Gender & Identity, Life

I started attending university when I turned 14. I had no idea what I was in for.

Everything was a breeze, but when I entered university I wasn't the smartest in the room anymore, and mental anxieties started to take over.

Trigger Warning: Mentions of self-harm, emotional turmoil and mental illness.

I entered high school at age 10 then college at age 14. For a good part of my life, I thought that my age was the only unique thing about myself.

People who found out that I was two years younger than my batchmates had the same impression of me: that I was smart, and being considered for academic acceleration for two consecutive years in elementary was enough proof for that. Maybe I was, and I didn’t really have to hear it from someone else for me to believe it, but these comments became a source of validation.

So I spent most of my younger years under the veil of blind reassurance; as long as I leave people in awe for something I’ve accomplished years ago, I was set.

When I entered college, I wasn’t the only one born in 1997, but I was still the youngest of my batch.

However, it did not take long for me to realize that none of it mattered anymore, not when I was in the top state university in the country, where almost everyone I met had done commendable things prior to entering college.

Most of my peers were academically remarkable, some of them better than I ever was. My age was no longer enough to prove that I was smart. In a pool of great minds, there was nothing that made me stand out. I had to prove myself by actually performing well.

Throughout college, I wasn’t one who aced all of my classes.

I was an average student, the one who did “okay” but nothing significant. I pursued the writing track under the Communication Arts degree program. I have always been inclined to creative writing but juxtaposed with more practiced and skilled student-writers, I didn’t have much to boast about.

There were countless moments when I felt disheartened; I started to consider shifting to another track because I thought that if I weren’t good enough in the eyes of my professors, then consequently I most likely wasn’t good enough to pursue a career on writing.

I was raised to be an overachiever, to believe that I was one of the best, but academic life prior to college went like a breeze, making the transition to university life twice as rigorous.

I became harder on myself, easily frustrated whenever I couldn’t do something exactly the way I planned to. I was unforgiving and inconsiderate to myself. This was further intensified by a few more times that I stumbled and failed, finally believing that I was a disappointment.

In 2015, I started to self-harm as a way to “teach myself a lesson.”

Sooner, it became a habit whenever I spiraled back into self-loathing. In 2016, I went to see a psychiatrist, but eventually stopped attending therapy and taking my medications after I missed graduation and went through an emotionally abusive relationship. The self-hate became too much to bear.

Early in 2017, depression took a toll on me, and my academic performance suffered. For the worst reasons, I failed the one class I actually exerted so much effort for and missed graduation for the second time. It was then that I chose to just give up on myself and began to immerse myself in more dangerous forms of self-harm.

In August of 2017, my mother encouraged me to see a new psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder with traits of Borderline Personality Disorder. More than finally feeling my mother’s concern for my mental health, I found more reasons to choose to recover.

I met my boyfriend earlier that month, and he helped me understand just what it meant to be valued and loved, to be respected as a woman, and to be reminded of what I truly deserve.

One of my biggest realizations in college was that I wasn’t the best – I wasn’t even one of the best. I was younger than everyone else, but that did not make me any better than them.

But I didn’t really have to be the best.

I might have had things much easier before, handed to me on a silver platter, but life doesn’t really work that way. In the longer run, I have to depend on my skills, my work ethic, and my craft. I need to choose what defines me as a person, and I am not a number. What kept me going was the certainty that this is what I want to do, what I see myself doing years later.

And maybe I’m not the best writer in and outside the university, but I want to become the best writer that I can be, and that’s enough reason to keep going.