13th Grade: Part 1
May 7th, 2020
Tonight I got into my car at about 7:30 to drive to Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington when at the last second I decided to take the MN 100 exit and drive to the Trailhead at Theodore Wirth Regional Park instead. I had some of my favorite pump-up/pick-me-up songs blasting through the car speakers and all of it felt strangely familiar. The drive I was on was the same one I would take at least three times a week last year. It’s the same one I would take to go to bike and ski practice and the same one I would take to go to therapy. I lived it, I dreamed it, and I have every curve of the road so deeply ingrained into my memory that I could drive it in my sleep. Listening to the same songs I would listen to at this time a year ago while going to the Trailhead on a Thursday night felt exactly like it did last year, only this time I was incredibly overwhelmed.
A year ago I joined Loppet Cycle Works which is essentially a mountain and road bike training program through the Loppet Foundation. Nordic ended for me in February and I was so lost. I was breaking down at least once a day almost utterly heartbroken and feeling like I had lost my place in the world. It felt like I was losing something that made every other part of my life make sense. I was all consumed with the sport and anyone who knew me Junior and Senior year of high school knows how almost unhealthily obsessed I was with training. However obsessed I was with it, it truly did make me happy. I focused all my energy into it and when it was over, I had no idea who I was or what I should be doing with my life as if not being on an official team somehow meant I was less of a person with less focus and less stability. I begged my mom for months to let me do LCW as at the time I was convinced with alllllll the free time I had taking 18 credits my last semester of high school (11 of which were online and to this day I still wonder why I did that) and nearly being done with classes all together that I was going to teach myself how to mountain bike, and I was going to love it. Mom finally agreed to let me do it one day a week, which for the entire 10 or so weeks I did it I went to the strength portion of it rather than the mountain biking portion, besides May 4th, 2019. I was so incredibly nervous. I drove to the trailhead early Saturday morning with my dad’s busted mountain bike from the 90s just hoping it would be okay for riding. It turns out it wasn’t, but I learned that over the next two hours. I was with kids nearly all of whom were younger than me and had been biking competitively for years while this was my first time on the mountain bike and I wasn’t very good… like at all. We went on a ride and I was the very last one trailing like 5 minutes behind the group. We then did some drills and went on another ride where I fell…many times. I didn’t even fall hard, but I got scratched up and a nasty bruise formed and lasted for over a month after that. I say this in this post because joining Loppet Cycle Works even for the incredibly short amount of time that I did was a new chapter in my life. I came across this quote that I printed out to put on my wall and as my wallpaper on my phone reading: be brave enough to suck at something new. That bruise, while painful and prompting way too many people to ask me what happened and getting the long-winded "Shannon" version of the story was a reminder that I was still out there trying something new and it was something I admired about myself. I had just declared that I was going to college in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and while I couldn’t accept it for myself, I knew it was going to be the continuation of something I’ve done for as long as I can remember: trying new things, collecting data, and reevaluating if things aren’t working out. I’ve had so much time to reflect, and while I am constantly nostalgic on a normal day, COVID has exacerbated that by a 10 fold. I finished my finals today meaning I am officially done with my first year of college and wow has it been a whirlwind. So much has changed and so much has happened in the last year, and yet it feels like nothing has at the same time.
Taken May 16th, 2019 right after my last final of senior year and high school.
Warning: The following image is not for the weak gut people and is a picture of the mountain bike bruise at its peak. AND yes, it was painful.
Something I’ve realized in the last few weeks sitting at home is that I have been enrolled at 4 different schools in the last 12 months. A year ago next week I would be taking my last final of senior year at Normandale, running in a track meet either that same day or the day after and then later graduating high school (a moment I had been looking forward to for forever), tying up loose ends, having a busy summer with two trips and a full-time job, moving to Wisconsin and having a heck of a messy semester and then moving home and transferring to UMN second semester where I would just be getting a hang of the classes I was in when COVID hit.
