INSECURITY, HEARTBREAK & RACE: A COLLEGE STUDENT’S BATTLE

SHARED BY REBEKAH MAHON 

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When thinking about college, I never thought I would become a dropout. 

In high school I received good marks, at least until my sophomore year in March 2011. Then it seemed to fall apart. My sense of duty to earn good grades disappeared. I no longer did the activities I loved. I began to hate going to school, especially if my homework wasn’t done. I would often beg my mom to let me stay home so I didn’t have to deal with the consequences of unfinished homework or lack of studying. 

I became aloof, withdrawn, and very depressed. By the time I finally made it to college, I never thought these behaviors of bottling up emotions would ever lead me to make the hard decision of leaving college.

YEARNING FOR ACCEPTANCE

Growing up as the only daughter of my mother, I always strived to be someone seen as worthy. I was constantly told I was going to do something worthwhile in my life; yet, my sense of self-worth and self-esteem had always been low. As a bicultural young lady of being black and Puerto Rican, I always had constant images of how black was anything but beautiful. I didn’t want to be black. This made me not happy with my skin color and the way I looked for years. I never would have guessed how heavily these feelings of unworthiness, negativity, or self-hate would take my life on a different course.

Because of my own animosity towards being black and my own assumptions that everyone thought I was ugly because of my blackness, I was always striving for love and attention from anyone in any way possible. Even negative sexual attention meant that I was beautiful and desirable. I never thought twice about misogyny or disrespect. 

I hated the last years of high school because of the constant classism, elitism, and racism I faced along with my newfound depression. I didn’t know the terms until college, but the racism and microaggressions from the students I dealt with didn’t make being happy in my skin any easier. Nor did it help when I found myself becoming more and more depressed.

NEW CHAPTER, NEW CHALLENGES

Fast forward to college, and I was excited. It’s a new environment; I get to be by myself, and best of all, I scored a double bedroom to myself. I never had a roommate all throughout college. Talk about lucky!

My freshman year started off trying to fit in, crushing on boys, and figuring out which classes to take. Of course, I definitely was excited about meeting different types of boys. Any new environment I was in, I was always looking for cute guys. I was friendly with everyone that seemed interesting or attractive. 

On my first orientation day, a guy I thought was cute said to me, “Rebekah is a weird name for a black girl.” Hearing this made me defensive and my simple response was, “I’m also Puerto Rican.” At the time, I didn’t know that those comments of “you’re pretty for a black girl,” or “you’re not like other black people,” were examples of microaggressions. I always felt they were wrong, but never knew how to express them to anyone. I still attempted to be nice to people like him.

Being constantly at battle with my self-image as a Black Puerto Rican didn’t help with school. What started off as my determination to be a good student, do my homework on time and study, soon fell into old patterns where I found myself getting behind academically like I did in high school. 

Out of three classes, I was the only black student in two of them: my prerequisite class and my German class. In classes, a lot of people did not seem to speak to me much. They were polite, but not friendly enough to help me feel welcomed and not feel different. I got the highest marks in my German class, yet not many people wanted to be my partner.

OLD PATTERNS RESURFACE

Towards the end of my first semester of college, I started to like this guy I met during fencing. He was a very sweet white guy from South Dakota. At first, he took me out with his friends a few times. I decided I really liked him and talked to him a lot. We kissed, and it was the first time in my young life I ever kissed someone I had a crush on. My heart fluttered, and it felt amazing. A week after the kiss though, he tells me he recently broke up with his girlfriend and he didn’t want a relationship. It broke my heart. I internalized it. I felt I wasn’t good enough or pretty enough because I was black. So, I tried to become a good person to his friends so he would feel guilty about leaving someone as nice as me.

Winter term we stop talking completely and he never gave me a reason why. He just stopped talking to me. It made me extremely depressed, and I stopped doing my work, showing up to class, lost sleep, and there was always trouble going on at home. I didn’t have much support, and I started hating my blackness and blaming it more and more.

Fast forward to spring term of my freshman year, I remember distinctively thinking about racism and why I constantly felt not good enough because of my skin color. I remember breaking down, crying hysterically, and asking God why the world is like this; why do people hate me because I’m black? Why am I seen as not good enough? Why can’t I love myself? After crying and talking to another black girl about it, I was determined to learn more about accepting my blackness and loving myself. I became involved in Tumblr, following blogs that preached self-love, black is beautiful, and positive things about blackness. I learned so much about the history of blacks and everything just seemed to be better.

