If you have never dropped out of school for mental health reasons,
you probably won’t cry tears of joy on the car ride over to take your comprehensive exam.
You probably won’t stare out the window
in complete disbelief, astounded that you made it this far.
You probably won’t wonder if you’re dreaming as you take your test.
You probably won’t feel a sense of pride and relief even before you see your results.
In a few months, you probably won’t even remember it.
If you have never been called into a professor’s office,
questioned about your fit for academia,
told you are disruptive, told you make others uncomfortable,
told you are a threat to your profession,
you probably won’t remember the first time you utter the words, “when I graduate.”
You probably haven’t couched all statements about your graduation with “if”s and “maybe”s and “possibly”s.
You probably won’t feel your whole body relax
the moment that you can bring yourself to say the “w” word – “when.”
You probably won’t be terrified that you’ve somehow jinxed it.
You probably won’t even think about the possibility that it might not come true.
If you have never heard a professor say
that a person with your diagnosis should not be a member of your profession,
you probably won’t dance around your apartment
after you get off a call with your advisor in which she tells you, “You’re all set to finish in a few weeks. The minute you take off your graduation cap, I stop being your professor and become your friend and colleague.”
You probably won’t stare at yourself in the mirror,
wondering, “Is it possible? Me, a graduate?”
You probably won’t wonder when the other shoe is going to drop.
When you’re going to be found out.
If you have never missed a graduation due to being in a psychiatric hospital,
you probably won’t try to memorize all the details of your surroundings
while walking down the stairs to your ceremony.
You probably won’t try to commit to memory the cracks in the walls,
the texture of the railing,
the chatter of the other graduates,
the temperature of the room,
the sensations in your body.
You probably won’t struggle with how to put into words
what exactly this moment means to you.
You probably won’t feel a deep sense of disappointment
at the failure of language
to accurately convey the feeling of triumph/victory/exhaustion/surrealness/fulfillment.
If you’re privileged enough to go through school without a psychiatric disability,
you probably will not wonder
as you cross the stage,
“Did it conquer me? Did I survive it?”
You probably will not wonder
if the hiding who you are,
the stifling your voice,
the laborious efforts to perform sanity,
the biting your tongue,
the waiting, waiting, waiting
for this moment
was worth it.
You probably will not wonder
who the “you” is that remains intact,
who has somehow persevered through the stigma and self-doubt and terror.
If you have gone through school with a psychiatric disability,
if you have dropped out for mental health reasons,
if you have been mandated on leaves of absence,
if you have been questioned, judged, scrutinized,
if you have wondered whether you are disruptive, if you are a threat,
or whether you will make it,
then hold on to the parts of you that have survived.
Hold on to that which has remained intact.
Hold on to every moment you can celebrate.
Hold on for dear life,
and remember you have not been vanquished.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.