It is a tradition for me to struggle with adapting to a new school environment. I remember getting in trouble on the first two days of preschool—and then doing it again when I was held back for another year. The first days of each grade were either so fun I could not stand it, or they foreshadowed what would be terrible years in the long run.

To say I struggled to adapt to college during Freshman Year is an understatement. I initially considered dropping out when the pressure of disabilities, personal problems, and a volcanic era of politics overwhelmed me. I was numb and aimless, and I did not feel motivated to stay outside of pleasing others.

Before I made that decision, Dad suggested something that would change my life for the next four years. “Have you looked into The All-State? They could use a film critic.”

I applied for TAS in 2017 and officially began working for the paper during the Fall Semester. For the entirety of my Sophomore Year, I was lucky enough to have Celeste Danielle and Amber Wadovick take me under their wing.

Celeste is a natural-born leader who knows how to hype you up when you need it. I remember when Celeste had to give a “come to Jesus” talk about the state of TAS. I felt so bad at first that I wanted to cry, but then she highlighted that my reviews were “popping.” I never felt more relieved than I did at that moment.

Amber is very straightforward but also incredibly kind and understanding. I will never forget how she counseled me during an anxiety attack at an ice cream social. It was my first story, and I had no idea what to do. I remember her very calmly saying, “Hey, I was like that with my first story. You’ll get past it, I promise.”

It almost makes up for how I had to review the “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” movie instead of “Blade Runner 2049.” Almost.

After Celeste and Amber left TAS, I felt more vulnerable. I did not trust my abilities as a staff writer without their reassurance. Despite continuing to work at TAS, there was this feeling that I was stumbling the whole time. I did so much but always felt that I came up short.

Thankfully, I became acquainted with other TAS members. They would collaborate with me and accommodate me while encouraging I do more than I did the day before. I had the Communications Department, full of people who have either supported me since childhood or supported me after meeting me. I had my parents, who were consistent throughout a lot of abandonment and heartbreak behind the scenes.

I won at least one TAS award per semester. I placed tenth for Best Arts & Entertainment Writer in the Southeast Journalism Conference for two years in a row. This year, I ranked fourth. Outside of TAS, I received a Pop Culture Award on behalf of the COMM Department. I not only have the skills to pursue my dreams, I also have the hardware to prove it.

And after all of that, with a new chapter ahead of me, I feel as aimless and daunted as I did in Freshman Year.

I spent nearly two decades in the CMCSS. Throughout this time, I dealt with severe interpersonal trauma behind the scenes. A lot of the traumas also occurred within the educational system. I did not have time to process any of it for a variety of reasons. I was too young to understand all that happened to me. I had more important things to do than to deal with my trauma. I never had time to sit down and tell myself, Owen Wilson voice and all, “Wow…that was messed up and it wasn’t my fault.”

I was diagnosed as autistic when I was five. I have battled chronic physical and mental illnesses since I was a teenager. People on the outside looking in did not see a multiply disabled young person. They saw someone who was lazy, unstable, making excuses and expecting special treatment for needing accommodations.

Some students mocked and dehumanized me, and others validated this cruelty without doing anything else. Several faculty throughout my K-12 experience made it clear they had no sympathy for me if they could not reap in the benefits of my “special abilities.” If I did not look like a “good” disabled student, then I had no place being there.

The sad thing is I felt like I needed to prove myself to them. I have a network of people who have supported me since I was a child, but it was delegitimized as nepotism and personal obligation. As a result, I did what I could to prove my worth to people who intended to look down on me from the start.

Knowing I will have to confront all of my baggage with nothing to distract me from it is terrifying. I cannot currently imagine how this could consume and isolate me any more than it already has. I started my college years with an abundance of familial support, and I knew so many people throughout this time. Now, only two close friends remain in my life, and I have a select number of family members I can still rely on. There are a lot of holes left within me, and the next step is learning how to properly fill them.

The only thing I can tell myself (and by extension others) is there are many things to look forward to. There are smaller pleasures, like the reward of summer and binging new shows without guilt. There is the ability to make time for self-care and not feel as though I missed the deadline for fully recuperated mental health.

Even though job opportunities are scant, that does not mean I cannot take the time to learn important life skills. I consider that more important than maintaining a job without those skills. If I am not better at handling myself, how can I handle additional responsibilities?

There are so many goals I can still work towards. There is time to take in the quiet and let it lead me to the next best thing. There is space to let myself exist without having to justify it at every turn. I do not currently see a bright light or a silver lining in my life, but I put one foot in front of the other with the knowledge I will see it again soon.

I would not be where I am without the people in my life. I would not be confident in my abilities without the support of my TAS family. I would not remain determined to keep moving forward without the COMM Department by my side. I would not know at the end of the day I can achieve what I set my mind to without my parents by my side.

But what I hope to tell myself and others one day is that I also would not be here if it were not for who I am as a person. Within my support group is still a person with aspirations and hope for the future. The people in my life helped make me the person I am today, but it also took the desire to do good and be better every day to keep me going.

I leave you with a quote by Peter Ramsey during his 2019 Oscars acceptance speech: “We see you. You’re powerful. This world needs you. We’re all counting on you.”