Quarterlife Chronicles: So You’re Not Graduating On Time

The Quarterlife Chronicles is my blog series on my experiences navigating life as an almost 25-year-old living with mental illness and lessons I’ve learned.

So you’re not graduating on time for whatever reason. I won’t invalidate your feelings by telling you to stay positive because this situation absolutely sucks. I know from personal experience that not graduating at the expected date multiple times is disheartening. I had to morn the loss of certain life expectations, including graduating in 4 years.

I’ll be 25 and I haven’t graduated college yet. I will be graduation this summer after being in school on and off for over 7 years. 7 years! Old me would just die if I knew this was how my life would turn out. I was an honors student in high school and graduated with a scholarship for my dream school. I thought I had my life planned out. I was going to go to this school on a biology scholarship, get my degree in biology, and work my way to become an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

I was never a girl who didn’t dream big because it’s what got me through my tough upbringing and I had an intense passion for science/public health. But the biggest lesson I’ve learned the hard way, is that rarely does everything in life go according to plan. I had to leave my dream school after my freshman year (I flunked my second semester due to serious depression and not medically withdrawing soon enough). At that point, I was so sick of biology and everything associated with that school at that point. I went to community college as loved my classes.

Part of why my graduation was deferred was my health. I live with 4 mental health conditions, including one that inhibits my ability to concentrate like the average person (ADHD). On top of getting help for my mental health conditions, I have physical ones to take care of. I’ve had numerous hospital stays, asthma attacks 2 surgeries, underwent physical therapy twice, and in the past 5 months, have had episodes in which I pass out. I don’t share my story for sympathy, just to highlight the fact that taking care of your health when you have chronic conditions can feel like a full-time job.

Another part of what has taken me so long to finish my degree was figuring out what I wanted to do. After realizing my lifelong dream wasn’t necessarily the right one for me, I had endless options. I went from wanting to become an English teacher to journalist to therapist to finally realizing that I could major in Public Health (with a concentration in Health Promotion and Education) at my current school, which could help me get a career like what I got a taste of as a presenter for my local chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness.

I love my classes (well, minus biostatistics and health policy), but this journey has been hard. Here are some other tough lessons I’ve learned so far:

1.) The traditional 4 years of school doesn’t work for everyone.

I was the first person in my family to attend college right after high school. I had no one to tell me how hard (or expensive) college is. I wasn’t even 18 until my first day of college classes, so being able to afford college was difficult, especially once I lost my biology scholarship, since I went to an expensive private school. I’ve had to take less classes or miss out on a semester because of money and my health.

2.) Paying your way through school is so hard and there are times when you won’t feel like it’s worth it.

You are allowed to feel angry about the financial situation that you’re in. My parents are well off enough that they could have easily paid for me to go to community college or at least assisted me in paying my tuition, but they didn’t . They didn’t provide emotional support either aside from “feeling bad” about me being in that situation. Not everything happens for a reason and while you might end up feeling proud and accomplished once you pay off school, that doesn’t help you when you’re in the midst of working full-time while going to school full-time.

3.) How long it takes you to graduate doesn’t matter as much once you have your degree.

A degree is a degree is a degree. It may have taken you longer than other people to graduate, but you still had to learn the same material as others in your degree program. You may also be more prepared for a job than other candidates if you’ve had time to invest in yourself and explore jobs. For example, I will come into whatever job I have knowing that life won’t be as hard as when I worked and went to school full-time and I have been able to be more involved in mental health advocacy and education (my intended job field).

4.) Having high expectations can be toxic.

You can’t have the same expectations as someone else when they don’t have to overcome the same obstacles you do. They are not “winning” at life, you have just been dealt a different hand and have to learn adjust your expectations accordingly. Therapy (specifically dialectical behavioral therapy) helped me get my expectations in check and I nor longer have such ridiculously high standards for myself, which just added pressure.

4.) Even though it feels like the end of the world, it won’t be.

