Yes, you read that right. I’ve dropped out of university twice SO FAR in my life (Joking mum, I think I’ll finish this degree). I currently attend university in Toronto where I study visual art and am about to start my second year. This is my first blog post so I want to use it to share who I am, and I believe the best way to do that is explain how I got here.
My whole life I grew up thinking I wanted to be a fashion designer. That was my one and only goal through high school. I graduated in May 2015 and in August of that year I started at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. I had everything I had ever dreamt of. Living in this beautiful city that I had always envisioned myself in, going to one of the best fashion schools in the world, and studying something I truly believed in. The future I had used to dream about was finally beginning.
My family came to drop me off at the university and during my last night with them I had my first episode of sorts, later I understood it to be a panic attack. A switch went off in me and I didn’t quite understand it or accept it for a long time but my life was never going to be the same.
My first semester I was in a constant battle with myself. I felt so weak and ashamed of my anxiety and panic attacks. I kept trying to convince myself that this was normal, I had moved away from home for the first time so I must’ve just been homesick and lonely. I knew friends who were also struggling to adjust. It had to get better right?
I did fairly well in my classes my first semester, and that was probably the only thing that kept me there. I was so afraid though. Every day was a constant fight against the pain I felt in my chest, the pain I didn’t understand and didn’t want. I was constantly crying on the phone with my parents, struggling to breathe, wrestling with feelings beyond my understanding. I spent most days crying, thinking I was losing my mind. The one thought that kept repeating was that ‘I didn’t want to study fashion, and I didn’t want to be here’. I clung to this thought tightly, yet it also made no sense to me. How could I not want what I had spent 18 years of my life dreaming about?
I started seeing a counselor in November of that year and I got on medication for anxiety and depression by the end of that month (That’s a whole other story for another time). I flew home for winter break in December and when I came back in January for the spring semester things got worse fast. I had one horrible night in late March at which point I realized I had to leave. I was scared of what would happen to me if I continued to stay on my own. Spring break started a week later and I packed up my bags, drove up to my uncle’s house in D.C., spent a week there and then flew home to my parents in Oman.
I think part of me thought if I took myself out of the situation I was in, my anxiety would just disappear. That was definitely not what happened. One of the biggest mistakes I made during this time was not talking about everything. I was superficial in explaining my experience and by doing that I was lying to everyone, and more importantly to myself. I was also so intent on continuing to try to be fashion designer because I thought ceasing to do that would make me a failure. I was so worried about what people would think and I let my fears of other people’s opinions guide my decisions.
So I got to the point where I thought I was done healing and ready to go back. I had been seeing a counselor, I had begun practicing yoga, I had techniques to handle my anxiety; things were all good. So I reapplied, got accepted and was back at FIT for the spring semester in 2017. This time, I lasted about a month and a half. I dropped out in March of that year for the second time.
Then next year, life got blurry. I had to learn to get comfortable with the idea that I was not going to be a fashion designer and that I had no idea what I really wanted to do anymore. I started university in Toronto in September of 2017, which was a very spontaneous decision. I didn’t want to be doing nothing and I was embarrassed, once again worried about what other people would think of me. Would they think I was weak, ungrateful, crazy, a failure? Ironically I thought those things about myself more than anyone else thought them about me. My year in Toronto though, is when I truly found my yoga practice. I found this other way of living.
I know that my time in New York, and that excruciating pain I constantly felt in my chest, was life telling me that that path was not for me. The universe had a different plan. I needed to learn to let go, to stop worrying what people thought, and to grow stronger.
I am happy at this point in my life. I only started feeling this way this past summer. My anxiety somehow gave me a purpose. It made me stronger and more confident. Yes, it is easier to say that now that I am in a better place. If someone were to ask me if I would do things the same way again, I can’t honestly say yes. The thought of going back to that state of mind scares the living crap out of me! I will say this though, I am happy that things happened the way they did. It taught me to listen, slow down, and live the life that is happening now instead of worrying about the future.
I am also very thankful for my family, I didn’t talk about them a lot but they understood and named my anxiety before I did. They were there for me in a way I hope I have the strength to be there for someone else one day.
Anxiety is real and I believe it comes to tell us something. It’s asking us to listen and pay attention. It’s telling us not to be afraid of change. We all have the choice to use our anxiety to guide us instead of letting it be our weakness.
Sending so much love and positivity your way,