A letter to a friend
These are just my thoughts on taking a Medical Leave of Absence; I can’t say whether or not my experience is applicable to other people with different experiences.
First, I have to say that going on a leave of absence was not a voluntary choice. A year ago I would not have considered going on a leave of absence. I saw it as a personal sign of weakness, as if I had given up, as if I had failed. When I was in the hospital, I thought I was going back to school after two weeks. I thought that I had just taken a minor stumble and I was going get right back up on my feet. And then I was told by the Dean of Students that I was not allowed to come back for two quarters. I was told I could not come back until I had dealt with the issues I had developed. I was crushed. I took it on the chin and hung my head a little. I realized how major my transgression had been. I hadn’t wanted to deal with the fact everything wasn’t right with me. I was crushed.
But I was wrong. Taking three quarter off was the best thing to ever happen to me. Having been forced to admit I had a problem, I made it my job, my profession to deal with it and become healthy again. That was the beginnings of my personal life outlook: life has dealt me a bad hand and all I can do is play through. Muddle through. Deal with it and make the best of all the lemons in my hand. I threw myself into my work, studied harder than anyone else, and looked at myself under the harsh light of honest appraisal. And I’ve come out the other side a new man, refined by fire. I had lost everything that I thought I knew about myself. And from there I built myself back up truthfully. I could not have hoped for a better outcome than I got.
It was possible to take three quarters and come back no better than I left. It’s possible that a medical leave of absence does nothing good at all by itself. A vacation doesn’t make the problems away. But a break where I could actually address them made all the difference. I needed to do certain things for it to be as successful as it was. First, I needed to admit that I had a problem. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s a cliché because it’s true. If I hadn’t admitted that things were wrong and not going to fix themselves, then I was forced to stop hiding from them or covering them up. They became goals and attainable goals at that. They weren’t as scary then. Once I named them: Depression and an unsustainable lifestyle and an aimless life, I could deal with them, one by one. Second, I needed to find people to mentor me. This meant finding shrinks that made me work, teachers that challenged me, and parents that supported me and pushed me into the right direction. Mentors weren’t there just to tell me that I was doing a good job, because I hadn’t done a good job. I had failed them. But they were unwavering in their belief in me. Their advice guided my own explorations of who I was and how I could become better. They couldn’t replace the first person necessity, but they certainly helped. This was also the time I rediscovered my religion. Third, I found pillars. They gave me the strength to build my base again. Their strength made me strong.
Taking a leave of absence is not easy. It some ways it’s a lot harder than just ignoring the problems and hoping they go away. But when I did it, I became the man I am today. I am not the name boy that slit his wrists and hoped he would die. My life is not easy. But I can handle it. I can handle it because I went through fire to get here.