Why Have I Not Dropped Out Yet?


Hannah Opp

“Maybe this isn’t the major for you, then.” Photo courtesy of Hannah Opp.

The collar of his gray polo was crisply folded, hair blond and clean cut, voice excited but mannerisms cool and relaxed. He was everything you would imagine an advisor in the school of business to be. As he continued his sales pitch, I turned my gaze to the sleek folder he slid toward me – the first page of which outlined the required courses.

“Do you have any questions for me?”

“Yes. What do I do if the thought of having to take any of these classes fills me with an overwhelming sense of existential dread?”

This was not part of his script. He looked at me. He blinked. He looked down. A pen clicked nervously.

“Maybe this isn’t the major for you, then.”

As his office door shut behind me, I stared directly into the familiar void ahead.

By this point, I had dropped out of college once already. I thought business might be a better fit than my first failed foray with communications, which had fallen apart when my advisor handed me a brochure of possible post-graduation career opportunities. I promptly left his office and retreated to the dimly lit, seldom used student chapel to have a proper anxiety attack. Shaking uncontrollably, I stared at the list of possible careers (all of which sounded like a life sentence of monotony and misery) and felt my resolve crumble. I dropped all the classes my advisor had helped me sign up for and did not return to college for a year and a half.

The problem is, I cannot imagine a future I might be happy with.

Or maybe the problem is that I can’t imagine a future at all.

Or maybe the problem is that growing up in a household with mentally unstable parents resulted in a child who does not know how to live life as much as react to it.

Or maybe the problem is that my brain simply does not understand how to think beyond the present moment because I have spent my life simply trying to get through it.

Or, possibly, I have a few problems. Problems that an academic advisor simply cannot assist with – no matter how colorful their brochures are.

The problem is not that I am lazy. I am a straight-A student. I was voted “most likely to succeed” in high school. I deeply value education and believe that magic can exist in a classroom. When I first started my college endeavors six years ago, I was the student director of the Network for Disability Awareness on campus, a member of the Honors Academy and also happened to be headed toward a complete mental breakdown. At one point, I found myself eating Mickey Mouse-shaped veggie chips while reading the Wikipedia page on the meaning of life twenty minutes before an exam I hadn’t studied for in a class that did not feel like it was worth even a fraction of what I was paying to take it. That, to me, is an accurate snapshot of my “college experience.”

In the six years since I first started taking college classes, my father left, I found out he was suicidal, I began working full time so I could afford to move out, I worked at a senior living facility for four years where I fell in love with countless residents only to watch them die, my best friend was diagnosed with an eating disorder and hospitalized twice because of it, a global pandemic started and I realized that my brain is basically a bag full of trauma responses that make literally everything ten times more difficult than it needs to be.  Forgive me, but when the people I love are suffering and I am struggling, it is really difficult for me to justify spending the small amount of energy I have left on writing a five-point discussion post. Even in the courses I do find exhilarating – when I cannot see a future for myself, cannot come up with goals and cannot even feel a vague sense of direction, it is near impossible for me to understand why I am still pursuing a degree at all.

Perhaps it is because if I keep going, if I graduate, maybe all this time and effort won’t feel as meaningless as everything else happening around me. Perhaps I am doing this because, in some ways, it is the only thing that feels like it’s mine. Or maybe it is because I like the thought of hearing my best friend murmur through the tassel that he is proud of me as he hugs me tightly on graduation day. Maybe the thought of having a day that is actually about me is so intoxicating, that I will throw an absurd amount of time and money into trying to earn it. Whatever the reason, worth it or not, I suppose I will sign up for summer courses.