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Inside Beat

Reflections of soon-to-be Rutgers grad

Graduating and remote learning during COVID-19 can be especially disheartening, especially for students struggling with their mental health.  – Photo by Pixabay

After six years, I can finally say I’m graduating this May. I’m filled with a grotesque combination of excitement and dread as I type that. It’s terrifying.

Six years ago, I thought I would graduate in four years with a film production degree. I thought I would sweat in my graduation gown while waiting for my name to be called with the correct pronunciation. I thought I would be bored out of my mind, hearing countless speeches in Spanish about how “We are the generation that’ll shape the culture in Puerto Rico.”

Six years ago, I wanted to move to the U.S. because I was tired of those speeches. Six years later, I yearn for them. 

Three years ago, I thought I had it all figured out. I had only two years of my degree left, and I was excited. Then, a catastrophic hurricane hit, and I moved to New Jersey. Rutgers University was my chance to study what I was really passionate about: journalism.

Little did I know Rutgers would be the hardest thing I would have to endure. It definitely hasn’t been smooth sailing. Even while there have been numerous deans and professors who have supported me throughout the years, the RU Screw is very real.

I’ve always been the type of person who didn’t need to study too hard, especially in college where I enjoyed my classes. Rutgers proved I didn’t know anything at all.

Even with at least one mental breakdown every semester, I enjoy academia. I love going to campus. I adore walking between classes and being able to breathe. I love the smell of empty buses and eating by myself. I love the peace of quietly reading in the library. 

Online classes have been nothing but suffocating. My anxiety over the pandemic cripples me.

While others felt great working or studying from home, I was struggling with it since the Spring 2020 semester went virtual. Instead of being comforted by my surroundings, I wanted nothing more than to escape. I was tempted by distractions at every corner. It was my own personal brand of hell.

My anxiety had never been higher. The global pandemic (the one barely anyone takes seriously anymore) had me locked at home, afraid to go even for a small walk around my apartment complex.

That summer I went to get tested for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and left with recommendations and proof that my brain doesn’t work quite like everyone else’s.

Not quite the clear-cut diagnosis I was looking for though: no ADHD but yes to depression, anxiety (we knew that much already, didn’t we?) and a few other quirky things like visuospatial impairment and a hefty dose of executive dysfunction. I’m in therapy (obviously), but it’s been an uphill battle to find a doctor who will prescribe me what I need. 

The Fall 2020 semester was also hard. Not in the way that past Rutgers semesters were hard: I didn’t struggle in understanding any specific subject. In that way, my classes were easy. I just couldn’t focus to save my life. It was unbelievably challenging to motivate myself to do anything. Zoom fatigue is real, and anyone that tells you differently is just lying. The work felt overwhelming. The stakes didn’t feel real, even when they were very, very real.

Two weeks into this semester — my last one, oh God — and I’m already overwhelmed. I was very lucky that my professors were nice last semester: I was very behind in some classes and I still can’t understand how I got straight A's.

It’s hard, and I already know it’s going to be so much work. I’m already exhausted. Maybe it would have been 100 percent easier if there was a distinct difference between "home" and "school," or maybe it would have been just as hard.

Do I wish I was still taking classes in my small university in Puerto Rico? That’s tough to say. I’ve learned so much at Rutgers. Even as I have struggled, it’s given me so many opportunities to grow academically, professionally and personally.

Am I completely overwhelmed by the number of choices I have for post-grad? Of course. Am I naturally a very introverted person who has anxiety that dived into a major that requires them to talk to people and network? Yes. But, I don’t have to focus on that right now. I don’t need to have it all figured out right this second while being in school, working retail part-time and living through a global pandemic.

These are the hardest times some of us have ever been through, it’s normal to feel anxious, depressed and overwhelmed. It’s important to be compassionate with ourselves: We’re trying our best. That’s what I keep reminding myself. Put on some music and take a breath. We’ll all be just fine.

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