Some names have been changed to protect our storytellers.
"About a month into my college career I had learned that a loved one had been lost."
Transitioning to college from high school is a challenge on its own, and no one tells you that life happens as well. It is no secret that life can and will be unpredictable and with that in mind I had always thought of myself as someone who could handle anything that was thrown at them. Yet, about a month into my college career I had learned that a loved one had been lost. I lost a family friend in the Las Vegas shooting that occurred on October 1, 2017. For months after I didn't know what to think, how to feel, or how to cope. I do not believe any person truly knows how to handle something like this, especially at such a young age. Following the tragedy, I lost all motivation, even the motivation that it would take to get myself the help I would need to push through the difficult time.
After having all aspects of my life seemingly on pause after my loss, everything seemed to suffer. My academics suffered, personal life, volunteering, diet, and even the simplest tasks became strenuous. My academic career had gone in a direction that I knew needed to change and I was finally tired of feeling tired. That was when I decided to reach out to an instructor of mine who had previously shared that she had lost a family member in a shooting. She offered her support and directed me to the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) department on campus. After my first appointment, I acquired tools to help myself. I also decided to open up to some of the people closest to me. The support system I have has definitely helped in my journey to get back on track.
The overwhelming wave of different emotions has definitely been exhausting. In a time when you feel absolutely helpless, it is so difficult to find hope. Words can only express the feelings of my grief to a certain extent. I lost a role model and friend who was just three years older than I am. I have spent countless hours being sad and angry with the world, wondering why I should be hopeful if such terrible things were bound to occur. In overcoming my loss, I have learned to stay hopeful in times that are drowned in despair. To those facing similar unfortunate situations, I would advise them to take the time to get the help they may need. A situation like this could not be handled alone and should not be faced alone. Reaching out is the key and a cry for help. Also, while bottling up emotions is appealing, it is only a short-term solution and you must be honest with yourself and be in touch with your own feelings and emotions. Accepting yourself and how you are feeling is the first step in persevering through such a difficult time.
Anne shares her story while she is a freshman in Molecular Cell Biology and Physiology.
"I received a text message in class about how my father had tried killing himself."
The best day of my life was getting my acceptance letter from Long Beach State. However, I was going through the worst depression of my life. My body was present in lecture but my mind was absent. I locked myself in my room and cried for hours every weekend. Most weekends, I did not even know why I was crying. I ended my first semester on bad terms and got into academic warning. I remember the feeling of being alone in a room full people.
My only solution was to leave to Mexico for a month to heal my personal wounds. I knew those wounds would not let me succeed in school and life. In Mexico, I found a spiritual and physical healing with the help of my grandmother. I came back to fight; I was mentally strong and ready to work hard. I had good grades and was focused.
I came home one day and the police were outside of my house. My father was getting arrested. I felt confused and angry. I walked into my house and my mother's face is red and swollen. The police officer is taking pictures of her injuries. The police officer started giving me information to where my father is going to be incarcerated. Fast forward a bit: I bailed my father out of jail but I was numb to everything happening to me personally while being focused on having a successful semester. The troubles just kept coming: my parents' separation and divorce triggered my father's depression. My father began telling me he wanted to commit suicide.
Weeks passed and I received a text message in class about how my father had tried killing himself. At this point, I was crying in my math class and I lost all concentration. I ran to CAPS to schedule an appointment with a therapist. My mind was racing and I felt my depression creeping into my skin. I felt helpless and worthless. Thoughts raced through my mind and that moment everything I had numbed, I felt. I drove home crying and feeling alone. I begin to contemplate suicide, as my only solution to my problems. I ended up withdrawing a math class.
Right before my first appointment with my therapist, I tried to talk myself out of going. I told myself nothing was wrong with me but I forced myself to stay. I spoke and cried for the entire session. At the end of the session she gave me material to help me. The material talked about children with alcoholic parents and how to help myself. I felt that, for one hour, the weight of the world was off my shoulders. I did a total of 3 sessions with this therapist. After finishing my therapist sessions, I learned I neglected myself and my classes. My best solution was not suicide; it is balancing my life. My second semester, ended strong and I managed to get out of academic warning.