I never actually accepted that I was starting college, nonetheless starting college 2 hours away from home at the same place my brother and sister went to (what can I say? The youngest wants to do their own thing) and sharing a 10x10 room with someone I had never met before… ever. For as long as I can remember I have had anxiety that is more than the average situational anxiety, although as college got closer, the anxiety got more severe. My brain had shut down to let anything else in and from August-January and I felt like I was free-falling. A week before move-in, absolutely nothing felt real. It was more than the “my life is adjusting and things feel out of whack” not-feeling-real, but a full-on terrifying feeling that the people around me didn’t exist, that I didn’t exist, that I had made up the entire universe in my head and I was stuck in some sort of purgatory. There have been a few points in my life where my anxiety has been more out of hand than others, and this was definitely one of them. I ended up having a not-so-great roommate experience. People close to me during that time know everything that happened and I recently wrote a 15-page document telling most of the story to send to a friend. Needless to say, there is too much to that story for this blog post. With all of this going on, plus concerns for my health, plus the anxiety, plus the stress of just adjusting to college and finding people that actually gel with my life, I was lost, overwhelmed, scared, and disconnected from myself. I was lucky enough in this time to have some amazing friends who even when I knew I was driving them up the wall with everything that was happening, they still loved and supported me. I ended up going home nearly every single weekend and having a friend or two from high school cut ties with me and told me I was annoying them by struggling. The first weekend of college I wasn’t planning on coming home, but my sister’s roommate from college and one of my favorite people was getting married and I simply could not resist. The second weekend I needed to go to the doctor and the third weekend was my 19th birthday and given that I was still so overwhelmed and hadn’t found my people at college, I wanted to spend it with my family. I then came home for concerts, to see my beautiful friends, playoff games, and sometimes just because I needed a hug from my mom, dad or dog. I say this because people felt the need to ask me why I kept coming home, and I felt the need to justify myself, when in reality my argument here is that not everyone’s “college experience” looks the same and it made me feel even more lost when I realized mine wasn’t anything like what I wanted or expected, and it didn’t seem to be like anything like my friends did via their social media postings.
I tried to work on weekends I came home and would usually have some snuggle moments with the doggo. He's camera shy, so this may be one of the better pictures.
I share this not to throw myself a pity party but rather to say the same thing I said the entire first semester: college is hard, especially the first year, and I truly believe everyone has a hard time whether they want to admit it or not. I could list off the things that were hard like the roommate situation, getting kicked out of my room, partaking in some time spent with people that I was better off without, the anxiety attacks that happened at a frequency I couldn’t keep up with, feeling like I was in this constant state of free-fall where, I, myself didn’t feel real and would have blackout moments every hour in which I needed to remind myself where I was and what I was doing, etc. I could list off these things and focus on everything that wasn't ideal and let that define my experience, or I could accept that for whatever reason, this was part of my journey and I needed to do what I could do to keep moving towards where I am meant to be.
I didn't have a parking spot on campus, so I had to walk 1.5-2 miles to get to my car which I parked at a close friends apartment. These walks turned out to be some of my favorite moments as they were peaceful with my thoughts. Seeing the leaves change and then fall, and be replaced by snow evolved with the semester and symbolized a whole lot more to me than the changing of seasons.
A few nights before move-in I had an absolute breakdown when I was packing up my clothes. I think I was home alone and blasting Shawn Mendes (but like SAD Shawn Mendes) and when my sister got home I just broke down and started bawling. When I moved in a few days later and my mom and dad left, I was so heartbroken. I think these things are normal, but I still don’t think I was ready for college. I think there was some part of me that needed a breather and had absolutely no idea where I needed to be. And another part of me knew all along that where I was going was not where I needed to be long term, but perhaps it was where I needed to be at the time. The third day at Eau Claire we had “Opening Day” which is the day-long equivalent to other colleges’ welcome week and orientation in one. Classes started the next day and I can’t remember if it was opening day or the first day of class that I was walking on lower campus into Hibbard Humanities Hall where all of my classes would be in for the next four years that I called my mom bawling. I kept repeating “I need to transfer, I’m not ready, this isn’t for me”. I was practically begging her again to let me take the semester off, move home, get a job and figure out what was going on with my anxiety and where I needed to be/where I belonged. Every single person I talked to said I just needed to give it time, but given my immense stubbornness and my inability to want to wait for things to just work out, I put in my application to transfer to UMN within the next few weeks.
