-Ji Min's dog
Cw: depression/anxiety, leave of absence
On an average day in November, 2017, I laid in bed, thinking about how I was feeling, and realized I needed to address my crippling depression and anxiety. I’d always noticed that both disabilities had gotten more intense since I’d entered Pomona, but it was on this particular day that I knew I’d reached my breaking point. I needed to take time to heal, and I needed to do that now.
But for me to heal, I’d have to return home without finishing the semester. That meant all my work, tears and pain up until that point would have been for nothing.
I was filled with doubt and fear, and questions of that nature consumed me for days. Should I really go back home without finishing the semester? Would taking this leave really fix anything? What if everything returned to the way it was after my leave? And once I returned, all my Pomona friends would be juniors while I would be a sophomore, and they’d even graduate earlier than me. Would I be OK with being without my closest friends once they graduated?
Ultimately, I decided that I needed to prioritize my health above everything else, and thus, began the process to take a leave of absence. Once I completed the necessary documents, I returned home to Korea.
It was strange to be back in my home country with absolutely nothing planned for the entirety of my leave, other than to heal. Even with the goal “to heal,” I was lost, especially because the idea of “healing” was foreign to me. I’d always thought that time would “heal” or “fix” all of my problems, including depression and anxiety. But clearly, that had not worked
I felt awkward spending free time I’d never had before doing nothing. I was overwhelmed by the amount of time that I had on my hands, and often felt like I was wasting my life doing nothing “of importance” or “of significance.” But over time, I started to do things I enjoyed more periodically. Every morning, I woke up without a set plan for the rest of the day. After breakfast, I’d workout for a couple hours. On most weekdays, I’d take my dog out for walks in the chilly fall afternoons. Twice a week, I’d meet with my therapist for an hour. I’d cook for myself. I’d read books that had collected dust over the years, books that I’d promised I’d finish but never did. I wrote more than I ever did my entire high school career. I started a new hobby: post crossing.
I learned what I liked and what I didn’t like.
And I learned more about myself in those nine months than I did in the last four years in high school.
That was when I started to question what exactly I thought was “of importance” and “of significance,” because it very much was not my mental health, nor was it my happiness. With the help of my therapist, I came to realize that I had always prioritized my academic success over everything, including my mental and physical health.
But now I wanted to prioritize myself. I’d finally had a taste of happiness that stemmed from within, and I wanted to continue being happy. So (again) with the help of my therapist and much effort on my part, I learned how to love myself a little more than I had in the past.
After nine months, I began to want to return to Pomona College.
And that’s how I’ve ended up here again. And though the semester has started with as much difficulty as I’d predicted, I find it so much easier to manage than before. I have a loving group of friends who are always ready to support me. I enjoy all of the classes I’m taking; I look forward to every single one of my classes. I’m happy to be back. I’m excited for what is to come.
And I’m glad I took that leave of absence.
-Ji Min Hwang '21