Why I Don’t Have A Degree

When I was in sixth grade, I remember sitting in class while the teacher talked to us about our futures – about college, to be specific. My classmates were discussing how much money they had in their college funds, and about how much of their birthday/confirmation/Christmas/Easter money their parents made them deposit into their funds. I felt left out, not only because I didn’t get money from my family for holidays – many of my relatives were too busy scraping by and coping with substance addictions for that – but I didn’t know how much money was in my college fund. Was it a thousand? Five hundred? Five thousand? How much money had my folks put away for me?

That night I asked my parents how much money they had saved up for my college tuition, and they laughed at me. When they told me that there was no college fund, and that the only way I’d make it to college would be if I earned a full scholarship, I felt like I had swallowed a stone. My stomach felt so heavy. It was only then that I first started to realize just how poor my family was compared to the others…but that’s a story for another day.

As a senior in high school, I seemed to be the only one who wasn’t particularly excited or stressed out about college. Unlike my friends, who applied to several schools, I only sent in my application to one: a local HBCU. I chose that school solely for the fact that I knew I could get a scholarship there.

And I did. My scholarship covered books, tuition, fees, room, and board. The only thing I had to pay for was parking.

I spent my first year in college in an abusive relationship with a man who I had been dating since we were both 16. It never reached the physical level of abuse, fortunately, but the mental and emotional abuse was bad enough. We went to colleges in different states, but the distance made no difference. He accused me of cheating on him every other day and threatened to kill me just about as often.

After that relationship ended, I spiraled into a depression. Depression was nothing new to me. I’ve struggled with it since I was a child; the first time I started seriously contemplating suicide, I was in fifth grade.

I don’t really know how depression is for other people, but for me it is like being lost in a fog. It lowers over me against my will, and the only way I know how to cope with it is to just HOLD ON until it has lifted. Sometimes it takes months to lift. Most of the time it has taken years. As I’ve grown older, the gaps between depressive episodes have tended to last years rather than months or weeks, which is something that I am very grateful for.

So the fog fell over me in my first year of college, and it stayed with me for over two years. It was one of the worst depressive episodes of my entire life. I fantasized about killing myself during every waking moment. I thought about buying a gun but I didn’t know where I would get the money. I wanted to open my head. Either by shooting it open or bashing it against the ground at high speed or…it didn’t even matter. I just wanted to open my head. Every moment of every day was a literal struggle to keep myself alive. I had nightmares every time I slept. I would go three or four days without sleeping, not because I wanted to, but because I couldn’t turn off my brain. For over two years, there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to die.

There are people who read this blog who knew me back then, and I’m not sure if they had any idea what I was going through. I left school early in my second year. I didn’t care about class, about my scholarship, about anything. I just wanted to die.

My parents were mad at me for a long time after I left school. I didn’t tell them what was going on until the fog began to lift, and when I did tell them, they accused me of lying, of making excuses, of making up bullshit. This is despite the fact that I had a history of depression and suicidal ideation (and at least one suicide attempt that *they* knew about). They just don’t understand it.

So here I am, almost a decade later, without a degree. My parents still shit-talk me very occasionally for dropping out of school, and my coworkers always seem surprised when they learn I never graduated; I suppose I just seem like the type of person to have a college degree, whatever kind of person that is.

You’d think that I would feel sorry for doing what I did, especially since it has cost me a job that I really wanted and has locked me out of countless other work opportunities, but I don’t. I’m just glad to still be alive, to have made it this far.

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