Backstory: Where It All Went Wrong

Let’s talk about Paris (some more).

If you haven’t been keeping up with my blog, you’ll need to check out my previous Tuesday post (link here) to understand what some context for this post.

So I left you last week with the knowledge that things went well for a while, but took a turn after my first few weeks in Paris.

Classes hadn’t started yet, and I’d been spending almost every day with my orientation group mates, even outside of official orientation events. So, what went wrong?

I got sick.

I was sick with a nasty cold for the entire weekend and into the week, barely able to get out of bed or feed myself, much less get out of my minuscule apartment.

I would find myself with some kind of illness for most of the rest of the semester. There was at least one occasion of food poisoning and two more colds in a 4 month period. This made me miss out on social events and have trouble in concentrating in classes.

But illness alone I could have borne.

I found cockroaches in my apartment.

I cannot describe the horror of a cockroach infestation to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. Imagine living every day knowing that something you are terrified of might come scuttling out of a corner at any moment, and trying to sleep each night knowing that creature may be the first thing you see in the morning.

I would not wish a cockroach infestation on anyone, and least of all someone in my living situation. One hundred square feet is not enough to have to share with a colony of insects.

But I learned soon enough that getting together my courage to kill them when they’re small and slow is infinitely better than having to do so when they’re large and fast, and I could have dealt with it.

I fell behind in my classes.

Graduate school is hard, and it can be particularly difficult when the culture of the school you’re attending is different to what you’re used to. I went to a smallish university in Michigan, and the differences between that and Sciences Po (one of the most prestigious schools in France), were stark.

I didn’t understand what some of my professors wanted from me; I was totally lost in the curriculum of others.

I just was not getting French.

As in the language. I simply couldn’t wrap my brain around the grammar, and I fell further and further behind my classmates. This caused me embarrassment and kept me from speaking up or asking questions in class, which, in a vicious cycle, made me fall further behind in class.

I’m also quite shy and have social anxiety, so any chance that I may taken to speak with the locals or improve my ability was wasted as I panicked and switched immediately to English.

These four things alone were difficult, but were problems that I could have come to terms with or fixed with time. The following, however, I could not fix.

I developed crippling anxiety and depression.

Before I left for Paris, I stopped taking the birth control that I had been on for several years. I wasn’t planning on meeting any men, but mostly I didn’t think that it would be easy to obtain my prescription while living in a foreign country.

What I didn’t realize was that the hormonal birth control that I take significantly affects my mental state. It acts as my anti-depressant and my anti-anxiety medication rolled into one.

By the time September rolled around, I’d been off the hormones for about two months, and the effects were significant.

I couldn’t sleep at night, but would sleep late into the afternoon, I was always tired, I couldn’t concentrate. I was having anxiety attacks at least once every week. And I had no support system in Paris to get me through it.

That alone should have been enough, but then.

I realized that I did not enjoy or even want the degree I was working towards.

This was the item that cinched it for me – when I became aware that I was falling behind in my classes and wasn’t connecting anymore with my classmates because I didn’t want a Master’s Degree in European Studies. The entire reason I was living in Paris was for that degree, and I couldn’t imagine any position or path forward where it would be useful to me.

So I decided it was time to go home.

The final installment in this series will be next week, talking about what it really meant to drop out of school and move home. I hope you’ll join me next Tuesday.

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