I conquered junior year

Caitlynn Hauw, Final Focus Editor

Art by Ella Jiang

As I try to fall asleep, my thoughts keep swirling; I rhythmically rub my feet together to relieve some anxiety. Sometimes, I shut my eyes tightly and will myself to conjure an image in my head, one of me falling. I watch myself falling down a black void as I fall into sleep. Not being bound by the floor below soothes me; my face is stoic; my arms aren’t flailing.

Last year, for the first time, I actually felt what it was like to fall—but it wasn’t nearly as pleasant as it was in my dreams.

People say the quintessential fallings are beautiful: falling in love, falling leaves, falling stars. I’ve always wondered: Where does love go once it dives? Where do leaves go once they drop? Where does a falling star go after it crashes? 

Where do we go when we fall? 

I began stumbling when I couldn’t keep my eyes open to do homework and I couldn’t open my eyes to go to school. I began tumbling when a gaping pit in my stomach sank deeper every time I compared my own accomplishments to the success of my classmates. I felt paralyzed like a statue by the “enemies” who’d chip at my success—my identity. At times, in between sobs, I’d cry out to my sister, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I’m crying.” I was falling. I had fallen into a seemingly bottomless depression exacerbated by my anxiety. On Dec. 16, 2020, I ended up in the hospital.

I was back in the ER the following month. 

My mom was worried I had a concussion because the floor left a cherry red bruise on my upper cheek for days. I had fallen from grace, face first onto my bathroom tile. 

I knew recovery wouldn’t be as simple as waving my hands up and rising, but I couldn’t stare at the floor any longer. I was exhausted from faking smiles, trudging through the days, and fearing tomorrow. Yes, I hated myself, but I hated the desperation in my teachers’ emails, the fear in my sisters’ voices, and the weariness in my mother’s eyes just a little bit more.

My teachers: Dan Lutgen, Katie Wu, Laura Cox, Jeff Wenger, Vanessa Ho, my therapist, my family, and my friends threw a rope that I began to climb. 

Per my therapist’s advice, I started small by joining journalism on Zoom with my camera off and asking Lutgen historical questions that piqued my interest. I reached out to Cox. I wrote a vignette in Wu’s class expressing my love for my sister and my distaste for another family member. 

As I was climbing, the people around me were pulling and I began rising. By the end of the last academic school year, I could just make out the light at the top.

This school year, as people asked me how I was, I pretended I was the old Caitlynn, ever absorbed in taking rigorous courses and participating in promising extracurriculars. When I adopted this persona, I adopted its anxiety and I felt my grip slipping off the rope. I would spend my school days wallowing on the couch, absorbing my mind in TV shows. Lieutenant Olivia Benson didn’t know who I used to be, nor did Rose Nylund. 

Before I could reach the ground, my therapist caught me and I could feel the earth below me. I made the distinction that it wasn’t rock bottom, but it was stability—a foundation to support me in my time of need. A haven I can use to debunk my irrational, spiraling thoughts and to create small goals. Together, we created a ladder. We made incremental steps to get me caught up in my school work and I expressed my fears and overwhelming anxieties to her. 

Finally, I’m on stable ground. 

And I think I’m beginning to see why falling can be so beautiful. The falling itself isn’t anything to marvel at, but what happens afterward is fascinating. After love, a relationship can bloom or wilt; after leaves fall they can be swept up and tossed or played in; after a star falls it can travel into oblivion or combust our planet: irrespective of what happens, it’s only possible to pause in that moment or move on. 

In the same way, when I fall, I can choose to stay down or get up. I’ve fallen down twice in my life so far, and I’ve gotten back up twice. If this year is any indication of the triumphs people are capable of, we can do hard things: once, twice, or however many times it takes.