Unfortunately, my father is pending deportation. After evaluating my situation, I decided to move out of my parents' home. I needed an environment where I can focus on my academic goals. Moving out was challenging and scary but It has shaped me into a responsible adult and my priority is my education.
The steps that helped me overcome my challenges was going to CAPS. My therapist helped me realize how unhealthy the environment I lived in was. I also learned the importance of how to deal with my problems and to not numb my feelings. In addition, being part of the student organization Hermanas Unidas de Long Beach helped me with my depression. My hermanas helped me open up and pushed me to become a better individual. My hermanas pushed me to volunteer as a form of helping myself. With my hermanas, I volunteered in various activities to make a difference. We volunteered at beach clean ups, painted elementary schools with Compton Initiative and donated food to the homeless population. Volunteering helped me make a difference in my community and helped me feel worthy.
In spite of these obstacles, I consider myself successful. As a first-generation student, I am an example of no matter how many obstacles life puts in front of you, you can prosper and achieve your goals. Because of my hard work and work ethic, I was offered a position as an instructional assistant. I am currently hired through Rancho Santiago School District. I went from making minimum wage to $17.12 per hour. My education has challenged me to become an intellectual individual. My speech, vocabulary, and how I present myself has made me a successful person in school and work.
The most important lesson I learned from my experience was having time management, setting boundaries, and being persistent with my goals. In addition, I learned to recognize when I can and cannot make a difference. By addressing my challenges, I learned my strength, weakness and how I can improve.
Never stop. If your environment if not healthy and is not allowing you to succeed, move out. If you ever feel like taking your life, stop what you are doing and put your hand over your chest. Your heart beat is the most important thing you must take care of. If your parents are getting a divorce, remember you're not in the marriage; you can have separate relationships with your parents. If you failed your classes and/or your GPA is low, remember that your grades and GPA do not define your level of intelligence. You are the creator, the storyteller of your life. Wake up and fight for what you believe, for what you want. You must earn it, you must feel like you're diving and submerging into your goals. If you feel worthless, then redirect your energy into volunteering where you can make a difference. Never stop fighting for your dreams.
Dana shares her story while she is a junior in Math Education.
"It was getting to the point where getting out of bed was difficult."
Going into my freshman year of high school was really difficult for me and I dealt with depression through my junior year. I was always in denial that I was depressed, however. For me, I always believed there were people out there with worse problems than I who truly had depression and anxiety. For me, I just felt like my life was too perfect to have depression – I had loving parents, friends, good grades - but for some reason I never felt happy.
Unfortunately, when I came to college and lived in the dorms, the depression came back again, except this time it was worse. One of the saddest things about depression is how isolating it can make one feel. I began disconnecting from the amazing new friends I was making which was hard. I wanted to hang out with them, but mentally I wasn't having the motivation to do anything. It was getting to the point where getting out of bed was difficult. I began missing out on a lot of activities. While this was happening, I would go onto the CAPS website and use their mental health diagnostic to see if I did have depression, and every time it would come back positive for having depression, but I was always in denial of it even after taking these quizzes almost every day. I never wanted to admit to myself that I did have problem because of the "stigma" associated with mental health problems.
Once my depression and anxiety reached the worst low, I finally decided to get help. I opened up to one of my friends in the dorms and talked to her because I had never told anyone which was difficult for me. She gave me one of the most amazing statements that finally helped me realize that this was a problem. She told me, "If it is a problem to you, then it IS a problem," and no one has ever told me that. I will forever carry these words with me because they helped realize that I needed to help myself for once. Throughout this entire experience, I was able to talk to people on campus. In the dorms, I began opening up about my problems, and I realized there were so many other people with mental health problems. Some of my friends have bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, ADHD, and this helped me feel like I was no longer alone.
What was amazing about this journey was that I was able to finally accept my problems and get help for them. In the first semester, it was extremely hard for me to get motivated to go to class, do homework, or even study for tests. However, the SAS tutoring center was always open for me and helped me not want to give up on homework. The tutors would be extremely nice even if I did not know how to do a simple problem. Since I live in the STEM building on campus, the SAS tutors would even come to my common room to help with homework which greatly helped me get through my work.
