Please note: We will be posting new testimonials from students every month or two. Also, if you would like to submit your own testimonial please email Dean Fernández at email@example.com.
I identify as a queer, first gen, low-income, neurodivergent Latino. Ever since my first year of high school, I was in a constant battle with some level of depression and it followed me in college.
My first year at Brown felt like it flew right past me – as if I blinked and suddenly it was over. I took 8 courses total that year and ended up failing two of them. I felt like a failure and wondered if Brown made a mistake admitting me. To make it up, I took two summer courses. I made the realization during my 3rd semester that I was not pursuing what I personally had a passion in and made the switch from Chemistry to Ethnic Studies, consequently dropping orgo II. In my head I thought that now that I was following my true interests, that I would have a smoother time at Brown. That was not the case.
In my 4th semester I took all humanities courses and even though I loved them all, I found that I constantly struggled with keeping up with readings and papers. I ended the semester feeling a sense of inadequacy, because I kept telling myself I could have “done better.” The following summer I took an additional two courses to make up for the dropped course. My 5th semester is where I began to fall into a very deep depression – as classes got increasingly more difficult, I started becoming more disillusioned myself. I began to spiral. I started sleeping in to the point where I was sleeping 12 hours a day. I stopped attending classes for the most part and got to the point where I wasn’t physically able to complete assignments anymore – I would stare at my keyboard and the blank word document and tear up and feel so frustrated with myself, wondering why I couldn’t even bring myself to type words anymore. I was just so burned out from never truly taking a mental break from academia.
Part of me knew I had to take a break from school. I kept hoping I could keep pushing through the depression because part of me didn’t want to go home – at Brown I was able to live my truth as a queer person and being at home would mean dealing with homophobic family and an alcoholic father. I had actually considered taking a leave since my 2nd semester, but these fears are what ultimately stopped me until I couldn’t possibly do it on my own anymore. I ended up taking a medical leave for the entire year of 2017.
Being home and feeling like I had all the time in the world was a weird new feeling for me. For the first month, I was on full “treat myself” mode; I slept in every day, ate my favorite foods, and caught up on several TV shows. I started my year off by just trying to be kind to myself. Month by month, I started building routines. I started regularly exercising mid-January, going to weekly therapy in February, working a retail job and volunteering in a group home in April, and found a higher paying job in education in November. I also started taking community college courses, one in the summer and two in the fall. Academically, I didn’t feel the same anxieties I experienced before taking a leave. I felt a newfound passion for learning. My motivation and confidence had been revived. The final paper for one of the classes was a 10 page anthropological fieldwork assignment; I not only had fun doing it, but it didn’t feel stressed as I once did when writing papers. The words seemed to all came naturally.
In terms of family tensions, with the help of my therapist, I was able to learn self-advocacy skills and work on accepting myself on my own terms. I dealt with having to explain to my parents that I do not want to go to church with them every Sunday and tried to speak up during instances of homophobia without trying to out myself. My younger brother came out to me during the year and it formed a stronger relationship between us. I was also finally able to open up about my father’s alcoholism and work through how it impacted my family and made peace with it the best I could. I would use it to motivate and push me to head to the library or hang out with friends, anything to get me out of bed and out of the house. After a very honest dialogue, I finally convinced my father to try therapy and it seems to be helping. I also learned a balance between empathizing between my parent’s history of trauma as immigrants to this country but to also live my truth, even if they do not understand at times. Having this time to work through intergenerational trauma that I had carried with me for the longest time allowed me to move past them.
