I used to be fearless.
Growing up, I dreamed of being independent. Since before I was even a teenager I was thinking about moving to the states by myself, pursuing an acting career, becoming someone. I had huge dreams and endless amounts of confidence in myself and my abilities. I’d buy Cosmopolitan and devour the articles. All this talk about the Fun, Fearless Female was intoxicating. They had their own apartments, they lived in the city. They lived in stilettos and wore red lipstick to the workplace. As much as I loved the fashion, the guy advice and the beauty tips, my favorite part of the magazine was almost at the end; the living segment. It was all about telling girls how to decorate their place. How to make your bathroom feel like a spa, or how to give your living room a warmth, cozy look. I devoured it, longed for my own apartment to play with and make my own.
Somewhere along the way I lost that. I started college in a big, big campus. My shyness was still an issue. I was majoring on a field where your looks were scrutinized daily above everything else, right around the time where my thyroid started having issues. Slowly and steadily I kept gaining weight, even though I was walking all over a massive campus. I found my acting classes were a lot like high school. There were cliques. The moment someone got any sort of acting job, they felt, acted, and were treated as superiors. They called the professors by their first name and dropped names during class like it was a pencil that fell out of their bookbags. For three years I wilted slowly, like a single wildflower in a vase. My soul withered while my body grew and I sank into a deep, consuming depression. Acting was all I’d ever wanted, and pursuing it was making me miserable. After three years, I told my parents I wanted to take some time off from school. Up until this point I’d been enrolling in classes, then felt too depressed to even show up on most days, and ended up getting incompletes. I told them I didn’t want to keep spending their money (I didn’t qualify for any financial aides) without knowing where I was going. I told them it would only be a semester. It was 2 1/2 years.
During this time, I became a waitress. It may not sound like a big deal, but it helped me out a lot. Having to go up to complete strangers and have conversations with them helped me loosen up. I became more confident in my personality, and found it came easy to be myself with others. Somehow, during this time, the idea of studying interior design propped up into my head. It stayed in the back of my mind, growing softly and slowly, but surely. When people asked me what I studied I told them I was in the process of transferring to another campus and switching majors to Interior Design. I don’t know when I started saying it, but I did, even before I knew it was what I really wanted. Finally, in December 2010 I told my psychiatrist I was finally sure of what I was going to do. That day, after leaving her office I went to my old campus and filled out the forms for the transfer. A few weeks later the letter came: I was in.
School schedule conflicted with work, so I chose school. I was taking classes with 18 year old girls who still had that beautiful enthusiasm and optimism. Girls who’d never spent years lost without knowing what direction to take. I didn’t feel threatened by it. I felt confident in myself. I became an overachiever. I obsessed over my work, and did it compulsively. I would study, do my projects, and on my time off, I would watch shows on design. I was happy. But life’s funny sometimes.
Just when I finally felt like I was on the right track, money became tighter than it had in almost 10 years.I wasn’t able to start my second quarter in time because of the debt from my previous quarter was still pending, and thanks to a misunderstanding, I moved heaven and earth so I would be allowed to enroll late when my parents had no money to pay for it. Starting late, plus missing school due to being sick, doctors’ appointments and studies made a recipe for disaster. My doctor recommended I drop out of classes for the semester so I wouldn’t ruin my GPA. I spoke with two deans at my campus, and they agreed. When my dad lost his job and used some of his severance money to take us all on a trip to Spain I was hopeful. Not only did he have offers to get back to work, but I’d still be able to continue with my plans; do my Associate’s Degree here, then move to New York to do my BA, and maybe even my Masters in Interior Design.
Spain was amazing. I fell in love with it and with the Paris I saw for two short days. I was still on a high when my mom told me I’d received a letter from the University. Bills, I thought. I saw the envelope two or three days later. I opened it. I felt like all the blood in my body had frozen. The crippling depression from 4 years back had come back to bite me. Back then, when I was a drama student and my life felt wrong, those incompletes had resulted in academic probation. Not finishing the semester on my new campus had put me on academic probation again, only this time I got a penalty for being a repeat offender: I wasn’t allowed to study for a whole year. Not only could I not study with them, but any type of course or class I took during that time would not be recognized and credited to my curriculum.
One year. One year to do nothing academically inclined. One year to work. I started looking for a job. I had no money, at all. I had -$0.59 in my account and zero cash in my wallet. I felt alone. I never left the house. My best friend from high school moved to Chicago. My other best friend went back to his life in Manhattan. Another friend moved away. They all did. The only friend I had left from my regular, happy life felt so distant to me. He still loved me, but had a whole new life that didn’t include me, and when he tried to, I felt foreign, unwelcome by its other residents. Every day I would apply to a different job. I lost count of how many places I sent resumes to. I felt hopeless and alone. The only thing in my life that made me happy was my family, and I clung to them.
I’m 24 years old and I’ve never lived away from my parents. I don’t have credit. Sometimes I feel guilty about leaving my mom alone in the house. I would do anything to protect them. The thought of living away from them terrifies me. Which is precisely why I should do it. I used to be so brave. I dreamed about a life on my own and, somewhere along the way, I stopped. Moving away for school feels safer. I would go to school, then come back on vacations and spend a whole month over the holidays and all of summer here. But moving away to live is scary. Having to get a job would mean I can’t spend all of the time I would like to back home. But I’ll need a job in order to pay for an apartment, my cell phone, my books. God. Just last night I started looking at rooms on Craigslist and ended up having a dream where there was a major earthquake and I was away from my parents. I think about leaving them and I want to cry. I think about leaving Lennon, the dog I don’t spend enough time with, and I want to cry. I have to do it. I used to be brave. I can be brave again.