In the last two years of optometry school, there were 3 different life-changing things that I struggled with: My 12 year old feathered baby died. My ten year relationship came to an end. I was physically assaulted.

The evening before I took one of my national board exams, my cockatiel died from choking on food. He was my 12 year old baby. I got him when he was 1 month old and he lived with us until he was nearly 12 years old. I was living away from home and never had the chance to spend more time with him before he passed away unexpectedly and I never got to say goodbye. Sometimes when I take out my keys to open the front door, I still expect my little guy to chirp excitedly at me to take him out to play.

I initiated stepping away from someone I loved with every inch of my being because I knew it was what he needed to get out of his rut and reach the potential I knew he had in him. I still remember how scary it was doing it because I couldn’t imagine a life without him. I had hope that maybe if things were meant to be, we could be a part of each other’s lives again. I met him when I was a teenager in high school and we grew together over the next decade. Nearly 10 years of struggles and triumphs and honestly the best years of my life. It’s not often that even after a decade of being together, you still get butterflies in your stomach and you can’t wait to spend more time together. Sadly, our love story only became a long and tragic one and we grew into complete strangers. We tried over and over to slowly pick things back up, but one day it just stopped and I was ghosted. I think the hardest part for me was being left hanging and never getting closure. Someone I completely trusted suddenly disappeared and I didn’t even know if this person was even alive anymore.

To numb the pain I had tried dating again.

This led to me being raped by someone I had only known for a few hours. For a while it didn’t feel like a big deal. But over time, it ate away at me and ate away until I didn’t really feel like a person anymore. I could barely just keep going, anything to numb the pain.

I did a lot of things I’m not proud of because in some way, I had wanted some kind of control back in my life and I honestly didn’t really care if I ended up dying in the process.

It still chokes me up to remember those days in school where I wished I could have gotten help. Someone would stop in the hallway to greet me and ask me how I was doing, when all I really wanted to say was, “I’m not okay. I need help.” But I never could do that and so I would respond like a robot, “Good, how are you?” Honestly anyone time someone asked me the “How are you?” question, I felt like crying on the spot. On some mornings before my clinic shift, I would cry in my car and just sit there to give myself time to look normal again, and then go to clinic with a smile because I knew it was time to take care of patients and make some people happy.

I easily lost 10 pounds during that year and when I realized it, I thought, “Well, if I can’t feel happy maybe I can keep losing more and feel beautiful.

Sidenote: if you’ve ever wondered about or considered therapy…speaking from experience, don’t hesitate, just do it. You don’t have to go through things alone and why would you want to prolong your healing process? I came to realize that yes, although you may feel like you could deal with it on your own, why not have help coping in a healthy way, promote your well-being, and cut down your healing time exponentially? There’s such a bad stigma attached to therapy but it makes so much sense.

Even without the external factors in my life, optometry school was hard for me. I was used to an entire lifestyle of cramming and easily being a top student but in optometry school, I found myself barely holding on. I found myself surrounded by intelligent colleagues, whose brilliance I’d marvel at. I always felt like the weak link of the bunch and I knew that if I didn’t work hard, I wouldn’t be able to keep up. There were times every single year out of those four years where I felt like, “I’m not going to make it to the next year.” It takes a real toll on you for a full four years while everyone around you seems so beautiful, smart, and successful.

Even after graduation rolled by, I still didn’t get my wings because I was still having trouble passing one of my national board exams. I had my diploma but I didn’t have my license. This put me far behind in the race and left me, again, crawling far behind my classmates. It didn’t feel good. But here I am, I finally jumped through the hurdles and though I’m late, I crossed that finish line! Maybe that’s just always been my style; slow and steady wins the race. One of my friends did nickname me the “comeback kid,” in college, after all.