It was during my year off that I also was diagnosed with ADD, and I felt such a sigh of relief but also confusion as to why I did not know sooner but glad to find out that there was something impeding me; that it wasn’t me not trying hard enough or being lazy. Spring 2018 was my first semester back, and I felt like a completely new person. I was still mildly depressed according to my therapist, but I was feeling like a radiant sunflower, with its petals brilliantly shining. There were many small things I had to immediately take care of, from getting my key from reslife, picking up my storage, unpacking my room, registering with SEAS to list a few, but I did not feel overwhelmed. I made checklists and lived one day at a time. I knew things would be sorted out and I just had to be patient. I did have a few moments during the semester where the depression would creep up again, but I now have healthier coping skills to be able to bounce back – I found my resiliency. While I am still dealing with my mental health, I know now how to better be honest and transparent with myself and to openly communicate with myself and others to continue moving forward. I am extremely thankful for having taken time off to finally be able to prioritize my mental health.
Written by current stduent Vanessa Garcia who is happy to connect and talk with anyone about the process and her experience. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
After an incredible first semester at Brown in Fall 2015, I was getting ready to go back for Spring Semester. All my friends and extracurriculars were waiting for me and I should have been excited but I wasn’t. Instead, there was an empty feeling inside of me, dreading coming back to campus. I had given too much of myself the first semester and now, I had nothing left to give for the next semester. I pushed myself to go anyway, hoping that things would get better once I was back at Brown. They didn’t. In fact, my depression and feelings of emptiness get so bad that I become hospitalized for a week and school had barely started. How could I start a semester like this? It just all felt so wrong. A CAPS counselor suggests that I go on a medical leave and having never considered leave before I thought it was code for dropping out. Swallowing back tears, I took the pen from the counselor and signed my name at the bottom of the medical leave form, officially initiating my leave.
The first few days were hard. Having to bear the humiliation of having to pack up all of my dorm room in front of my friends, I was at an all time low. Being at home didn’t feel right and I was diagnosed with severe depression, causing my psychiatrist to put my on antidepressants. Little did I know that I would erupt into a full blown manic episode weeks later, presenting a new diagnosis: Bipolar Disorder I. I was in utter shock when I received the new diagnosis. I would have to experience manic highs and dark lows for the rest of my life? What does this all mean for my identity? Who am I without my mental illness? Questions like these filled my mind and I found myself grateful to be on leave because otherwise I would not have time to process my new illness, a lifelong affliction. I began therapy sessions and picked up creative writing again, frequently visiting the beach by my house for some quiet moments by the water. My friends back at Brown reached out to me and told me how much they missed me. Apparently, I had left a conspicuous gap from my many extracurricular positions (such as Freshman Representative in Filipino Alliance or choreographer in my dance team) and they couldn’t wait for me to come back. It was then in this moment that I realized I hadn’t dropped out and that I was coming back to Brown. Being in a good spot, I decided I would also try to work for someone during the summer while continuing to pursue my passions on the side. I scored an intern position for a wonderful tech start-up in San Francisco and I moved in with my mom to begin working there. I started taking dance classes again and caught up with Brown friends in the city. During this time, I decided to apply for readmission to Brown. My therapist and psychiatrist thought I was ready and most importantly, I thought I was ready.
To my dismay, my readmission was initially delayed. I then appealed the decision and sent in a letter from my employer and a personal letter from myself. The appeal, fortunately, overturned the initial decision and I was approved for readmission. I could barely contain my excitement and I went around telling friends and family alike that I was going back. In the months before my readmission, I took some online courses to get back into that academic mindset that I needed to succeed. I was ready to return.
Coming back was not at all what I expected. While many of my friends were glad to see me back, others had moved on to different friend groups. I learned to take a hint when one old friend stopped replying to my text messages. Without taking it personally, I decided I was going to fully commit to meeting new people anyway and trying new things. After all, I was technically still a bubbly Freshman, eager to explore Brown’s opportunities. Academically, I had done so well my first semester (four straight A’s) that I felt a lot of pressure to do just as well my second. However, I soon found myself overwhelmed with course work, and a dean suggested I drop my courses down to three considering that I had just come back from medical leave. I agreed and made the drop, feeling a tinge of disappointment in myself but mostly relief. The feeling of disappointment would soon fade over time. Another issue that I ran into was that I found living in a single in New Pembroke to be extremely isolating and lonely. While I enjoyed my privacy, I missed reflecting on the day with another person and laughing about stupid memes. I then decided to go to Residential Life and asked to be moved to a more central location where I could feel more connected to Brown’s campus. To my luck, they decided next semester to move me into a single in Hope, a dormitory sitting on the Main Green. I dreamt about all the Blue Room muffins I was going to eat and all the friends I would pass by on the Main Green. Before I knew it, the semester was ending and I whizzed through final periods, getting an A in all my classes or a pass with distinction for my calc class. I felt very proud of myself for having a great semester back and I geared up to come back for Spring Semester of 2017.
