Friday, May 29, 2015

Caroline Hinton: Life Rolls On

Going to college away from home freshman year can be hard. But going to college away from home as “the girl in the wheelchair,” can be even harder.

The summer before my senior year of high school I was in a pretty bad car accident. I got in the car with my “friend” at the time and we were both pretty drunk, the next thing I remembered was lying in a hospital bed with one tube down my throat, one up my nose, and one in my side. Hearing the words “you’re never gonna walk again” can be pretty traumatic. Having to hear them with no friends there to support you can be devastating. I had never truly understood the term “you find out who your friends are” until I was in the hospital with minimal visitors, excluding family. The “friend” that I was in the accident with has yet to talk to me to this day. The accident was almost two years ago. Going back to high school in a wheelchair is one thing, but going to college two hours away from your house, with no friends, is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
So when I got to Appalachian, I assumed everyone would be nice and thoughtful towards the handicap kid but sadly I was wrong. Over the course of the school year when I would go to the market directly across from my dorm, I had the door held open for me 4, maybe 5 times. The constant stares I got while shopping in the market, and while pushing up a hill to get to the market, crippled me to the point that I couldn’t go back by myself. After just the first month of school, I had gotten to the point where, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t make myself go out of my dorm.

For a decent amount of time, I would only leave my dorm to go to class. If I needed to get groceries I would go to the market. When I would go to the market I would get enough to ensure that I wouldn’t need to go back for at least a week. This went on from the middle of September until the middle of March, pretty much my entire freshman year. Social media played a part in my ‘not wanting to leave my room’ phase. When you look on Instagram all you’re going to see is other people having fun with their friends. Seeing this while lying in my room alone wasn’t exactly a self-esteem booster. I know that people are only going to post the high-points in their life, but it was still hard to see considering I didn’t have any high-points to post, let alone friends to have high-points with.

Making friends wasn’t easy for me. I would talk to people in my classes but that usually ended when it was time to go to the next class. I guess everyone just assumed that since I was in a wheelchair I couldn’t do what they were doing. I can not count the number of times I have said this throughout my two year paraplegic journey, I can do anything anybody else can do I just do it differently. That seems like a foreign concept to most people. They see a wheelchair and automatically assume that I’m limited.

Being alone throughout your freshman year of college is not easy. You have to come up with different strategies to keep yourself occupied. You watch A LOT of Netflix. And sometimes you find yourself lying in bed because there’s absolutely nothing else left for you to do.

If I learned anything from my freshman year of college, it was how to deal with being alone.

-Caroline Hinton

Friday, May 15, 2015

Freshman Year Beyond Class

I survived my Freshman year of college at Appalachian State University!

There were definitely times I didn't think I would, as I allowed the weight of the world and my own mistakes to pin me to the bottom of a pit I constructed in my mind, drowning myself in stress, pressure and worries. But here I am, still standing 5 feet 2 inches tall with more strength and determination to live a life I truly love as I strive to appreciate all of the highs and lows to come. With every situation I encountered this past year, I learned a lot about myself and began to solidify my own understanding of this life, this universe and where my heart lies.

This is what I understand to be true.

Home is relative.
If you were to Google the word "home", different definitions would appear to help you understand the term. This one is my favorite: 
"The place in which one's domestic affections are centered - any place of residence or refuge."
At the end of a long day, the mountains in Boone, North Carolina fill my heart with the same sensation I feel while pulling into my driveway in Douglasville, Georgia. As I began to call Boone home, I never stopped referring to the place I grew up as home either. To me, home is anywhere I am surrounded by people, places and memories that ground me and remind me who I am. Throughout my life as I grow and explore, I will refer to many different locations as "home", never diminishing the places beforehand, as they still hold pieces of my heart.

Life is easier when you don't procrastinate.
Self-explanatory. I know you've probably heard it a million more times in your life than you would have liked, but it's true. Beating my habit of procrastination made a huge difference in my academic career. If there is something you need to get soon as possible. Tada! One less thing you have to worry about. Easy peasy.

"Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."
-Louis D. Brandeis
I loved watching the leaves fall and flowers bloom again throughout the seasons Boone offered this year. Snow will never cease to amaze me, with all of its bright, sparkling glory as it covers the peak of every mountain in sight. That being said, I stand by the statement that nothing beats a sunny day at Appalachian State. Serendipity and I have a unique relationship, warming my soul as it parted the clouds and brought out the sun whenever I felt low. Even during the times where my mind had reached its darkest corners, the warmth of the sun on my skin served as a reminder that good things would soon come my way. Sitting on Sanford Mall soaking up the rays is easily my favorite way to pass time between classes. I'm almost positive the rest of the student body would agree.