I was finally starting to love my blackness.

Fast forward to my sophomore year, and I am absolutely on fire. I am involved in fighting the racism on campus. I am getting the best grades yet. 

AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP

Winter term my sophomore year would prove to be the most challenging time in my young life.

I met a new foreign exchange student during the fall term of my sophomore year. He was charming, sophisticated, and was interested in social justice. He claimed to be a strong feminist and pro black. I believed him. He messaged me on Facebook before we returned from winter break, telling me what a shame it was that the guy I liked didn’t pursue me. A part of me became interested in him. It wasn’t long before I felt as if I was completely mesmerized by everything he did. I felt so drawn to him. He was so smart, so wise, so persistent. I lost my virginity to him. I would only think about him and be around him.

I wanted to be with him. Once I expressed that to him, he changed. He became cold, constantly gas lighted me, invalidated me, made me feel inferior. I didn’t realize until now that I fell for a sociopath. I stopped going to classes all together, stopped doing homework, and barely ate. 

Soon, he replaced me with a girl I thought was my friend. He would spend time holding her hand, being in public with her. But when he was with me, it seemed like I was always a secret. He never went out in public with me. Because I shared all my first sexual experiences with this guy, I felt extremely used and disposable. I constantly tormented myself with the thought I wasn’t good enough; he used me so he could say he had sex with a black girl; he felt and proved, like the world had, that black women were a commodity and once used and sexualized, they were disposable. I started cutting my arms constantly. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t leave my room or eat. I missed so many of my classes that my suitemates became worried. I constantly hid so I would reduce my chances of running into this couple on the small campus.

He made me unsure of myself, made me feel I was wrong for being hurt. Hell, he even gave me an STD and told me I got it from someone else, even though he was the only one I ever had sexual encounters with. I spent so many nights crying, because I felt so used and unworthy; I wasn’t good enough. I cut off contact from family and friends and kept secluding myself. I became suicidal; I thought about how much I wanted to end my life and end this pain of betrayal. 

He threw me away like a toy. When he told me we were okay and that he cared for me, I walked in on him sleeping with her. I ran to my dorm and cried so much. I was invalidated and broken.

FALLING TO ROCK BOTTOM

By the time it was spring term, I decided to get help from the school counselor.  I saw her once a week, because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. It still hurts to think about it. Once the extreme sense of sadness left, all I felt was anger. I had complete, violent rage. I didn’t want to see him or her ever; yet it was impossible to avoid them because of the small campus. I had supportive friends, but my thoughts were only about him and her, and it made functioning nearly impossible. I lost so much weight and was failing classes. All I could talk about was them and my hurt and sense of betrayal. I lost a few friends because of it. I had PTSD-like symptoms and couldn’t properly function.

I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I decided I was going to end it. I didn’t know how, but I wanted to stop living. I needed to know what my goodbye letter was going to say. But I couldn’t do it. I kept thinking how sad my mother and grandmother would be. I was in so much pain, but I couldn’t even end myself, because I was worried how it would affect others. I decided I would seek out therapy during my break because I wanted to get better.

I did get better, but I didn’t want to go back to the place where I almost took my life. I decided getting a therapy dog would help. It didn’t. I was told that the sociopath wouldn’t be attending the school anymore; he did. My apartment ended up being across the street from his dorm. I tried to do my schoolwork, but I couldn’t focus. I was taking medication and it was helping, but it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t stay at the school and walk past the buildings where I was in constant pain. I still remembered it. I hated the thought of going back.

LEAVING COLLEGE

Three-weeks into my junior year, I withdrew from college. It was such a hard decision. Even though I got accepted to study abroad in Germany (a huge dream of mine), was the Diversity Chair Leader in student senate, and was in so many clubs and held leadership roles, I still made the decision to leave. I wasn’t strong enough to stay; but at the same time, I felt I was strong enough to leave. I put my health first.

Honestly, as I’m writing this, I was supposed to graduate in May 2017. Time has gone by so fast and I’ve grown so much. I want to finish college and earn my degree. It’s a challenge because of money, which I constantly struggle with, but we will see where life takes me. I can’t and won’t give up.

 
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