I didn’t do too badly this term. (But, honestly, if there is anyone who would know about dying neurons, it would be me.)
Though my academic performance is affected by the TBI, I didn’t stop getting A’s—even with course overload—until the relationship with Stalker Ex turned abusive. During my first semester at BU, I was depressed and in denial about my condition, but with lots of hard work, I still did okay. I tested into second semester writing (which I tried to but couldn’t skip) and fourth semester Latin (because BU lets you take dead languages for your required second language). I also did well in every math class I took. I wasn’t perfect and I still struggled, but in retrospect, I did just fine, especially after almost dying from a head injury just two years prior.
The TBI is important because it’s a chronic condition that needs continuous monitoring and management, but the relationship with Stalker Ex is monumental because those two-and-a-half years almost dismantled my life a second time. He exacerbated my anxiety and preyed on my emotional vulnerability. Again, if it weren’t for family, friends, and access to quality medical care, I would have died.
This is why I say what I learned during my undergraduate years weren’t from the classroom. Due to my poor memory, I can’t intelligibly discuss Flemish Baroque, Euripides, or multivariable calculus without a refresher anyway. (Never mind the last was high school; that’s even further back in time.) But coming out of years of trauma relatively unscathed, I learned that my life now is as good as it is because of a strong early education and the continuous support of family and friends. Despite all the mistakes I made and the frustration I caused, there were still people who believed in me.
And this is why despite the mess some people’s lives are in, I still believe in them, too.
What I learned is that people need some amount of respect, appreciation, positive affirmation, and, simply, love. As much as we say that we can’t have others love us before we love ourselves, sometimes we need just a little affection from other people to kickstart our self-esteem. Though it is perfectly reasonable to enforce your emotional boundaries, it is cruel to judge people for their emotional needs, especially if they don’t have access to the support they need to be healthy. People can emotionally starve, and sometimes they need others to help them stay alive.
I also learned not to be impressed by someone’s CV. I did grow up in a town of overeducated overachievers, so I have a very different baseline for impressive achievements. But I was also fortunate enough to grow up in a town of genuinely and passionately well-intentioned people, so I associated accomplishment with compassion. Stalker Ex is an Ivy Leaguer and a neurosurgeon, but when you strip him of those (societally bestowed) accolades, he is a terrible person. Now I am more impressed by kindness, generosity, honesty, self-awareness, and the ability to see and appreciate people for who they are. These are markers of good people. These people will listen when you need them. They will negotiate boundaries when necessary. They won’t intentionally destroy you.
Stalker Ex robbed from me many years of my life. He is also the real reason why I left computer science and still refuse to adopt a career in programming, despite my talents. I still get irrationally anxious on certain stretches of Comm Ave. There are still certain parts of the Internet I refuse to enter. (See: EVE Online.) For a long while, he also scared me from academia and neuroscience and medicine.
But I’m back. And I’m doing fine. I’m reclaiming my life in more ways than one.
More, I’ve forgiven myself—for everything. It was such a hard journey, and I made so many mistakes, but I like who I am now. Others like me, too. It’s hard to hate your past when you love the present and are hopeful for the future.
I will still worry occasionally about my condition (because you never fully recover from a TBI) and will still occasionally glance over my shoulder (because you never truly lose a stalker), but I think, finally, I am ready to let this go.
My new—and third—life begins.