For me, as a teenager, the idea of university was synonymous with independence. We’ve probably all thought about this, perhaps without even realising. I figured that I would magically transform into a capital-A Adult. I assumed that I would stride out into the big wide world and never look back. I thought that being in university would mean that I would have figured everything out, that I would have my life together.
I was wrong.
Growing up, my priorities were inevitably skewed. My perception of what did and did not matter was upside down and back to front and inside out. I’ll tell you that story next week, but for now, I want to share with you some words from someone else’s keyboard.
My dear friend Lizzie and I are separated by twenty-something years and an ocean, but via email we still tell each other stories of hope and despair, of strength and weakness, of sickness and healing. It’s funny how things can seem so opposite, but still overlap.
When I turned 22 back in September, I wrote to her of my shame and frustration that, in my mind, I had failed. I felt like an idiot for getting sick, for moving home, for spending more time this year alone in my bed than I had with other people. I had thought by now I would be Independent. This was part of her reply:
You, my sweet, are a fine sensitive true loving soul. And independence is not what is needed in the world. It is interdependence… There are times when we need full support and to collapse into the arms of whoever our tribe is, and others when we are walking more freely and upright. I spent most of my life from a young girl being fiercely and necessarily independent, with no soft holding falling spaces. It is not a path of beauty or success or ease or freedom. That comes from allowing ourselves to be interdependent, hearts wide open, and with the courage to be vulnerable, sick or fallen.
… You are doing remarkably well. Savour that you have so much love and care and divine food in your family holding you … it is a rare gift … breathe in and surrender my chicken. You are exactly and perfectly how and where you need to be. Your story is only just beginning xxx
I read that email on my 22nd birthday and felt the burden of my shame dissipate. She was, as always, completely right. There is no such thing as complete and total independence; if there is, it’s not a healthy thing.
With this in mind, my perspective has changed.
It’s actually quite strange that we expect ourselves to become independent at a turning point. When beginning a new journey such as university, many of us in new cities, new countries, new responsibiliities, new learning environments, surely this is when we need to be standing together. Glendon seems to have got this all figured out. Arriving here was so different to arriving in Cardiff. Universities in the UK, as wonderful are they are (and they truly are) have a culture of “you’re on your own”-ness. North America, and Glendon moreso than the others I’ve seen and heard of, fosters a sense of community and interconnection. From Frosh to the resources on campus such as the Counselling centre, Lunik, the Women & Trans Centre, GLGBT, the Lion’s Den and beyond- we depend on each other. It’s symbiotic: all the best relationships are.
I spent the first six months of 2015 mostly alone in my bed. I don’t mean like a cosy, relaxed duvet day. I mean exhaustion and pain so overwhelming that I often couldn’t get up even to shower or to eat- or to go to class. When I thought my academic career was in jeopardy, it was academic services and the counselling/disability centre that picked me up, dusted me off, and set me back on the path of my life. When I thought I would never be a “normal” student again, that I would never settle into life at Glendon and that I would never make any friends, it was my family and my boyfriend who promised that I would. When I had a bad health day and felt too unwell to go to class, it was Sienna who gave me an impromptu hand massage, bought me a cup of tea and gently encouraged me to at least sit in the back of class and listen, so I wouldn’t be too sad about missing my favourite lecture (again).
And likewise, when incoming students message me (and you can absolutely message/tweet any of the eAmbassadors with questions) with concerns of how their health may effect their lives at GL, I can offer advice, empathy and point them in the direction of the disability services centre. When my friends, newly forming or long-standing, are in turmoil, I am there with an open heart and comfort. It’s about give and take. Trust is built on vulnerability and- this is something I learned from a year of long-distance relationship- the only way to be truly close to someone is to give as much as you get. For people like me, who often give too much, it’s important to look at it from both sides. It’s also important to get as much as you give.
Story time: When I was in first year, everything that could have gone wrong, did. Because I was an ocean away from my family with only a few close friends, many of whom needed me, I kept my mouth shut. I thought I was being so strong, so independent. I nearly died because I didn’t want my visiting boyfriend to miss his returning flight to Canada to take me to hospital. I didn’t recover fully because I was too proud to fly back to Toronto with him after being discharged. I made myself sicker by refusing to depend on the people that were offering support. And by refusing that support, I lost my ability to give anyone else any support. I fell out of the cycle of interdependence. By being unable to take, I was suddenly unable to give.
Interdependence is powerful because it requires us to be vulnerable at times.
Independence requires us to hide our vulnerabilities, to lock them away, to stay strong. I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.
So yes, I will blog like I’m writing a journal. I’ll share with you some of my flaws, some of the deeply personal things that I’m learning from. I’ll be honest with you because that’s the only way that you’ll be able to trust me. And you can.