Surprisingly, during this experience in the first semester, I was able to become a certified EMT for Los Angeles County, play on a soccer team, get a 3.7 GPA in my first semester of college, and finally tell my parents the struggles I had been going through. I would never have been able to do this without the help of my friends, family, and the resources offered on campus. Still to this day, I am shocked that I was able to manage all of that. Furthermore, I was able to also realize that I really love chemistry in comparison to the major I initially was in (Molecular Cellular Biology and Physiology). So, this second semester, I switched majors and it was one of the most amazing things ever because I began to realize my passions again.
From this whole experience, I have learned that you’re not alone no matter how much you believe you are. The diversity on the CSULB campus will guarantee you that there are others dealing with similar problems. I have learned to be more open with my problems so I can receive the help that I need.
For others who are facing similar challenges, get help. One of my biggest regrets in high school was that I never told anyone or got the help that I needed. I never realized how bad it was until my psychiatrist put me on antidepressants which has dramatically changed me for the better. I am finally feeling motivated again. I never realized how my "normal" was definitely not normal. I would recommend going to the CAPS center, they can give you referrals which helped me find the right psychiatrist for my needs. On top of that, the CAPS center also has free therapy if money is an issue. Just opening up to someone whether it is a friend or a therapist at the CAPS center, truly helps. Just because you may feel alone does not mean that you are. At CSULB everyone on campus has been so nice and understanding which has dramatically helped me feel comfortable with my problems.
I would be lying if I said that everything is perfect in my life now. This mental illness will probably be with me for the rest of my life; however, with the support I now have on campus and off campus I can finally deal with these problems the correct way. Going through this alone is not the answer because that is where my symptoms worsened. Through this journey, I have realized that it is still possible to be a successful student while going through these struggles because no matter how hard or impossible it may seem, there is always hope. Clinging on to this hope has showed me that I can still do so many things even in my darkest times. During these dark times, I have realized depression is just a passing emotion and even though it may seem like it will never end or go away, it eventually does. It may feel like a long time, but it will eventually pass. But getting the help you need will help the depression pass faster because you no longer feel helpless or alone.
Penelope shares her story while she is a freshman in Chemistry.
"The transition from high school to college is its own special culture shock."
Upon my arrival to CSULB, I was super pumped to start college. I am officially an adult, I get to pursue things in my field, meet new people, etc. Little did I know how difficult it was (and still is) to do any of the above things I listed. My biggest challenge was acclimating to college. I came from being at the top of my class by barely studying a couple of hours prior to an exam only to find that it does not cut it in college. I came from knowing many people and growing up with many people to not knowing anyone. I came from an ideal that in school, supplies are given to you; now I’m at a place where if you don't buy your own scantrons and a $200 textbook, you can't pass the class. You graduate high school thinking that you'll maintain most of your friends only to realize how different you guys are when you hang out at breaks again. You leave high school thinking that the major you signed up for really is what you’re actually going to pursue. You grow in many ways just by yourself and discover things you didn’t know about yourself that maybe you’ll like and maybe you won't. The transition from high school to college is its own special culture shock.
There are many ways to overcome these sorts of obstacles. For the studying issue, I failed many-a-test before I started to figure out what studying techniques work best for me. In my case, I need to study at least a week in advance of the tests. What I study (whether that be textbook, notes, PowerPoint, videos) depends on the class, but I figured out that studying for a longer period of time rather than skimming before the exam works the best for me. Your ability to figure these kinds of things out depends on how dedicated you are to the cause. If you want to not do well, don’t change your study habits! If you want to do well, then start altering timing, how you study, and seek help from other sources like office hours, tutoring, peers, etc.
The rest of the acclimation I think I can safely categorize under one topic: social changes. I hate saying it, but losing friends is absolutely something to anticipate coming into college. Instead of being around them every day, while taking the same classes and the same tests, you are now in opposite fields. Maybe you are pursuing chemistry and they are pursuing political science. This is when real personalities start to come out and it can be heartbreaking to realize how different the two of you have become; you realize that you don’t click anymore. The best way to get around this obstacle is just to have confidence in yourself that you can make new friends in college or maybe it's time to enjoy your own company. Find comfort in solitude and if there are friends that can respect that and enjoy catching up even when you are on different pages, then you know they are the real ones. I found myself successful in this aspect because I came into college knowing that I will be new. It pushed me to actually talk to the person sitting next to me and pursue groups and clubs around campus like FSLC and RISE. I even made friends on the quidditch team on campus! It’s very difficult to put yourself out there because it's so vulnerable and fresh. The last time we ever had to really do that was in kindergarten! Once you’re able to cross that barrier of discomfort, success and relationships are inevitable.