Before leaving campus in the Fall, I had decided to try out for the musical “In the Heights” and to my surprise I landed a role as the dance captain. That meant that I would come back two weeks early and rehearse every day for a while. While this work load was definitely a lot, I was excited to be part of a theatre community, one that I had missed from my high school days of “RENT.” The semester began and I was all moved into my Hope dorm. The location was as lovely as I expected it to be and every morning I was awakened by the sound of people chatting on the benches or birds chirping in the trees next to my building. I was feeling very happy to be doing work for all my academic courses and then rehearsing for 4 hours a day 6 days a week, but I wouldn’t know that the cause of my happiness would then be the cause of a great misfortune. In the second to last show of “In the Heights,” I suffered a blow to the head from part of a dance section. I was rushed to the ER in the middle of the show and the doctors there concluded that I had a concussion. I was then told by my director that I would not perform in the last show. In this moment, I was heartbroken. The following days were spent in my room, and I had to close all the shades to make the room dark so that the light wouldn’t give me a migraine. I had issues reading my class assignments and headaches were common. In distress, I had some friends step in and help me get food or do errands, but class wise, I was falling behind. This wasn’t the way I liked the do school and I immediately felt ashamed. I knew I had to do something. I visited the Student Support Deans and they recommended I do a course reduction. Having the trouble that I was, I decided to reduce my course load to one class. It felt wrong and I wondered if I was still considered a student, but it was necessary. Unfortunately, the stress of the campus and the pain I was in proved to be too much. As I met with another dean, I slowly realized I would have to take another medical leave for my concussion and again, I believed deep down that I was dropping out. The moving out experience was once more traumatic and I dodged conversations with friends about my future and what I planned to do on leave.
The weeks after returning from Brown were mostly spent resting. My sensitivity to light was slowly getting better and I could read more, but I was still in pain. I met with many doctors and their only response was that it would get better with time. It was during this time that I fell into a deep depressive episode, reaching suicidal ideation. My suicidal ideation then landed me in a hospital for two weeks and when I was discharged, I felt even worse. I was then admitted to another psychiatric ward for another two weeks and then a third ward, for yes, another two weeks. To make matters worse, I had to begun to start hearing voices and seeing hallucinations, giving me the diagnosis of Schizophrenia. In the hospitals, they started me on medication which made the symptoms better, but I was utterly terrified of my own self and felt like I couldn’t even trust my own senses. Every night I cried until the sleep medication kicked in and knocked me out. My life as a woman of color with severe mental illnesses was a hard one and I fully mourned the death of my once healthy and confident self.
With every ending, however, there is a beginning. After I was discharged from what I hope to be the last psychiatric ward in my life, I was sent to a transitional housing program for people struggling with mental health challenges. It was in this place that I fully blossomed into a funny, outspoken, creative, and inspired individual who was not ashamed of her mental illnesses. For eight weeks I participated in intensive cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, music therapy, yoga, tennis, writing, and cooking. Within the house, I became a leader who asked good questions and made even better chicken adobo. I started reconnecting with old friends from Brown who were around San Francisco and even applied to work at Starbucks. I ended up getting the job and working in the city during morning shifts. I suddenly felt ready to apply for readmission to Brown. I gathered all my materials (a therapist’s letter, a psychiatrist’s letter, my letter, etc.) and I sent them in with high hopes. To my joy, I had been approved for readmission for the Spring Semester of 2018. Coming back for the second time, I joked with friends that spring semesters had a curse because I could never make it through a spring semester. However, this time I added that I was going to change that with this semester; I was going to make it through. I took on four courses (two requirements and two “fun” ones), joined three dance teams, transferred to work at a cafe, trained to become a peer mental health advocate for Project LETS, and most importantly, focused on my happiness. It is now the week before reading period and I must say that I am succeeding–no, THRIVING–as a mentally ill woman of color at this Ivy League Institution. My journey through Brown and elsewhere has been no walk in the park but I consider it a beautiful one, with many different emotions and experiences that I can share for a lifetime. Taking my leaves makes me a proud point-fiver, and I can’t wait to see myself graduate in 2020!
