June 18, 2024

As I prepare to remain at the Duke University Marine Lab (DUML) for the summer, I remember how much crap I went through this past school year to just physically get to North Carolina.

Frankly, I think everyone can say that this whole school year has been a mother-f***ing struggle. Each day brought its own annoyances or bothers, and mostly were about my face sweating uncomfortably behind my mask or someone standing close to me who happens to cough.

I recall so much and so little, and honestly, I’m glad past me decided to block out certain points. I’d truly be frightened if I remembered it all because there’s so much about this past year I would like to forget: my first true heartbreak, the nervous, chaotic evening of election night, that one night out that ended horribly, and many other small moments that I just hate myself for.

The levels of stress and anxiety definitely pushed me past my breaking point multiple times, each resulting in self-destructive acts or just plainly having mental, tear-heavy breakdowns in random locations. If you ever witnessed one of my breakdowns because you simply walked in or I was with you when it happened, first, I am sorry to have put you through that, and second, thank you for just making sure I was alive. I couldn’t have made it through without you, honestly.

And that was all in the fall semester. A lot happened that specifically made me want to get out of Wittenberg, so that’s why I am so thankful that the DUML opportunity came through.

Before that, a side anecdote. To my fellow Torch friends: thank you for putting up with not just my crap, but all the crap we endured over the past year. I know it wasn’t easy for any of us. Bless you for all you’ve done. Braeden, if you’re reading this, you were my rock and were always there. I could never ask any more of you, so here’s to many more years of being the best of friends, my dude.

At DUML, I found so much clarity. I’ve definitely said this before, but it needs to be said again: Wittenberg has a toxic aura to it. It sucks people in, giving a protective ‘bubble’ vibe to incoming freshmen. Little do those freshmen know that the air in that ‘bubble’ is poisonous, causing misery to just infect all inside. Don’t get me wrong—there are so many things about Wittenberg that I love, or at least I did love at one point. I’ve seen a lot of those lovely things just fade away never to be seen again, so I too slowly feel my love for the university to fade.

DUML came to my rescue, literally saving my mental health. Yes, being apart from my Torch buds, marine science friends and KD sisters was really hard. I missed them every day. I don’t think I would have recovered as much as I did if I had not taken the semester off from Wittenberg.

Now, I can confidently say that I need a therapist and I need help sorting things out. I’ve never been one to ask for help. I’ve always been one to take tasks upon myself to complete all on my own. I’ve learned that I am happiest when I’m learning about things I truly love while around people who not only understand my intense drive for efficiency, but who also appreciate me as a person and my quirks. The DUML and its people have become such a safe space, something I don’t think I can say about Wittenberg anymore, at least not location-wise.

Additionally, I’d like to say I’ve learned to relax, but that may be wrong. I have learned, however, how to take just a minute or two to appreciate what’s in front of me. It’s truly eye-opening and new, and now I don’t always have to be gunning to get a job done as fast as possible. I can take a step back, admire my work or a beautiful landscape and then go forward with the day. Going thrift shopping, kayaking, hiking or to the beach even livens my spirits. The air felt clean and like a new set of decontaminated lungs had replaced my clogged organs.

Academically, this spring semester was stressful, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Everything I did was completely new and taught in new directions than Wittenberg’s classes. Professors were laid back, had us call them by their first names, preferred text communication to email and often joked around with us undergraduates during labs. I never knew what the next day would bring, especially on days that included dissections or field trips to the surrounding islands. My independent study and other projects went phenomenal, for it was an amazing experience to conduct my own research and work with so many highly respected professors, biologists and ecologists. I am truly grateful for all the opportunities I was given.

It hurts me to know that I will be parting with the friends I made here. We all hope to stay in touch when we go back to our main campuses. A lot of my friends are returning to the DUML in the fall, so hopefully I can sneak back down for a few days just for old time’s sake to see them, the water and the island cats.

Finally, I have the opportunity to keep breathing clean aura that surrounds the marine lab and Beaufort, NC. I’ll stay the majority of the summer taking a course and working with some professors on a research project about parasites in mud snails. I am very much looking forward to it, because who could say no to staying a place that makes them so happy, safe and free?

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