There is a time for everything and everything has its time.
It's not much of a secret that I lack patience. Waiting around for something to happen or fall in my lap has never really been my style. I've been told once or twice that sometimes I fight too hard to be in control...and I wouldn't necessarily disagree. Although I fully encourage you all to step up, accept responsibility and go after the things you desire, sometimes, you just have to be patient. Unfortunately, there's no way around it. Believe me. I've tried. Whether it's a relationship, a job opportunity, or the itch to switch things up a bit, if you have to force it, it's not meant to be. When something ends, you can try to fight it, but when it's over, you need to let it go. Now this is not an excuse to be lazy and wait on the universe to hand you everything on a silver platter. It is simply a reminder that sometimes good things come to an end, but in due time, something better will come.

Organization is key.
As a graduation present to my closest friends, I bought agendas from May Designs that I customized for each of us to use when we went our separate ways to different colleges across the country. That agenda was my backbone this past year. I had used an agenda my whole life, since they were always issued to us by the school from kindergarten through my senior year, but this was the first time I really used my agenda. Man oh man did I use it. I couldn't have gotten through the year without it. It contained all of my due dates, homework, appointments, lists etc. and it was truly my day one homie. Shouts outs to you, little one. Much love for my 2014-2015 academic planner.

Chill out.
Don't be afraid to push everything aside for a little while and take a breather. When I felt stressed and overwhelmed, nothing calmed my mind like the company of my friends, and an adventure. Although I am not much of a morning person, I forced myself to wake up at the crack of dawn, drive to the Blue Ridge parkway and watch the sun rise as a new day started several times throughout the year. I never regretted it. When you allow yourself to stop and pay attention to the details and hidden beauty of this earth, you realize how trivial your problems are in the grand scheme of things. Take a breath. Find something incredible and unique. You'll get everything done. Positive thinking goes a long way.

It's okay to tell people that you are not okay.
We all find ourselves in this position from time to time. When I'm in this situation, my independence really hurts me. I, like everyone else in the world, have plenty of problems, fears and insecurities. Not wanting to be a burden or a source of negative energy, I tend to keep my problems to myself. I have even picked up the habit of using my heart for serving others as a way to avoid my own problems, pushing them into the background and allowing them to breathe and grow. I am just now realizing, after 18 years, that I don't have to do that. When a friend asks you how you're doing, they are inviting you to be honest and open. I fully understand not wanting to, or being scared to let people in, but that does nothing for you as you try to heal and move forward. You never have to feel alone and you never have to take on the weight of the world by yourself. If someone wants to help you, let them. If you don't know anyone that you can talk to, I'd be honored to help you carry your burden.

Intentionally invest your time into others.
At the end of the day, all we really have are the people we love. I'm sure we could survive in solitude, but who wants that? As humans, we were made to crave and seek interpersonal relationships in order to properly grow and thrive. Surround yourself with good people who encourage you and truly want to help you succeed, and do the same for others. Be intentional with your contact and conversation. Love others wholeheartedly, truthfully and without reservation. We all know that loving others gives them the opportunity to hurt us, but I believe that is a chance worth taking.

Love yourself first.
This is something I am currently working on, and have yet to perfect. For the first time in my life, a friend of mine recently told me to stop trying to help him, and to help myself first. I try to live as selflessly as possible, always putting others desires before my own. As I stated before, my focus on living selflessly has become a way for me to avoid facing my own problems. I'm still learning how to balance taking care of myself without being selfish, but I finally understand how important it is that I take care of myself before I try to take care of others. It's a work in progress.

Life goes on.
As bad as things may seem, there is always the opportunity for life to be good again. You are never without hope. Rock bottom is an incredibly solid foundation to build your life on. The sun will rise again in the morning, the day will carry on, and you should too. I sincerely hope that none of you ever choose which day will be your last. There is so much to experience, and you deserve to see as much of the world as your heart desires. Life is hard, but it is so beautiful and rewarding. I would love for each of you to be able to enjoy this life as long as possible. Despite your past or mistakes, you deserve all the beauty this world has to offer. You're here for a reason. Be here.

My freshman year of college put me face to face with some of my biggest fears, and most difficult struggles. But the highs I experienced outweighed the lows by a landslide. I can't wait to be back in Boone in August, moving into my new house with two of my best friends. I am infinitely grateful to all the people who stood by my side and made my first year of college so successful. I can't wait to see what the mountains have in store for all of us in the future.
© Unapologetic
Maira Gall