I struggled with depression for a few years silently. Depression coupled with a college environment away from home, my problems surfaced while I was at Brown and came to head during the spring semester of 2016. I took leave from school to develop healthier coping mechanisms for depression.
The difficulties during the two years I spent at Brown are attributed to my mindset and my silent battle with depression. I have lived with depression since high school and I did not own this struggle until recently. I am the oldest in my family and the only son. Culturally, this bestowed me with a deep sense of responsibility to succeed and to be a good role model for siblings. I did not realize how much this weighed on me until my freshmen year. I learned quickly that college was much harder than high school. I was not used to failing. I had never failed. I never had to ask for help. As such, I did not ask for help and failed my freshmen semester. My parents and I believed that failing this semester was associated with coping with college and no more. After the first semester at Brown, my parents became more involved with my routine at school. With a strong desire to not disappoint them, I began to cut corners in my own personal growth. I worked hard to do well but I was not dealing with my lack of self-confidence and negative mindset. I presented myself as a stable and competent person. In reality, I was struggling. I did not reach out to friends or family for counsel. I was completely reliant on myself to solve my problems. Following two semesters, the fatigue of maintaining a front began to take a toll and I began to shut down. My usual coping method of appearing fine was no longer adequate in covering up what was going on. To cope, I started avoiding the problems. I avoided classes as I started to fall behind. I avoided friends and family. The 2016 spring semester was my toughest semester. I returned home and it was obvious to my parents that my struggles were beyond just simply adjusting to college.I worried about everything coming back; about how much time I was losing, how much information that I would forget from the first two years, and how much energy I would have to spend reintegrating once I came back.
Between talks with my therapist, my parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, I’ve learned some valuable things; I need to what appreciate I’ve done, and that I’m normal. In this world that houses the average persons I can proudly consider myself a member. I’m an outstanding human being, with great compassion, tact, and open-mindedness. I’m normal. These are some qualities that I’ve chosen to label myself with, and it’s taken a year away from anxiety, struggle, and immaturity to truly realize it. The thing is, not all, or any, of my values, characteristics, or insights will resonate with everyone, nor will my personal obstacles or pains. The beauty lies in the fact they don’t need to; my enhanced self-concept and appreciation of my accomplishments and goals allows me to be constructively introspective. I can regulate myself and reach out for support when I need it. Hell, I can consider myself a reliable support now. I’m focused on what I do, and I enjoy the feelings of accomplishment. They’ve become something that I chase, my own inspiration, and something that I hope I can help others around me achieve as well. It’s exciting now to engage the future, with its victories and defeats alike.
I’ve been back for a couple weeks now. It took me some time, but I remembered enough about what worried me a year ago to write it down. That’s been the extent of that. My curriculum has picked up exactly where it left off, I’m on top of my schedule, my friends are great, and I’m open to new conversations. I’m taking off and I’m looking forward.
“I went on leave almost entirely unwillingly . I did not want to admit thatthere was anything wrong. Was I unhappy? Sure. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t handle everything. I had already been diagnosed with psychiatric problems and was on medication to help me, but I wasn’t really getting any better. Every day, when I knew my roommate wouldn’t be around, I hid in my bed from the world, crying for hours on end. I still made it to all my classes, though, and that’s what I thought mattered the most. Because of my difficulties, I had to drop a course and went on a reduced course load. I thought I would be okay; I was already seeing a psychiatrist and therapist on a weekly basis. But everything kept piling up, and I became more and more miserable by the day.
