By Sarah Dowd
I want to tell you all a story about me and my life here at Hofstra. I know that my story is not uncommon, especially here, but I feel like it needs to be told. Maybe you’ll read it and think, “Wow, this girl is an idiot and also I don’t care” or maybe you’ll read it and realize something about your own life. Either way, I needed to get it down on paper and out into the world.
I’m a junior here at Hofstra. All I’ve ever wanted to do, since my first semester in Fall 2016, was to make an impact on campus. Last semester, I was doing exactly what I had always dreamed of doing. I was the president of one club, vice president of another club, and treasurer of another. I planned two one-hour long presentations once a week. I was a fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement. I had a job. I was planning events with outside organizations. I took five classes. I was dealing with mental illness and medications that made me nauseous and gain weight. I was living off campus in my own home for the first time in my life. I went out every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. I had more friends than ever. Everywhere I went, I would smile and wave at all the familiar faces. Things were going great. I was doing all of things I wanted to do when I got to college. I finally solidified my majors and minors and was taking classes that I loved. I had so many ideas for events and programs that I could host. I helped plan a huge event that was the most successful we’d ever had. I was on top of the world even if the people around me were not. I felt like nothing could stop me.
Quickly into the semester, the perfection I had dreamed of started going down the drain, fast. I was spending all of my time running around campus, from Oak Street Center to Gittleson twenty minutes later. My mind could never focus on one thing. If I was in class, I was thinking about events. If I was at a meeting, I was thinking of all the homework I could be doing. I told myself that it was healthy, that I worked better under stress. I spent all of my time in my advisor’s office talking at a million miles an hour trying to tell her every idea that I’d ever had. I wanted to host events that should take months of planning that I tried to plan by myself in two weeks. I wanted to be the queen of everything. College organizing and activism was a competition, and I was going to win. I threw myself into my first romantic relationship since high school because I thought it was what I needed. At this point, I had my Monday through Friday planned out hour to hour from 8 AM to 9 PM for the entire semester. For example, I called Wednesday’s my “Hell Day.” I set my alarm for 8 AM, had work from 10 AM to 12 PM, then I would rush to the student center to eat lunch before my 12:50 class. Then I had classes from 12:50 until 4:20. Then, I had a meeting from 5 PM to 6 PM. Then, I had a meeting from 6:30 PM to 7:30 PM, which I often ran. Finally, I had a meeting from 8 PM to 9 PM, which I always ran. I would get home around 9:30 and immediately start doing homework. On the weekends, I would sleep until noon and often laid in bed all day, telling myself I could do homework tomorrow. I should’ve seen the signs.
I couldn’t admit to myself that I was completely, totally, utterly miserable. The life I had is the life I always wanted to have. I broke up with my significant other, ruining our relationship/friendship forever, which I will never forgive myself for. But hopefully you can forgive me. I was losing all of the people I held close to me because I was so stressed and controlling. If it wasn’t my way, it was no way. I felt like if I didn’t control everything, it would spiral out of control. If I didn’t meticulously plan every meeting, everything would fall apart. I delegated no tasks and put them all on myself. I was drinking every night of the week. Even though I was smiling on the outside, every time I said hi to someone in passing, I wondered if they secretly hated me. People did start hating me, and I didn’t even mind anymore. Let them hate me. I was doing good work. By December of 2018, I could barely get out of bed. When I was in meetings, I would fight with everyone all the time. I couldn’t see the other side of anything anymore.
When the semester ended, I was relieved. I was afraid for my grades. While I knew I didn’t fail anything, I knew it wasn’t my best semester. Maybe this month a hundred miles away could mend everything. Maybe it could mend my overthinking brain. Maybe it could mend all of the broken friendships. You know the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” I thought that it would somehow work for me.
Winter break came. I had a terrible time at home. I saw my best friend for the first time since August, since she was traveling and changing the world. I returned to school. I got the job of my dreams. When I called my dad that day to tell him, he told me my grandma was in the hospital and would never make it out. Two days later, my grandma died. Then, my house was infested with bugs and we lost hundreds of dollars of food. Then, miscommunication made me look like a complete idiot. Then, my ceiling started leaking and pouring water. Then, my weekend friends and my weekday friends didn’t get along. They were all pressuring me to figure things out and instead of doing anything, I locked myself in my room. I stared at the ceiling for a minute, unsure of what to do next. My best friend, my beautiful wonderful earth shattering best friend, knocked on my door and hugged me.
And then it happened.
I broke down for the first time in months. I cried and cried and cried. And cried and cried. I didn’t even think I could cry that much anymore. I was the party girl. I was the happy girl. I was the unstoppable girl, the immovable force.
You know what I finally realized, after all of this? I am still everything I’ve always wanted to be. I have been and I always will be. Here at Hofstra, it is always on the students to organize anything of meaning. Unless there is significant, and I mean significant, pressure from students, nothing gets done. My club didn’t even have an advisor for a full year. I put everything on myself.
Yeah … no. Not going to do that anymore.
Two days ago, I resigned as president of my organization. My advisor asked me as I fretted over the choice of staying or going, “I’m not going to stop you, but are you unsure of your decision or do you just not know what to say?” For some reason, this reminded me that I was, I am, a powerful person. Nervousness doesn’t suit me. I was always sure of my decision to leave. I knew what to say, I was just afraid to say it. If you ask her what happened after I sent the message to my executive board, it will go something like this:
“I haven’t seen her smile like that since I met her! When she walked into my office, she looked miserable and tired. As soon as she clicked send, she was like a new person. A weight is lifted off her shoulders!”
I started doing yoga recently because I hold a lot of stress in my body. My lower back is a battlefield but I’m working on it. I wake up a little earlier than everyone else so I can make breakfast in silence and enjoy the morning. Instead of forcing myself into situations that make me feel like garbage, I do things I enjoy instead. I sit in the sunshine and read. I go home and sleep when I’m tired. I spend time alone when I need to. I open all the windows in my room and light a candle. After I take a shower, I hang out naked for a long time and moisturize my entire body. I drink a stupid amount of water. I cry when life is a little too beautiful.
I’m still the president of another club. I’m still a fellow at CCE. I still have a job. I’m a peer teacher now. I’m still working with organizations outside of Hofstra. I take four classes. I’m still doing all of the things that I love and want to be doing.
I’m not telling anyone to quit all of the hard work they’ve been doing. I’m not calling anyone out. Sometimes it’s hard to see the situations we’ve put ourselves in. Sometimes we need to take a step out of ourselves and see the person we’ve become. I didn’t like the person I became in the midst of all of the things I wanted to do. I’m working on being the person I want to be. The person who smiles and means it. The person who feels things deeply. The person who fights the good fight. I don’t think that I’m better than anyone else for the realizations I’ve had or for who I’m trying to become now.
I want to thank everyone who’s stuck with me through all of it. I want to thank my three moms – you know who you are. Good lord, I don’t know what I would’ve done without you all telling me what I needed to hear and hearing me out when things got a little too crazy, which was, like, all the time. I literally can never thank you enough for the happiness you brought back to my life.
I know it was a rough and bumpy road, but I get it now. It’s time for me to find a balance in my life. I hope this might inspire you to take a step outside, look up at the sky, and look inside yourself too.