Going to graduation parties, seeing your friends graduate, and seeing pictures of people graduate on Facebook and Instagram can feel like a slap in the face. Please do yourself a favor and take a mini break from social media. Allow yourself to grieve while not getting bitter towards your friends/peers. Their life situation is different than yours. If you have toxic feelings of jealousy, write them down on a piece of paper and rip it up. It’s super cathartic and prevents you from saying things you regret. People may question why it’s taken you so long, but unless you want to disclose, it’s none of your business.

6.) No matter what path you take, try your best and remember no on has their sh*t together.

The idea that people have their lives together is a lie. We’re all lacking in some aspect of our lives and the part(s) that is/are lacking may change, but no one has it all figured out. Working at an organization created by a well-known local university made this abundantly clear. People forget things. People are late. People mess up. We are human. People respect when you ask for help and take accountability for when you make mistakes.

You will make it through this, I promise.



Breaking Free

I had a couple posts planned for last week, but they all seemed less important once last Wednesday came. Before I explain what happened that day, I’m going to share something I’ve wanted to share for a long time.

Trigger warning: discussion of physical/verbal/psychological abuse 

My name is Nic and I’m a adult survivor of child abuse. That’s honestly the first time I’ve ever written that out and I still haven’t said it in those words. It’s taken being away from my abuser for almost a year to be able to process my experiences.

I wasn’t abused by my biological father (well, maybe I was, but I was too young to remember really anything regarding him), but my mother. I was the product of an abusive marriage. My biological father psychologically and physically abused the crap out of my mother. She was isolated from her friends and family. My own grandparents didn’t know about my birth until I was already 9 months old. I haven’t seen many baby pictures of me as a result.

Because this has all taken place in almost 25 years, here’s a summary of the abuse I endured:

-First came the physical abuse: After almost getting child protective services called on her for hitting me in a department store, my mother proceed to beat me in public restrooms. I would tremble in fear any time she threatened me by saying, “Do you want to go to the bathroom?”

-Any time I was “bad”, she threatened to kick me out and ship me off to live with my abusive biological father who lived almost a thousand miles away. When I threatened to call the cops, she said she would tell the police I lied and get me sent to a nearby juvenile detention center.

-My mother, a nurse, forced me to get numerous tests after I had my first panic attack at 13 and after they came back as inconclusive and told it was “all in my head”, she refused to ever talk about it again.

-Once my mother married my stepdad, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship with, we had to move into his small bachelor pad.

-After I became nearly emaciated due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and not being able to keep food down, instead of supporting me when I cried in the dressing room of a popular store about not being able to fit in size 00 jeans, she told me, “You look like a 10-year-old boy.” I was 15.

-My mother pretended to be “Super Mom” by being a band parent, substitute school nurse, and super involved in my life because she “loved me” but it was really so she could see what I was doing.

-She allowed me to go to a punk show with my best friends (we were 15 at the time) on the condition that my stepdad wouldn’t find out (he was super overprotective) and once he found out, my mom told him that I had snuck out of the house. I told him the truth and they fought, causing him to leave for a few hours. She told me that if they got divorced, it would be my fault.

-When I came home early from hanging out with friend and didn’t tell my parents, I opened the front door to my house and was welcomed by a loaded gun to my face that was held by my stepdad. We later learned that he had severe anxiety, but that’s not excuse for putting a gun to my head and not taking it away from minutes.

-My parents downloaded a tracker in my phone because they “couldn’t trust” me (meanwhile I couldn’t drive and was terrified to talk to boys because they were so strict).

-My mother refused to take me to see a doctor and once I was, demanded I was highly medicated. I slept for 2 days after a single dose of Klonopin.

-My mother threatened to crash the care numerous time and once swerved into traffic nearly killing us.

-She refused to sign up for the FASFA on time every year I have been in college. She also never trusted me with her tax information, so I couldn’t do anything myself. This caused me to lose thousands of dollars in financial aid and have to put myself through college mostly without loans.

-Parents offered to help pay for things (tuition, my car, medical bills, etc.) and then I was stuck paying for everything myself.