All of this ended up with me getting hospitalized in the middle of my first semester here. I was still determined to come back to school, even after I had missed a month of school. It didn’t matter how long it was, I knew I could come back. Now, I know just how wrong i was. Maybe I would have been able to get by, but I would have been miserable. That’s not how college is supposed to be; it’s supposed to be the time of your life. If the dean hadn’t practically forced the leave on me, i can only imagine what my freshman year, let alone the rest of college, would have been like.
My leave wasn’t what you would call ideal. I spent the majority of it going in and out of hospitals for psychological reasons. A few months after i took leave, I was hospitalized yet again in-patient for 5 weeks due to suicidal ideations, and remained in partial hospitalization for 16 weeks to continue intensive treatment. The number of diagnoses I received were incomprehensible: panic disorder, general anxiety disorder, major depression, PTSD, PMDD…the list goes on and on. When people ask me what I did during my leave, they assume that I travelled the world or was searching for the cure for cancer. In reality, I worked at a law firm as a law clerk, I volunteered at a day care, and most importantly, I went to therapy at least three times a week. I spent the entire leave trying to fix what seemed irreparable: my mental health.
My break was the best thing that could have happened to me. I can’t imagine where I would be if I hadn’t taken it. i am now so much stronger and believe in myself so much more. it gave me the opportunity to make amends and bridge new relationships with my family and friends that I had hurt in the past. I know how difficult it was for my family to watch me going in and out of hospitals and feeling entirely useless. If anything, it was even more painful for me to watch the
fear in their eyes. But during my time off, we worked together to get a better understanding of each other, and my relationship with my parents is stronger than I could have ever imagined.
I am not saying that I came back to Brown perfect. In fact, i was, and still am, far from it. But so much had changed; at the time of the leave, I had felt like a failure. Now, I know that it took so much courage to admit that i needed time and that it was nothing to be ashamed of. It also meant that I was okay as me, and that I didn’t have to be perfect in order to get by.
I’m proud that I left; it means that I can truly experience Brown at its fullest and be thankful for every amazing moment I have here.”
It was summer 2015 and I was ready to begin my second year at Brown, I was ecstatic. After a not-so-great freshman year, I was determined to make my second year the best I’ve ever had. School started and I was doing just okay, not good, not bad. As the days and weeks progressed I noticed that nothing had changed. I still didn’t have friends, didn’t feel happy or even comfortable, didn’t have a community or a support system, and more importantly, I didn’t have the motivation to keep going. I had previously struggled with depression, but it was never as bad as it got during the first month of sophomore year. I would attempt, and rarely succeed, to go to some classes only to space out and feel dead both inside and outside. I stayed in bed in my single room with a darkness darker than the night sky. I had zero energy, I did not even have the energy to get up from my bed and go eat, no matter how starved I felt. I would constantly cry. I felt so helpless, I felt a stranger to this school, to myself. I started reminiscing about all the things that were wrong with me and my life, I could list things for days. I was desperate, so I sought professional help and saw a psychiatrist, as recommended by my temporary therapist. He prescribed some medicine and I started taking meds for the very first time. I was scared but willing to get better. However, the meds just made everything worse. I felt the utmost worst anxiety ever. I had to quit that medicine, then started a different medicine. Days passed and I was not feeling better whatsoever, I was tired of life and I could not even walk through the school without feeling anxious and out of place. I talked to the student life dean and even though leaving was not my only option, I thought it was the best for me and after deliberate thinking I decided to leave Brown and go to my home in Mexico, where I was raised. I, however, have lived in California since High School.
I had some hope and plans in order to achieve the ultimate state of well-being I was yearning. I thought I would be able to figure out myself and work out and study and learn and read and go out and eat healthy and… well, you get the point, right? None of that happened. Once again I found myself sleeping all day and all night; all windows and all doors closed. No sight of light. No sight of improvement.
