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Challenge: Back to School

How Freshman Move-In Day Almost Broke Me

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"I have come out of the dark and into the light"

"I had hit rock bottom"

"I am in a good place now"

"My daughters have witnessed my resilience"

"The worst is behind me"

I have felt, spoken, and written all these words during the past year.

I was resilient, I am in a good place, and I do see the light. What I did not count on was the dark coming back — even if it was for a short period of time.

The dark was my oldest daughter leaving for college.

It is not what you think — it's not because I miss her, or that our goodbye was hard, or that I was sad on the drive home. All those things are true, but are not the reason I once again found myself crying on the floor.

My husband passed away almost six years ago. It was the hardest thing I had ever been through. Two years later, my then 14-year-old daughter went through a period of depression and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This was beyond painful for both of us, but with help, we were able to get through it and come out on the other side.

I knew that going away to college was going to be a challenge for her. She was nervous about leaving home, but was prepared for the anxiety that she knew was coming. She had the tools to deal with it.

Unfortunately, at the last minute she was hit with a complete change of plans: her roommate, who she had found months earlier and was looking forward to living with, decided not to come to school at all.

This would be upsetting for any freshman who was going away for the first time. My daughter has terrible anxiety. She was also missing her dad a lot during this time in her life. The thought of leaving home and now living all alone was terrifying. She tried to scramble to find a new roommate but, let's face it, the day before move-in there is pretty much no one left.

She thought about not going at all; she didn’t know if she would be able to do it. After lots of talks and tears, she did decide to move into the room by herself and give it a try.

We moved her in — and it was a nightmare. Everything was difficult — from moving furniture, to setting up Wi-Fi, to hanging pictures — nothing seemed to go right. Although frustrating and challenging, those little things were not the issue. The issue was that she was doing it all alone. We would walk by the other rooms in her dorm and they were filled with two happy girls organizing their things together. It was so sad that my daughter was not having that experience.

While she screamed out of frustration and cried out of sadness as well as pure fear, my heart broke a little more every minute. Once again, life was unfair to her. It wasn't bad enough that she had lost her father when she was 12 years old, she was now suffering through an experience that should be an exciting one. She kept repeating that she was so scared and she just wanted to go home.

After 12 hours of trying to remain calm and keep it together, I finally broke. I found myself on the floor, crying with her. I told her that I understood how she felt — that we would pack up and go home the next day. We would find her an option b — this was not working.

Believe it or not, that was when she rallied. Suddenly, she tried to pull herself together. As scared as she was, she did not really want to leave school before it had even started.

Looking back at that horrendous day, I am now able to see a little bit of light. Her younger sister was so good to her and so helpful. My boyfriend had come up with us and did his best to help in a very stressful situation. Most importantly, two amazing kids that she went to high school with literally rescued her. They heard about her roommate issue and they came. They talked to her, helped us organize, and made sure she had plans when we were leaving.

She decided to stay and give it a try. One reason was because of those two kids from high school who were thankfully able to give her some sense of comfort. I am forever indebted to them. I believe the other reason she decided to stay was that I understood how she was feeling and offered her compassion. She saw that I recognized her pain and was willing to do anything to help. That was when she pulled it together.

Everyone’s advice was to force her to stay, to not give in, to stay strong, that she would be fine. While well-intentioned, this advice was wrong — at least for my daughter. She needed me to support her in any decision that she made. She may have ended up coming home that day. Maybe it would have been a mistake, but she had to make that decision for herself, with my support.

That day was the darkest I have had in a long time. Once again, I thought it would break me. It almost did. I felt very alone and I was brought right back to those horrific moments after my husband died. Witnessing your child in pain is heart wrenching.

She is in now settling into college and living in the dorm room by herself. Every day seems to get a little better and I am hopeful that this will continue. I could not be any prouder of the strength that she has. I am sure it will serve her well in the future. My wish for her is nothing but happiness and a wonderful four years ahead.

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