‘Inexplicably Happy’ Column: The “Real World”


I am going to tell you a secret.

The world does get better when you get out of college.

Sure, frat parties might stop being a regular part of your life, but let me tell you, being a “real” adult is great.

Jackie Peterson

Jackie Peterson

Instead of being pulled in five different directions by five different professors, all of whom have a hand in whether or not you graduate, you only have one boss to answer to. Maybe a manager or two, but it’s the same job at the same company with the same general goals each day. You got hired to do this, so you know that you have the ability to do a good job. You even get paid an actual livable salary instead of paying $50,000 per year for panic attacks and papers.

Seriously, though. College is great, and Lehigh has taught me so much. I’m really excited to take that knowledge into the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But it takes a lot out of you to be in college. You’re constantly stressed. Even in your “free” time, you could always be doing one of the 500 other things on your to-do list — start that paper, read those pages, start the other paper, study for one of those three exams coming up, do some reading for another class, go to a club meeting, go to a chapter meeting, go to work study, find a part-time job because work study doesn’t pay well, call financial aid because they lowered your aid package, get some actual food before you die, drink some water before you pass out, go to a party before you explode from all of the stress… the list could go on and on.

This is the life of a college student, plus crippling debt and not technically even being allowed to drink your many sorrows away.

Throw in things like depression, anxiety, panic, or something like PTSD, and college gets even harder. After working full-time over the summer, I can’t wait to graduate this December. For me, being in the workforce is so much better than being at school. You can make money rather than spend it, you only answer to a few people about one job and your free time really is yours.

After college, I’ll be able to work in journalism and not worry about five different professors. I won’t have to think about how my professors will react to my mental illness. I won’t always be working. I’ll probably have significantly less breakdowns and relapses. But I still worry.

I worry about what I should tell my boss, if anything. Should I let them know that I am diagnosed with PTSD? Should they know that, sometimes, I’ll have to stay home for a day or two because I won’t be able to leave my house? I wonder what they would think of me. I’ve had three years to deal with professors and their reactions, but they generally only know me for one semester. If it’s awkward for a bit, it doesn’t have a lasting impact.
I have to decide who I want to be now. Should I be cautious and let people know? Should I be strong and stay quiet? Is staying quiet even synonymous with being strong? There isn’t really an answer. All I know is that I don’t know.

After my trauma, I had to rebuild myself. I had to realize that the girl I had known for 17 years wasn’t the same anymore. I had to get to know myself again, even though I was plagued with panic attacks, nightmares and flashbacks.

Realizing that the girl I knew might never be “back to normal” took almost a year. A year to realize that it wasn’t me who had to change, but my idea of what was “normal.”

“Normal,” now, is introvertedness. It’s wanting to stay home some Friday nights. It’s not being able to do everything at once. It’s needing more time to de-stress.

It took about a year to accept that this was me now. But in a few months, I’ll have to make more decisions. I’ll have to do some more rebuilding. Since I’ve been doing well PTSD-wise, can I stop telling all of my superiors about it? I’m not sure. What if I have a relapse? Should they know? Maybe, maybe not. There are plenty of pros and cons to all of it.

All I know is that I’m getting better.

I’m getting better, and that’s good. I don’t have to be the outgoing girl who could handle anything. High school was a long time ago. For all I know, I could have grown into this introvert that I am with or without the trauma. Therein lies the problem, though. Who would I be without trauma? What aspects of myself would have formed this way without it? I won’t ever know, and I’m not sure if it’s even worth it to ask. But I think it’s time to try to separate myself from my PTSD. I think it’s time to allow myself to relax. To stop constantly thinking about my illness.

It’s time to let myself breathe.

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