I had no car, so not being able to get to places just made it harder for me to get out of my house. I did see a therapist for a couple weeks, she was nice, but I did not make much progress. Then, I decided to go back to my other home, California, hoping I would have better luck there.
Once I arrived, I quickly and luckily got a job as an administrative assistant at a mental health clinic, did I mention I am a psychology concentrator? it was the perfect setting for me. I now was with my mother and my brother and other family. I had so much support that it was easier to get better. I also found a therapist who sort of, kind of, but not really helped, however, she did suggest I take meds again, so I did. I was so caught up with my full time job that I had no time to be depressed anymore. It was all about “adulting,” all about being responsible, making money, going to the gym, all that stuff. I started feeling better with the busy life I had, I was finally making a difference and providing services for others, I was being helpful (the plus was the great pay). I had my amazing aunt by my side who showed so much love and interest in my well-being. My wonderful mentors from the Tiger Woods Foundation also helped me and supported me so, so, so much. I am forever thankful for all the attention and love I have gotten from them. Each person that helped me this year left a mark on me and without these people, my recovery would have never been a possibility. All these few amazing individuals inspired me to become the best version of me. They encouraged me and pushed me. I would constantly be in touch with my mentors and not once did they fail me. They are such inspiring people that I am truly lucky to have them in my life.
With amazing mentorship, my medication, therapy, a full-time job, and a supporting family, I was able to get out of the dark hole I was in. I became a much stronger, more prepared, energetic, and positive person. I loved my job and it taught me so much. I always aspired to become a therapist and so working in the mental health clinic for children that I was at opened my eyes to so many realities and aspects of the situations clients and therapists go through. I had such amazing coworkers and I felt like I for once belonged somewhere. Everyone was so welcoming and always treated me like a coworker and friend, not just a 19 year-old girl who does now know what she is doing with her life. Therapists would share stories and details about their personal lives with me, even though literally everyone was so much older than me. They trusted me and respected me. They appreciated me, I felt it, I knew it.
Moreover, my Tiger Woods Foundation family and I had planned to go to China in June, which led me to leave my job and go on this wonderful adventure. My experience in China was life-changing. I was so inspired by all the activities that we did. One would think that my best experience was visiting Shanghai or The Great Wall. But in reality my most memorable experience was volunteering at an elementary school that was in an extremely poor and rural town. I had never seen a town like that. I was eye-opening and I realized that I have been blessed all my life for all the opportunities and things that I have had that I usually have taken for granted. These kids at the elementary school, despite not having much knowledge of English, tried so hard to communicate with all of us and they were literally the most welcoming little people I had ever met. They were the sweetest, I even learned some Chinese with them, I clearly was not good at it! but it was definitely so much fun. The whole day was full of energy and excitement.
Anyway, I then got back to California and stayed there for a month before going to Mexico to visit my grandma and friends. That month was relaxing and fun. I hung out with family and friends and I was doing well. I then went to Mexico and I had such a great time. I hung out with family and friends and ate some bomb food, man Mexican food is seriously so good. I am so proud to be Mexican!
The time to go back to school was quickly approaching. The moment we all had been waiting for, the moment to go back to the place that tore me down a year ago. I started thinking about all the things that I had and had not done. I did not nearly accomplish what I had hoped to accomplish, but life is not about dreading what you were not able to accomplish, but instead it is about learning from what you did do. And that is what I did. I learned so much from the few things I did. I felt such peace and such maturity, I definitely felt so much better about being back at Brown. The time finally came, I was nervous of course, but I had to do it, literally. I came back and met my super amazing roommate, she’s honestly so great and that makes my life here so much better. I got placed in an amazing room and amazing location. The classes I am taking are so cool and my past acquaintances still acknowledge me. But it is not about what Brown is doing for me, it is about what I am doing for myself. Today, I went on a three-mile walk to explore the city. As a freshman, I never got out of the “Brown bubble” because I was so scared, annoyed, lonely, and unmotivated to do anything out of the ordinary. But this time I am different. I feel so liberated and content with my life. I am excited to learn, I am excited to explore what the city has to offer, I am excited to meet people, I am even excited to just be in my room listening to music or studying. I have a life now. I have my life back. I am studying, and I am learning and progressing. I have felt so confident and hope to keep feeling that way. It has only been one week of classes and the way the future is going to go for me is unknown. I have no power over the things that have happened to me and will happen to me, but I have the power to decide how to react to each of these things. I will not let things bring me down because I have worked so hard to build this confidence, stability, and well-being empire that my mind is currently in. That is it.