-They don’t help pay my tuition, yet offered to take my boyfriend and I to Mexico for al all-expense paid trip. We can’t take off work because we support ourselves financially and I have to work to pay for my tuition.

-My mother refused to go to family therapy, not once, but 3 times. She also said, “I’m sorry you feel that way” when I explained that our relationship was strained because she resented ever having me (which she had said to me numerous times) and continuous denies abusing me.

-My parents illegally claimed me as a dependent on taxes for years. Since I already filed as independently this year, I got a lot of money back and realize I missed out on thousands of dollars.

-My mom texted my boyfriend (who has been fully aware of this situation for all of the almost 4 years we’ve been together) to manipulate him to thinking I’m the bad guy to get me to talk to her. Oh and last month, my mother had her dear friend who was like an aunt to me message me on Facebook to guilt me into having a relationship with her again.

-Lastly (now this is a biggie because I don’t have the best health), my parents texted me Wednesday to tell me that they’re no longer claiming me as a dependent and because of that they will be kicking me off their insurance. Now, I knew they didn’t care about my livelihood all the times that they only called me once every few months to see if I would hang out with them and their friends and play a little happy family, but this was the nail in the coffin.

I knew it was coming, but it still was a shock. I was terrified. I had just had a sleep study the other day because I might have a disorder and my health is the worst its been in a while, but even my grandma giving them updates about this stuff didn’t even stop them. What was immensely insulting was that 90% of the reason why I seek mental healthcare is because of my parents and now I have to worry about getting a new insurance policy.

Even though this situation sucks, I no longer have any ties to them. The memories of what I’ve gone through haunt me sometime (my therapist is 99% sure I have PTSD because of the flashbacks I get), but I am free from my abusers. I’m graduating from school in the summer and I have the best damn boyfriend in the world. I am at a slightly terrifying, mostly amazing point in my life. No longer am I accomplishing goals in spite of them – I am doing this all for me.











In Loving Memory of My Uncle

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my uncle’s death. We sadly lost him to suicide. I wanted to honor his life and encourage people to reach out to someone, anyone, when your are struggling with suicidal thoughts. Here’s his story:My (Great-)Uncle Rick was the middle of 6 children and one of my Gram’s 5 brothers. He was a lively kid and like most of the men in my family, he joined the military, specifically the Marines. Unfortunately, he was drafted to fight in war (so many of my family members have fought in war that I honestly can’t remember if it was the Korean or Vietnam war) and even though he made it home safely, the scars of his experiences stayed with him. Hidden in the back of his mind.

Rick later met my Aunt Carrie and had 4 kids, 3 girls (1 set of twins) and a boy. The family was so happy and perfect. Eventually, the kids grew up and Rick’s first grandchild (my cousin who is a 4 years younger than me) was born. He was his pride and joy. Rick wrote poetry about how much he loved that boy and how life is so beautiful. My Gram has some of his poems and I was really blown away by how sweet they were.

Unfortunately, we didn’t realize he was suffering. Behind his smiles and hopeful poetry was a man who was tormented by his mind. One evening, he put his grandson, arguably the person who made him the happiest, to bed and then moments later our family was changed forever by his suicide. He was only 48. We lost him in the 90s when PTSD just wasn’t a thing that happened to people nor was it in anyone’s lexicon, but my family and I know that diagnoses explains what he experienced after his time in battle.

It’s strange to lose someone when I was so little (I was 4 1/2) because I feel like I know him through stories and pictures. The only way I can see him is in pictures, his children and grandchildren’s faces, and their caring personalities. Uncle Rick never got to see kids walk down the aisle. He never got to meet 8 of his 9 grandchildren. He missed holidays, baptisms/birthdays/First Holy Communions/Christmases/graduation parties, the time his wife battled cancer, the times his sister and brother almost died from heart disease, and the same brother beating cancer.