Over my collegiate career thus far I have learned a lot about myself. It was more self-discovery than anything. I feel that I have grown into my own skin and realized that there is still more to come in life and I still have more growing to do. I'm not stuck in a little bubble anymore; there is life outside of the town I grew up in there is so much more.
The best advice I could give to someone going through similar challenges is just to find comfort in knowing you are not alone in this journey. There are many pathways to overcome it; there is not one correct answer. Find groups on campus, they are everywhere! In CNSM alone there is so many opportunities so take time, do some research, and don’t be afraid to take a couple of risks. Whether that be learning new study habits, joining a lab group, becoming a member of a club, getting tutoring, anything! CSULB is a great campus full of great and helpful people and it’s in yourself to seek out everything there is to offer.
Tanya shares her story while she is a sophomore in Molecular Cell Biology and Physiology.
"My two jobs afforded me little sleep and I often overslept through class."
I always felt that I had to accomplish things in a certain order, in a certain school, and in a certain way, in order to be successful. I had already gotten off track, or so it felt that way, when I was denied financial aid to attend UCR. I went on to attend community college. At a school where students go to save money, I was registered as an international student, paying 8 times the amount that my peers were paying. As a child of a single mother, to say that this was a difficult feat was an understatement. It was all worth it, however, when I got accepted to California State University, Long Beach as a Biology major. I was excited for this fresh start, but I didn’t want my mom to bear as much of a financial burden. I went and got a second job, right before my first semester at CSULB.
My first semester at CSULB was a lonely one. I was overwhelmed with the newness of the school and felt immense transfer shock. It seemed like everyone knew where they were going, what they wanted to do in life, and how to do well here. My two jobs afforded me little sleep and I often overslept through class. It got to a point where I felt so disconnected from school that I didn’t even bother to try to ask for help, go to office hours, or even make friends. I failed two of my classes and didn’t even bother showing my face at some of my final exams.
I registered for the classes again, knowing that I could replace my Fs with Grade Forgiveness and wanted to start off the next semester with a better attitude. I felt a little less isolated, but the main issue was that I was still working two jobs. I pushed my limits on lack of sleep and my health, and unfortunately only passed with Cs, and again failing one of my classes twice. This was my lowest point in school and in my self-esteem.
I cried and cried and just asked myself, "Why am I so stupid?" It was extremely frustrating because I absolutely loved school and I loved to learn. I saw other students who were so passionate about their classes and doing well, and I knew that I was just like them. "Why was it so much harder for me?" I asked myself this question hundreds of times. My desire to want to succeed and do well despite the cards I had been dealt surpassed all of the fear I had for how these circumstances would affect my chances to get into a graduate school. It put a fire inside that I never had. I knew what I was capable of, and I knew I had it in me. I told myself that if I didn’t do everything in my power to change my circumstances, I would never achieve my dreams.
Third semester in, I quit one of my jobs that took the most time out of my schedule, went to office hours, pushed myself to make friends, and got outside my comfort zone. I stopped comparing myself to others that I felt were smarter and more capable and directed my energy in reminding myself that I have the skills and passion to offer, that will set me apart from others. For the first time, I felt like I belonged here at CSULB. I realized that most of my fears that the faculty and other students wouldn’t care to help someone like me, with all of the mistakes that I made, could not have been more wrong. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. Had I gone to a UC, I would never have met teachers and faculty that genuinely want me to succeed and care about the obstacles that I may face to get there. This school has so many resources and so many people that are willing to help, if you simply just open up to what you are facing.
I still face financial struggles today and the transition into a healthy balance between the need to make money and the time required to completely immerse myself in school, is still a work in progress. I hope that through my story, there will be other students who realize that there is no one right way to achieve your goals and that everyone has their own path in life. The most important thing is that you must want it more than anything, and be open to receiving help when you need it.
Trina shares her story while she is a junior in Biology.