Testimonial 2: (Source)
Taking leave wasn’t in my plans. The summer before my junior year, I got very sick – suddenly, over night, and seriously. I spent August going from doctor to doctor, searching for a diagnosis and treatment. Ultimately, months later, my doctors would decide that I had a chronic pain syndrome. All I knew was that any time I tried to use my body I was in tremendous pain. My ability to function had been almost completely destroyed overnight. I was in constant pain.
Despite this, I came back to school my junior year. I struggled through two classes, highly medicated, but spent most of my time in bed. My friends were incredibly supportive but I felt horribly alone. Everyone else seemed so healthy and happy in comparison to me. I wasn’t able to have a social life, or do anything I was used to. Every single day was a struggle. By the end of the semester I knew I needed a break.
I spent nine months at home taking care of myself. My health slowly inched forwards as I found pain meds that worked. I kept myself as busy as I was able to – auditing classes at a local college, taking an art class and a meditation class, and helping at a preschool. Mostly, though, I spent more time in bed than I’d like to admit. I continued to visit countless doctors, shift my medications, and search for a way to get my health back to normal. It wasn’t an ideal way to spend a semester, and certainly not what I’d planned for myself, but it wasn’t necessary. It gave me time for my health to improve enough that I would be able to function at Brown.
Taking leave was definitely the right thing for me to do. When i came back in the fall, I was able to take four classes that I absolutely loved. I could see my friends again and actually enjoy being at Brown. It had costs – my class graduated without me. It also meant admitting that something was wrong. But it was worth it. Leave wasn’t a magical cure, but my health continued to slowly improve and the extra time was key in that recovery. What’s more, after my leave I was much better prepared to handle the stress of being sick while at college. I’m glad I took leave.
I went on medical leave last spring in the middle of what would have been my last semester at Brown. To be honest, during the first few months I mostly slept and went to doctor’s appointments. I watched a lot of TV. I started with the first season of The X-Files, which was on in the afternoons when school was still in session. I had more energy when the summer started and I went on a few trips in the mountains of Colorado. I watched Hoarders and every season of House. When the fall semester started, I took a watercolor class at a community college where I live. There have been a lot of moments then (and now, actually) when I’ve been slightly embarrassed about how I spent my time on leave, since I imagine that so many of the stories from people who did the same are exciting and full of valuable things like traveling and working and making important things. I watched TV, I read what I wanted to read, and I thought a lot about the reasons I was where I was, physically and psychologically. After talking to some other leavetakers, I think there’s at least a good chunk of people who do similar things when they take a break from Brown. We’re probably less likely to talk about it when people ask for details, though. Most of what happened when I was gone — the things I’m telling here and the things I’m keeping to myself—can’t really be distilled into a tidy narrative because they mostly took place in my head. When I couldn’t define myself by what I was achieving, I had to examine the ways I’d been justifying my decisions about annoyingly broad life-stuff, like what I was going to do in the future and how I had been interacting with people. I’m glad I took time off; it was an agonizing decision to make at first, but I realize now that it was both completely necessary and a strangely remarkable period of contemplation. It was an unhurried, reflective, sometimes heartbreaking but mostly happy and lovely, nine and a half months that I’ll hold onto for a very long time.