He missed out on seeing one of his granddaughters develop her volleyball skills to the point where she got recruited by a college. He missed her sister who has a rare, incurable genetic disorder beat the odds and prove everyone wrong all while constantly wearing a smile. The loss of him is felt at every family event, especially family reunions. My cousin (one of my Uncle Rick’s daughters), wrote this as a tribute:

“Today marks the day that I lost a piece of my heart! It’s so hard to believe it’s been 20 years! My heart still aches in sadness. My silent tears still flow. For what it meant to lose you, no one will ever know. Thinking of you today as I do every day. Dad, you are so loved and greatly missed!!! Forever your Sugar Bear!”

There’s a piece of all of us that’s missing and a sadness behind our eyes at our family celebration, but his story motivates me to keep going. I was able to honor his memory at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Western PA’s Out of the Darkness Walk around my birthday last year. My friends and I, who all live with mental illness, are attempt survivors, and mental health advocates, celebrated the lives who are still here while honoring those we lost. [Note: I attached some pictures from the walk, but not of my uncle for privacy reasons.]


Two of my friends and me (on the right) at the AFSP Western PA walk

It was a beautiful day (thousands of people were in attendance!) and something I wish my family would band together to spread suicide awareness and honor our Rick. I hope that one day we can all enjoy this event together.

I know what it’s like to feel the temptation of suicide and to understand when depression clouds your judgement to the point where you think it’s the only way to end your suffering. But trust me, it’s not. Suicide leads to years of suffering for those who love you. If your family, friends, teachers, etc. don’t support you, help out there. Calling a local crisis helpline helped me make the decision to get help for my issues. Here are some options for when you feel suicidal (or are struggling in general) that I know can help:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Their crisis chat link:

The Trevor Project (LGBT+ friendly) Lifeline: 1-866-488-7386

Link to their crisis chat and texting services:

Transgender Lifeline (amazing service ran by trained trans/nonbinary folks for the trans/nonbinary community) US:877-565-8860 Canada: 877-330-6366

Sending love and light to you! You’re never alone in your fight<3

Life’s a Dance

I’m all about honesty, so I’m going to be upfront about what’s been going on in my life recently.

I’ve been happily busy with going to school full-time, working with my wonderful partners at Team Not Ashamed, and doing so many exciting things with committees and advisory boards for my county. It’s been incredible to do more for those living with mental health issues in my community, especially Transition Age Youth (people 18-26), but I’m not going to lie, some days I’ve been overwhelmed. I decided to go back to basics and do the one thing that makes me the happiest: dance.

Dancing has always unofficially one of few things  that I have always loved. I used to tell my mom to buy me tap shoes because I had a “tapping in my heart” and I inherited my mom’s impeccable rhythm. I didn’t get formal dance training until my color guard instructor, a fabulous dance teacher, made my squad have a dance boot camp my Freshman year of high school. She helped me find some confidence and brought me out of my comfort zone while I was dealing with my mental health issues.

Once I started performing on football fields, I felt like I star! I was apparently good at dancing and people were shocked when quiet, little ol’ me would show my true self through dance. Whether I was performing pirouettes or hip hop, I felt alive. I was at par with many of the girls who had been dancing their whole lives and it made me feel special.

Untitled design

I continued my dance journey in college by joining the school’s dance ensemble. I got to perform so many styles, ballet, broadway, jazz, lyrical, and hip hop (my favorite genre). I felt like I found my people. Even when I was feeling suicidal and probably should have left my college sooner than I did, I stayed so I could dance once more. It was largely what kept me going during the lowest point of my life.

Dance is my release. Everyone knows me as the girl who is the first on the dance floor and the last to leave. I get a high like no other when I synchronize my movements to the beats and lyrics. I used to make up dance routines to songs on the radio for fun and since I have been was feeling bogged down, I decided to start getting back into the groove and make up some choreography. I’m convinced there’s a direct correlation between my level of happiness and the amount of dancing I get to do.

My kitchen is my studio. I glide across the linoleum with my headphones in my ear. I feel like I’m on stage again. I try to get 15-30 minutes a dance a day to clear my head. To me, it’s a form of self-care because I show that I love my body by expressing myself through it. I meditate to the melodies. When I dance, I see my strengths and all flaws are blurred because I see my true beauty.

Find your dance. Find your passion. Find what makes you happy.