This was it. I had reached my bottom. Anxiety and panic had finally beaten me to the point that I had forfeited my ability to go on living my independent life in California. As we turned the car around and headed back home, I became overwhelmed with an abundance of emotions. I was relieved to momentarily be able to escape panic and find some comfort in the arms of my childhood home. There I could be me. I could rest, I could be with those who cared about me the most, and I could work to regain some strength and piece myself back together. But I also felt ashamed and embarrassed. I was not the same person who had hopped on a plane a year and a half earlier, bags packed and ready embrace my new life without a care in the world. No, I had regressed tremendously. I was now much more like a child. I was afraid of the world around me. And sadly, I was afraid of who I had become. I didn’t know how I would be able to move forward.
When we got back to my parent’s house we sat and talked as a family and came up with a plan. That week was the final week of classes leading up to our fall semester exams. Ultimately, we decided that I would stay home for the next several days and rest so that I could go back with the clearest head possible to take my exams and complete the semester. We called my professors and let them know that I would not be in class due to an illness that I had developed while I was home. Thankfully, they were all very understanding.
By the end of the week I had made some slight progress but I was still not doing well. I was really nervous about getting back on a plane and heading across the country for another week and a half on my own. So in order to offset some of my anxiety, my father offered to fly out shortly after I returned to support me while studied and took my finals. I can’t begin to tell you how important that was to me. I’m not sure that I would have been able to do it without having him there in my corner. In fact, at that point, I’m certain that I would have crumbled.
I completed that semester with a 3.0 GPA. Certainly not up the standards that I had set early on my freshman year, but not terrible considering the circumstances. I had finished what I had started, and that was one positive takeaway. It didn’t all go as I had envisioned, but life doesn’t always work that way. With a 3.6 overall, I would likely have the opportunity to move forward somewhere else should I choose to forgo my final semester at Golden West. At least not all was lost.
Over Christmas break my family and I collectively decided that it was in my best interest to leave California and return home until I could work on getting a firmer grip on the issues that I was facing. They noticed that I was doing better under their roof and I did too. It was comforting to be there. I no longer felt so isolated and alone. And I knew that I had a support system waiting for me should I ever need it – that was most critical to my healing. More than anything else, the awareness that they had my back gave me strength.
Going home was a simple decision when examining what was best for my anxiety and my state of mind. But it was tremendously difficult from the standpoint that I would need to leave behind my girlfriend whom I had fallen madly in love with over the course of the last year. After all, she was my rock. She stood by me through my ups and downs, and she loved me unconditionally. She appreciated me for who I was and she didn’t need or expect anything more. She had become my best friend.
We didn’t know what the future would hold for me at that point. I didn’t want to set a timetable for my recovery and she could certainly appreciate that. She wanted me to get well mentally and physically, no matter what it took. She supported my journey, and I cannot thank her enough for that.
We decided to continue our relationship long distance. That wasn’t an easy thing for either of us, particularly due to the fact that we were on opposite ends of the country. It’s not as if we were within driving distance of one another and flights were costly, not to mention that even when direct they took about 6 hours, plus you had to then acclimate to the 3 hour time change. Certainly not well suited for weekend travel, that’s for sure. And I was not ready or willing to get back on a plane and head to the west coast at that point, so ultimately the burden of sacrifice was placed on her shoulders. And not surprisingly, she willingly stepped up and made the trip whenever she could.
During the middle of January my father and I made a journey across the country that I will never forget. It was time to close up the apartment, pack up my things, and move me back to Pennsylvania. We drove nearly 600 miles each day, stopping for the night in St. Louis, Denver, and Las Vegas. And on the ride back we took the 1-40 southern route, resting for the night in Albuquerque, Fort Smith (AR), and Knoxville (TN). I got to see some breathtaking terrain on that ride. And I learned to appreciate where I grew up because after all, it could have been Kansas. But the greatest part of that trip was the time I shared with my Dad. It was a critical step in the healing process for me, and I’ll always feel blessed that I had the opportunity to do it.
Shortly after my return I spent most of my days relaxing and spending time with my family. I put out applications to a couple of different universities on the east coast remaining hopeful that by the following fall I would be ready to leave the nest again. I took three courses at the local community college in preparation for my transfer, and I found some regular part-time work with my friend’s father who owned a local property restoration business. I slowly worked my way back into a regular routine. I surrounded myself with good people, made the right choices, made certain that I slept and ate well, and within several months I began to see a light forming at the end of the tunnel.
It was hard for me to approach my friends back home upon my return. They only knew one Matt – and this wasn’t him. I was ashamed by who I had become. I didn’t want to share the whole story. How could they ever understand? None of them had experienced what I had. They were 19 & 20 years old having the best times of their life…enjoying college, freedom, and the limitless world around them. And I now moved at the pace of a turtle, fearful to even pop my head out of the shell that surrounded me. If I did that, someone might see what was inside. That was too risky. Most nights I just told them I didn’t feel well enough to go out and I stayed home with my family. There were a couple of friends that did step up and stand by me, and I will never forget them for it. One of which I still see on a regular basis. He in particular really helped me make the most of a very low point in my life. I’m thankful that I had him.
By the Spring I learned that I had been accepted for transfer admission by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This was a real boost to my confidence. It was a great university and a fabulous opportunity. And since I was a child I had always bled Carolina blue. My father was an alum, and as a result my family spent many weekends there visiting the campus growing up. As I mentioned in a previous blog, we even had season football tickets.
In addition, my sister worked in the the athletic department at UNC. She got her Master’s at Chapel Hill in Sports Administration and after she completed her degree they offered her a job. When I enrolled at Carolina she was working as the Director of Compliance.
So, it really seemed to be the perfect fit. I would have the opportunity to get back to school at one of the top public universities in the country. It was a place that was very familiar to me. And I’d have my sister nearby should I need her support on the next leg of my journey.
But how would my relationship fare?