Year’s end: what I’ve learned

I’m currently wrapped up in a blanket on the couch watching Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s a marvelous stop motion film, and an artistic spectacle. I had to do a 30-second long stop motion film for my art class last semester, and it took me eight hours. I couldn’t even imagine doing a 1.5 hour long movie. I am loving it more than my twelve-year-old sister, which is fine because I have a strange love of animated children’s movies.

I’ve seen a lot of blog posts about what people did or did not do in 2016.

I thought about doing my own, but I didn’t want it to devolve into a listicle (made famous by Buzzfeed, often used by the Odyssey Online, accompanied by gifs). I thought it would be more important to talk about what I learned this year.

I did lots of things. I laughed, I cried, I started this blog, I moved into a new dorm, I loved, I met new people, I looked at art, I sat by the ocean, I fell in love with consignment boutiques, I painted, I drew, I spent hours in the lab, I read many books, I tried to learn how to knit, I drank too many bottles of wine – and that’s only the beginning. I also didn’t do a lot of things. I didn’t learn how to knit, I didn’t say no to more wine, I didn’t get an internship, I didn’t fully mend lost friendships, I didn’t get straight As, I didn’t publish a paper, I didn’t stop being passive aggressive and I didn’t become the perfect girlfriend.

I did, however, learn a lot of things.

In 2016, I was admitted to the hospital with the worst panic attack of my life. I was shaking, I couldn’t breathe and I was on the brink of losing consciousness. I kept being told by people that I would be fine, but I wanted to grab them by the lapel and scream at them that I was dying. I was close to passing out but I fought it because I was worried that if I did I wouldn’t wake up. It was horrifying. I lay on a bed in the hallway of an ER and in those two hours I learned that it was no longer okay to hide my anxiety and depression from others, including my family. I learned that honesty was the best policy, and I would not be able to heal until I admitted that I had a real problem. At that point, I had battled two bouts of depression and didn’t want to fall to my anxiety. I thought the best way to end my anxiety was to avoid it. I didn’t begin to heal until I faced my problem head on and did a good deal of hard work throughout the semester in order to reach a solid place.

I kept my hospital bracelet from that night. They spelled my name wrong, and for that night I was Susan ShanZhu. Looking back, I think it’s oddly fitting that they had messed it up. It was almost as if, at the climax of my anxiety and panic attacks, I was no longer myself. I wasn’t. When I am feeling anxious, it is because another, foreign part of me is creating false feelings and ideas that my brain cannot comprehend. My anxiety took over my life for the summer, and I had to dig myself out of a hole in which I had lost 10 unnecessary pounds and also couldn’t fall asleep at night. I learned that to fight anxiety I had to fight it head on and give it all I could give. I still do. I wake up each day and fight to breathe easy. It is worth it.

In 2016, I had to uproot my life and move across campus. I missed my old life and the way that it had been. I missed laughing with precious friends that I thought I would have for life and who would accompany me down the aisle when I finally decided to get married. I missed the comforts of knowing where everything was and knowing who everyone was. I missed the home that I had built myself for the first 1.5 years of college. I learned that no matter what, true friendships make it. Friendships are relationships – they flow and ebb with time, and they get hard. People grow apart. But in 2016, I made some of my best friends and strengthened many old friendships. I didn’t want to just make friends who would walk me down the aisle – I wanted friends that I could celebrate small victories with, cry on shoulders with, eat too many veggie fries with and sit on the couch with. I truly would not have made it through this year without the friends that I am unbelievably lucky to call mine.

In 2016, I made a lot of big decisions. I decided I wanted to live for myself. I decided to commit to spending abroad, even though I hate change and the thought of it still terrifies me and I leave in 16 days. I decided I no longer wanted to be defined by my relationship. I’m the type that gets a little lost when she’s in a long-term relationship. I decided to pick up running and then I decided to stop when I realized I was doing it unhealthily. I decided that I wanted to see the best in everyone even when it was hard. I decided it was time to take more drastic measures to address my depression and save my life. I decided I didn’t want to lose hope.

In 2016, my heart was broken. On November 10, I woke up in a strange daze. I had an exam that day and I feel like I took it on autopilot. I was unsure of the world I lived in and definitely felt off-balance. For the first time in a while, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in civil service and government after graduation. I no longer knew if that was an environment I wanted to be in, let alone grow in. However, I, and millions of others, learned to accept the outcome and continue to fight for what set our souls on fire. Even with an unexpected (and not particularly welcomed) outcome, we still lived in a country where we could openly debate our ideas and defend our values. I woke up that morning and I still felt moderately safe, because I knew that no matter what happened, there would be someone fighting for me.

Most of all, faith. I learned to have faith.

I hate saying that I learned to have faith because it sounds really cheesy. However, I’ll say because I mean it.

None of what I mentioned above would have been possible if I hadn’t had faith. Even on the worst days, when I had forgotten to take my medicine the night before and couldn’t get out of bed, I tried to have faith that these days would be fewer in the future. I still have faith. I have discovered numerous resources this year, and the fact that the world seems to be paying more attention to mental health. Here’s a link to one I recently found: I love how it is simply called “You feel like shit” because most of the time that’s the best to describe how you’re feeling. I used it the other night and it was a great way to ground myself.

I think resolutions are silly.

I think they’re a clever way to put goals off. I don’t have to start until the new year. Sound familiar? A new year should be a fresh start, but not to cross things off a list. If you resolve to do anything this year, you should resolve to be more willing to learn. Life happens, and in the course of a year you do a lot of things and don’t do a lot of things. But the thing is, life isn’t a laundry list of “things done and not done.” Those things don’t really matter. What matters is what you learn from those things. Get proposed to? You learned that you didn’t want to get married. Get injured? You learned that it’s a stupid idea to push your luck with your jank knee. Fail an exam? You learned that pulling three all-nighters in a row is horrible for you. Break up with your significant other? You learned what you actually want in a relationship and that each love is different.

Do what you want in 2017 – just make sure you learn from it.

Hats off to another year!

The light in me honors the light in you,



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