More than 2.2 million first time freshmen enter college each year and 25 to 30 percent do not return to their initial institution of choice for the second year. Institutions typically lose the greatest number of students in the freshman year especially in the first semester.
Studies say they are lonely.
I was one of them back in 1978. I left college the first time just after my father died. It was my freshman year.
He was the light of my world and his presence was extinguished when cancer finally overtook his body after a hard-fought, 5 year battle. The man who was my dearest friend my whole young life – my touchstone – in a moment’s breath was gone.
In the year of my eighteenth birth, I found that life can be a bitter pill to swallow.
It meant everything to my father that my brother and I go to college.
I was so angry – embittered. I hated the rising sun, the never-ending days and looked for the sunset so I could bury my head in my pillow and cry myself to sleep at night.
I remember shaking my fist at the sky, cursing God and the life I knew to hell. I was determined I would get even with a world that would take such a wonderful person from my life and cause my mother and brother so much obvious pain.
My mother, seeing my pain while experiencing her own, pushed me to attend a private college my second year in the hopes I would give college another shot. I hated her. I hated everyone. I hated my boyfriend.
I hated myself.
I pushed them away and separated myself from the part of me who was a kind, loving person.
Being a loving person didn’t help my father, so why would it help me?
Pain can really fuc* with our minds.
The private college I attended next was a small, all-girls school. I hated the perfect girls there too – with their perfect hair, perfect clothes, perfect families and perfect lives. I quietly built a brick wall around myself and was determined not to get to know any of them.
I’d been on modeling shoots with a couple of them in my early high school years, but now deep within this small college, I pretended like I never saw any of them before.
My bitter, angry face, along with my unwillingness to care for myself made me unrecognizable to them.
I was invisible.
We are often told how women can be with each other – caddy, jealous and unloving. If there was anyone weak enough for them to encircle and devour to prove this true, it was me during this time.
But this was not to be the case.
In fact, one of the most spoiled, most beautiful girls, would not leave me alone. It was as if she was on her own personal mission to break through my hard shell and force me to be her best friend.
I found her irritating as hell.
She was like the first spring day, full of life and love – while I was like the first winter storm – brooding and dark. A match made in heaven.
Relentless, she invited me to everything. If there was a group lunch, she would bug me to go, and pretty soon she would have the rest of the girls bugging me to go too. It was if they knew there was this nice person buried deep in me begging to get out, begging to laugh and love again.
They were not going to give up until they reached inside my heart to drag that girl back out into the light.
It took Lori a year, but slowly she (and the other beautiful women in that little school) brought Catherine back from the living dead. She became my roommate. There were nights she would lay on my bed while I cried. She would quietly hold my hand until I couldn’t cry another tear.
Sometimes she would insist that we leave school early on Friday and drive the hour trip north to her home town where her parents would spoil us rotten and we would spend the weekend in her backyard pool.
She would say, “Cath, things will get better. Trust me, they will.”
By the time she married her husband Kevin and I was their maid-of-honor, she was right. I was back among the living and back to dreaming about my future.
This was my first experience with falling down in life and having women pick me back up.
I have been thinking about this period of my life, as my teenage son has begun to ask me about my college experience.
In 2003, when I first found out that I had Hashimotos disease, I became so sick that I could hardly get out of bed. I felt that old anger return and a sickening feeling that I was going to die by the age of 49 – just like my father.
As my body changed and the weight increased – signs the disease was kicking my thyroid’s butt – I once again drew into myself.
And once again women reached out to hold my hand while I rolled with the changes this disease brought screaming into my life. I learned how to ask for help, how to say, I am not OK – please help me.
Because of this support I was able to form this group about going after our greatest dreams. I want to prove that we can achieve our dreams – even with the greatest of obstacles – even if those obstacles are our own health.
8 Women Dream is one-year-old.
It has been a year – a year of dream chasing. A year of women telling me things will get better.
In January, the women of 8 Women Dream will all begin to train for the San Francisco Bay to Breakers held in May 2010. It will be the most strenuous exercise program for me since becoming sick from Hashimotos disease.
I know I will do it because I have my own dream team – much like Lori and those girls from that tiny little college in 1979.
How are you planning to achieve your dream despite obstacles?