Things, of course, got a lot worse and a lot better almost immediately one after the other. While so many things happened that negatively affected me, I also made some really great friends, kept my connections with loved ones from home, and at colleges around the country, and I absolutely adored my classes and my professors. The professors I had truly cared about their students' success and were kind, approachable, knowledgeable beyond belief and so incredibly witty and funny. I loved my classes and while whatever was happening with me blacking out and not feeling real myself, I found myself positively escaping through the work I was doing and the information I was acquiring.
Ultimately I decided to transfer after a long and super hard decision. I felt like I was in a damned if I do, damned if I don’t situation, but it came down to me deciding that moving home, getting back on my feet and going to a school with a well respected program I was going into would be the best move for me at the time. It was hard to leave Eau Claire as the last 4 weeks I was on campus without going home and I was finally starting to get the hang of everything. I had my friends, I was in a new room by myself, I was loving my classes and I was feeling more independent than I did the entire semester. I didn’t want to be “going backwards” by moving home and going to a school I nearly swore off because of how many people from high school went there, but I also didn’t want to be stuck in a place where I would give it another chance and despite my amazing friends still be unhappy. For nearly the entire second half of the semester I would call my mom asking her what she thought: to transfer, or not to transfer was the question. My mom decided early on that it was my decision and that she wasn't going to offer her opinion until after I decided. I had a few more struggles nearing the end of the semester and I decided that it was the best move for me to start something new as it was a "now or never" moment, and it turns out my mother agreed.
While there were moments of misery and excruciating loneliness, I know there were reasons why I had to go through this and there were things that made it all worth it. First off, I'm proud that I went to Eau Claire because it was so out of my comfort zone. In my junior year of high school, I consistently said I wanted a really big school, really far away. I was looking at Seattle, Boston, Montana, and Missouri, but I realized that out of state tuition was far more than I was willing to spend. Even though I was less than 2 hours away from home, and in a state that I had sworn off since a young age, it was far enough away from home that I had felt like I left (and close enough to home that I could come home when I needed to). I pushed my limits, gained experiences, and gained insight into opinions and world-views that were unlike my own.
While overall I knew it wasn't the place I needed to be, I have found myself missing the immensely powerful, positive parts that I don't talk about as much as I should. I miss my lovely friends I met at Eau Claire on my floor and in my dorm building and classes. I miss my peaceful runs down to lower campus and on Putnam trail in the rain, snow, and sunshine. I miss my peaceful insomniac nights when I would shower at three in the morning and be truly in the present time. I miss driving back to campus on a Monday morning and sprinting to make it to my first class on time. I miss the countless hours I spent in the library and the late-night debriefings and rants with my friends in our rooms. I miss playing Mario Kart at 3 or 4 in the morning in the basement of my dorm building and unsuccessfully trying to teach myself piano in which I would poorly play Señorita over and over again. I miss late-night Perkins runs, skiing and running at Tower Ridge, my two-mile walk to get to my car which was generously parked at Micah's apartment. I miss my old and new friends alike and screaming the lyrics to South of the Border with Vanessa until I couldn't breathe. I miss my professors and I even miss the multiple parking tickets I got and the bi-weekly appointments to the campus clinic. Like everything in life, there was beauty in the madness, peace within the storm, and a light in the dooming darkness. I'm thankful for my time at Eau Claire and for the crazy experiences and amazing people I met along the way. My heart aches sometimes to think about what could have maybe been if I stayed, but I remain confident that whatever needs to happen will happen, although this is quite incredibly difficult to remember in our current situation.
My friend's and I would often take excursions to Cold Stone after a long week of classes. Another thing I miss dearly as we would sample the ice cream and sit and listen to the brilliant playlists they had playing.
If I didn't go to Eau Claire, I wouldn't have met these people that have changed my life and the way I look at the world, for better or for worse. I'm still not sure what the purpose Eau Claire was serving in my life when it did, but I know without it I wouldn't have the friends I do, I wouldn't have been able to go on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, and I wouldn't be where I am today, again, for better or for worse. I’ve been having a tougher-than-usual time processing these things and what has happened, but I share with you today that processing takes time (something that is hard for me to accept). You cannot run through these things and you cannot rush the process and your journey in life. While I know that my experiences are not the experiences of everyone, I hope at least something in my story can relate to your own.
More to come on the rest of the year in part 2...
With much love,