April 8th, 2003 changed my life forever. A thin envelope addressed to me, arrived for me from the University of Maine. I tore it open, knowing that this piece of mail would notify me of which path my life would take. I believe people are like puzzles, and the shape of my pieces just so happened to lead me to where I am today. My academic history, my mental health, and my desire to attend college guided me to a God sent program, Onward.
Going to college; where I come from, it’s expected … and in today’s society a necessity for what I wanted to do with my life. High school was all about the preparation for college. I did all the right things, took the “college prep” classes, the SAT’s and all the recommended courses. For some reason, I wasn’t getting it. My grades were always C’s or worse. It has been like that my whole life. I hadn’t learned to read until the end of second grade, way behind the rest of my class. My teacher would humiliate me in front of the class, ripping up my writing and yelling at me when I couldn’t read simple words. Through elementary school I was always in the “Red Robins” group instead of the “Blue Jays” for reading or math. I always wanted to be a Blue Jay. By middle school, you were a “teenager” and fit to fend for yourself. They patted your back and released you into the hell pit known as seventh grade. I couldn’t handle it. My self confidence disappeared; I studied until I was in tears, and made enough flashcards to cover the earth in a stiff paper blanket. I never got a one hundred, you know, “refrigerator” material. Ever. I rejoiced at an 85. So by high school, I had figured out how to do just enough work to pass.
As classes got harder, and the workload overwhelmed me, my mental health collapsed. I fell deep into depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive behavior. My head was full of ideas and words, pictures and tears that I couldn’t let out, and when I did all hell broke loose. I wrote dark poetry, isolated myself, and I was convinced that there was nothing wrong. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I was put on heavy medication and started therapy. After that, it got one hundred times worse. I started having nightmares and my obsessions got out of control. My mood and thoughts affected my schoolwork tremendously. I failed my French class, and had to take it again. My goal for college was put on the backburner, and a new goal of surviving the next day became my highest priority. Getting out of bed was an accomplishment. I was absent 11 times in the first quarter of my senior year. By that period of time, everyone thought I would drop out, except for me. I was sent to social workers, psychologists, and physiatrists and also had testing done. As my last year of high school went on, I knew college was just a dream. I was failing school, my SAT’s were very low, and my mental state hit rock bottom. The more I thought about not making it to college, the more depressed and catatonic I became. The climax arrived just after Halloween, 2002. On November 2nd my sister attempted suicide. By then, the only way I could cope with everyday life was to hurt myself. That day marked a new beginning. My family had gone through so much shit and finally it seemed to be coming to an end. I stopped cutting and my sister got better. I got my life in order. I started a new medication, making Lexa-Pro the last of the twelve anti-depressants, anxiety medication, and anti-psychotics I had taken since my sophomore year. This new medication was wonderful. My guidance counselors worked with me, and fixed my schedule. I started getting better grades and college re-entered the picture. As a result of the medication and mental illness, I barely remember my years in high school. Only chunks of memories remain, where it was really bad, or really good. The other days were lost in my attempt to dig myself out of my own grave. I came to the realization that I controlled my own destiny and it took me eighteen years to figure that out. Without the help of friends, family, and doctors it would have taken much longer, if ever. I wanted to go to college, more specifically; I wanted to attend the University of Maine. I had gone on a tour my junior year (back when college was still in the picture). I had loved the campus and the people, and would do anything to attend. My experience in high school, both academically and personally was a huge factor on me deciding on going to Onward.
The last and most important reason for me choosing Onward was that I would do anything to go to college. For a while there, it seemed, I’d have to go to community colleges or take classes’ un-matriculated at USM. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to learn and grow to have a job I loved. I knew that without an education I couldn’t do this. My mother had worked at a childcare center for ten years, making less than I did at my first job. She went back to school while I was in middle school, and I saw how it affected her life. She was much happier, making enough money to support our family, and finally doing what she wanted to do. At first I wanted to be a teacher, then a Psychologist and now a Social Worker. I never wanted to be a fire fighter or astronaut as a kid. I wanted to be the teacher every kid loved and remembered with a smile on their face. I didn’t have too many of those growing up and I wanted change the world. When I learned about Onward I jumped at the opportunity. At first I was scared. What, I was supposed to leave home, everything I had ever known to go to some program for “special needs” people? I don’t think so! I talked myself into it, realizing I could do it, and this program would get me into college. I would do anything to succeed, even if that meant going to school for longer. As I met the people involved in the program, such as Eric and Catherine when they interviewed me, I knew that Onward was the right place for me. They were so caring and open: The building seemed to be a place of support and friendship. As the process of applying to Onward proceeded, I started to realize that if I didn’t get into this program, I would HAVE to take the long way to a college education. Those weeks waiting to find out were stressful. I checked the mailbox everyday, hoping to see a letter with the University of Maine logo. In mid April, I did. I had applied almost three months before that, and it had been a long stretch. If I hadn’t had the drive to attend college, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The courage and motivation it took to just give Onward a try was outstanding. As I met my fellow classmates on the camping trip, they made me realize that Onward was where I belonged. If I hadn’t gotten in, I would be lost. Those 65 or so Onward students and staff are now part of my family whether they like it or not, and my life is better for it.
Without Onward, my puzzle would be incomplete. Onward is the glue you use to turn a simple puzzle into a solid piece of art. Even though the last six years of my life have been hard, without those experiences I wouldn’t be surrounded by life long friends and the best opportunity in the world, to learn. My academic history, my mental health and my desire to attend college are just tiny bits of what makes me Michelle. They led me to Onward, and for that I am blessed.
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