and weaknesses. Is God really good? What will happen if I actually live in that reality?
Even if I work at McDonald’s for the rest of my life, that’s… honestly–and tragically–better than most of the world. Even if I die, I’ve lived a blessed life. How many people die without knowing that they’re truly loved for who they are? How many people live with “wealth” but are unhappy? How many people are searching for answers without finding them?
Thank you, Dad.
* not limited to body dysmorphia, boderline personality disorder, gender dysphoria, schizophrenia, and anhedonia, all of which are not clinically diagnosed per se but could still have been clinically significant at one point 😉
Failing the course was my mistake, and I’m admitting this. Like, it’s technically possible to pass, and I didn’t. And so, going forward, I have to learn from this mistake.
What’s interesting is that my ‘profound’ experiences are really a common thing. And that isn’t to diminish its personal significance–and honestly, no one could–but the reason why any Christian loves Jesus comes from their ever growing personal relationship with God. And anyone can have this. I’ve yet to understand Christianity fully but it’s really just showing how to have a relationship with God. But much of Christian culture, especially in the west, has been much of a Western thing, so I’m excited to see Christians watch anime, love Muslims, love LGBTQ, practice meditation, listen to hp hop, and all the other things while having a relationship with God.