Start Again

For as long as I can remember, I have always known what I wanted to do with my life. The plan was simple: excel in all my classes, so I can attend my dream college, major in biology, go to the best graduate school on the East Coast, and somewhere along the way I would find a passion project that would lead to a Ph.D. That was ambitious 10-year-old Natalie’s plan to become Dr. Duprey. You have to admit, it has a nice ring to it.

But reality hit me faster than the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. In my senior year of high school, I read the worst rejection email I had ever received and cried myself to sleep. This was the first time I faced a real setback in life, but the way I handled it was the first of many mistakes I made. As you might have inferred, I wiped those tears and later that year found myself on a plane to San Diego. It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I was hopeful because I could still follow my plan: do well in my classes so I could go to graduate school, and in five to six years earn my Ph.D. Simple, right?

Three weeks into my first quarter, I would learn differently. In 10 weeks, I managed to go from a straight-A student who teachers claimed had so much potential to almost failing out of college with professors who know me as a PID. My stubborn past self was not about to admit that I needed help, so I made the terrible decision to isolate myself. The rest of the year was just as awful because I found myself making the same mistakes, in this detrimental cycle of naive optimism that would turn into extreme self loathing and longing for the past at any minor setback. I decided to stay at school for the summer in an attempt to retake classes, but I also was afraid to go home. I felt like I couldn’t explain to my friends and family what was happening because I was scared of letting them down. So I spent another year trying desperately to stay on track because the goal was simple: good grades, grad school, Ph.D. Right?

Then, I had an epiphany, in the form of a panic attack. Last spring, a voice in the back of my mind whispered my biggest fear since I started college, “You’re a failure who peaked in high school.” This caused me to sit straight up and suddenly start thinking a million thoughts a minute. I couldn’t breathe and wanted to scream. I didn’t because I didn’t want to wake my roommate. I never wanted to bother her or anyone because I didn’t want these people to see how much pain I was in. After what felt like forever, the anxiety and lack of sleep caught up to me causing me to faint. I woke up the next morning, went to class, and smiled like everything was fine.

After that horrifying night, I finally learned some very important lessons: I don’t handle rejection well, and I suffer from depression.

With this new realization, I did the only logical thing an aspiring scientist could think of, which was figure out where everything went wrong in the experiment known as my life. So I went home this past summer to retrace my footsteps until I saw the answer I didn’t want to accept: I had to switch majors. Everything that I hated about the past two years could be traced back to my plan to succeed. I couldn’t get good grades because the classes were hard and uninteresting. I couldn’t get into graduate school because I did so poorly. The plan was simple; however, it was also unrealistic.

I’m sharing this story in hopes that you, my dear reader, will not copy my mistakes this upcoming school year. If you find yourself struggling, get help from the people who love you, because — as I learned — all they want is for you to be happy and a part of their lives. Don’t isolate yourself and keep those dark feelings bottled up inside, express them in a healthy creative way (I suggest writing, the UCSD Guardian is a great place to start). Finally, keep an open mind. It’s OK to go off the beaten path during your quest for success.

For the first time in a while, I’m at ease with the start of the school year because I have no expectations to live up to. My only plan is to take a deep breath and to start again.