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20th (Part IV)

November 12, 2012

(Click here for Part III. See the sidebar for Parts I and II.)

For the first time in a long time, I felt truly happy. Sure, I was happy in the summer. In fact, I was plentiful happy! But despite my happiness, the questions of who I was going to be and where I was going to go in life still lingered like a dark cloud over my head. So on that faithful day of Tuesday, September 25th, 2012, when I finally realized who I was going to be and where I was going to go in life, I felt like my life suddenly had meaning; I felt like I had a place in this world; I felt happy. H-A-P-P-Y.

But soon afterwards, literally two minutes later when I got over the high, I sank into a deep depression. I was unhappier than I had ever remembered being. Why the sudden change in attitude? I was so incredibly unhappy because though I knew where I wanted to go, I didn’t know how to get there. I was unhappy because I felt stuck in my circumstances. I felt doomed to forever go down the path of Honours Philosophy and grad school, never to be able to turn around and go back the other way. I was unhappy because though I knew what was inside the box, I couldn’t actually open it to get to the gift awaiting inside. I was unhappy because I felt stuck.

After I decided that I wanted to become a high school teacher, I realized that I needed to concentrate on fulfilling my requirements of two “teachables” for Teacher’s College. Teachables are the subjects you will be teaching once you graduate from Teacher’s College; mine will ultimately end up being English and Philosophy (or possibly, a more general teachable like social sciences, as Philosophy is not offered in most Ontario high schools). By the time I finish undergrad, I will need to have taken a set number of courses in two areas.

In that moment when I realized that I needed to worry about my teachables, I became frustrated, sad, and so incredibly angry. How the hell was I going to fulfill all of my teachable requirements when I’ve already taken 25 courses? Since I had already taken 25, that meant I had 15 courses left to take. How was I going to manage to take five more philosophy courses + a thesis, four english classes, and four psychology classes? That would leave me no room for electives, which I was already enrolled in. The problems with planning my degree did not stop there, but I won’t bore you with them. Thinking about this was what stressed me out the most.

Immediately after I got out of my Honours class that Tuesday morning, I went straight to the Student building to grab a table and chair at Midnight Kitchen. Going to Midnight Kitchen, a service on campus that provides free vegan lunches to students, became part of my routine for a friend and me. After all, free lunches! Who could resist? I always got out of class earlier than NL so I would always go and grab us a place in line. When I got there, I rushed in and opened up my macbook. I figured, maybe if I could downgrade to just a major in philosophy, I would have enough credits to take all of those english and psych courses that I needed. At that point, that was my best plan. Well, actually, at that point, it seemed like my only plan.

I pulled out my notepad and frantically started writing. After about ten minutes of doing “research”, I became incredibly frustrated when I realized that even downgrading to a major would still not work because of the Honours classes I was currently taking. Distraught, I began to feel the pain all throughout my body. I felt my cheeks burning with anger and my eyes filling up with disappointment.  At one point, two girls sat down at my table. When I realized that I was about to break into tears at any moment, I politely leaned in and asked them to watch my belongings as I was just “stepping out for a moment”. They smiled at me and agreed to do just what I had asked. Then, I jetted off to the washroom. When I got there, I was pleased to find out that as per usual, the third-floor girl’s washroom was empty. I took to the last stall and let myself go. I slid down against the wall and cried and cried and cried… and cried. I wanted to call my mother to tell her everything horrible that was going on in my life, but I didn’t. I probably would have though, had I had my phone on me. But it was a good thing I didn’t because calling her in that hysterical moment would have just freaked her out.

What made me even sadder was the thought that nobody knew how unhappy I was. Well, except for NL, who spent so much time with me during September that she must have detected some unhappiness. But still, I do not think even she knew the extent of my unhappiness. My parents were surely oblivious as I was careful never to reveal anything negative to them; I just didn’t want them to worry when I was 500 km away. It made me sad to think of that night of my birthday when I was talking to my father on the phone and tears were streaming down my cheeks. The whole conversation consisted of me saying, “Uh huh” and “Hmm” every other sentence. I was hiding it so well; he had no clue.

There in the bathroom stall, I cried for everything. I cried for feelings of loneliness and isolation; I cried for missing my friends in Toronto and wishing that summer would come back; I cried because I felt like my “youthhood” was escaping me; I cried because I felt like everyone but me knew what they wanted to do with their life; I cried because I felt like I was stuck in a pit of quicksand – I couldn’t get out and every minute I stayed where I was, I was sinking deeper and deeper. It was like I was in a dark cave, with my arms stretched out before me only so that I could feel my way along the rocks. But just as I saw the opening ahead, an earthquake came along and shook my world; rocks were tumbling down and suddenly, I was in the middle of the pitch black darkness again. That was exactly what it was like.

As soon as I thought downgrading to a major wouldn’t work, a thought entered into my head: maybe I should leave McGill. After all, there didn’t seem to be a point in staying at McGill anymore now that I was dropping philosophy to concentrate on my teachables. Before, when I had thought that I wanted to go to grad school, staying at McGill to complete an Honours Philosophy degree in under four years seemed like the way to do it. I had a goal to work towards, and no matter how unhappy I was, it all felt like it was going to be worth it. So when I decided that grad school was no longer an option, the sudden impetus to stay and finish at McGill was also removed. This thought scared me. Was I going to leave McGill?

But being at McGill was what I always wanted.

In grade twelve, I worked hard to pull my average up by 7%. In grade twelve, all I did was spend my time daydreaming about life at McGill. Should I throw all of this away? In my moment of confusion, I realized that I needed to talk to someone who could answer my questions about leaving McGill. So after lunch, I decided to skip 18th Century Philosophy to go talk to an advisor. Little did I know that that visit would be the first of many visits to the Advising Office over the next two weeks. It’s funny really, because I would always be wearing my beige trench coat, sitting in the same seat with my laptop open. So much so that one of the advisors (the one who didn’t know who I was) would always come out and exclaim, “You’re back?” or “You’re still here?” and my personal favourite, “You should join the coffee club!”.

After having spent the majority of that day talking to my advisor (who told me that I had until 11:59pm that night to drop my classes), my roommate from the past two years, and lying in my bed staring at the ceiling, I decided that it was time to call my mother. Of course, she was concerned the moment I told her that I needed to talk about school. Good thing I planned out how I was going to break the news to her. I didn’t burst into tears and hysterically tell her how I wanted to leave McGill; instead, I started from the very beginning: from when I went to go talk to my thesis advisor to how I decided that I wanted to become a teacher to how it just didn’t make sense anymore to stay at McGill (since it would mean prolonging my degree and my state of unhappiness).

“So what do you want to do?” asked my mother, “Do you want to come home?”

“Yes,” I said. “I’m so unhappy here.”

“Okay, well then do it.”

“Do you think this is a good idea?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think. I’m just going to confuse you. If you think this is what you want to do and that you’ll be happier, than you should just do it.”

Even with the support from my parents, I spent an hour after hanging up the phone just sitting in bed, back to the wall, staring out into space. So many things were running through my head. What am I going to do about my apartment? What am I going to do about my things? Was this what I really wanted? What if things don’t turn out the way I want? But the worries wouldn’t stop there. I not only had to worry about these things, but I also had to worry about transferring to the University of Toronto; I had to worry about whether my credits would transfer and how things would work at UofT.

Come back tomorrow evening for Part V of “20th“!

The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. – Randy Pausche

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