This story was originally published on The Mighty, a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities.
By Addie Ballard
Today, I am studying massage therapy and loving it. I have never felt such internal motivation or passion for something, especially when it came to school.
Two years ago, I was in a very different place.
I have struggled with anxiety and depression and that's what took me out of regular college, I guess you could say. It was a struggle for me to get up in the morning and go to school. I was just completely overwhelmed, I didn't go to a single class and I kind of lost it. I came back to the city and was working at a variety of jobs and living with my dad.
After about a year, I was at a point in my life where I realized if I didn't go out and seek more help, I would end up needing someone to give that to me. I told my therapist I was missing a community. We talked about how I needed to go back to school. She had just seen a presentation for College Re-Entry, which helps people with mental health issues go back to college. She said, "This program speaks to me and sounds like it would work really well for you." My first thought was, what's the point? I know how to study. I know how to do this. I've got this down. My issue is not school; my issue is myself, what's going on with me. But I ended up doing the program and through it I found a community I fit into. I had a place to go, people who expected to see me and who wanted to see me. I was held accountable by people other than myself, because that's a big issue for me. I'm not so good with that.
Through the process of learning how to take notes or mindfulness or cooking class, I ended up learning about myself. I found out what I was capable of and grew my understanding of my strengths. I grew my confidence. In the end, I realized it was about me the whole time. I figured out what I want and what I need. For me, I had never taken the time to listen to myself. I had never taken that time to learn about myself.
As I remembered how to be me, I started looking to go back to school. For many, many years, I’ve been interested in massage. You’ll find that’s typical of massage therapists. They’ve had people telling them their whole lives you’re good with your hands you should be a massage therapist. One day I just went online and typed in massage therapy schools in my city and the Swedish Institute came up. So, I sent them a note saying I just want to find out more information and the next day I got a phone call. I went in for an interview and I was accepted the next week. It was amazing.
The first semester I attended this program, I didn’t miss a single day of classes. In juxtaposition to that, my last semester of regular, everyday college I didn’t go to a single class. There’s a very clear difference for me about what works for me, and what doesn’t work for me; that’s how I have grown. School brought me another community and the people there are all so open to everything. They’re interested in learning more about humans and they’re interested in diving into emotions. It’s just an amazing group of people there.
I’ve found I’m very much a hands-on learner. Learning by doing is, for me, the best way I learn. It’s harder for me to sit in a classroom and hear a lecture or watch a slide. The beauty of the school is that we are learning about the human body. The first semester we had anatomy and physiology, so we learned all the bones of the body, and we had myology and we learned all the muscles of the body. That’s my body and I could go home and touch my body and say I’m touching this and that. It was a different way of learning. I had never been excited about learning something before.
The thing with mental health issues is that people always say it’s not you, or you’re not “crazy.” It’s just a very complex situation. In the last two years I have learned I have issues, but I know how to handle them. I have found myself and I have found what works for me.
Meet a successful College Re-Entry core program alumna as she describes her student experience:
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