Let’s rewind back to the summer of 2014. I was in the midst of my senior year of nursing school taking classes, working, and doing my best to survive the New York City summertime heat. While working on an assignment one evening, my mother called me to say that my uncle had been in a near-fatal motorcycle accident. He was put onto a ventilator and had to endure an extensive hospital stay. This news was incredibly upsetting and unexpected. I have always been close with my uncle and couldn’t help but feel devastated.

I pushed on through my classes and day-to-day routine, but I noticed that I was suddenly sleeping more, eating less, and often feeling unfocused and unmotivated. I chalked it up to stress from school and work, especially since it was my last year and I was expected to graduate that upcoming spring. Reaching out for help was a fleeting thought, and I firmly decided that I could handle these feelings on my own.

Turns out, I was wrong. Feeling down, unmotivated, and overwhelmed consumed me. I received a C minus in one of my summer classes, which coupled with a C minus that I had received earlier in my nursing school career. For a while everything felt so slow, but suddenly it was as if I were thrown into a time-lapse getting caught up with reality. I frantically reached out to my academic advisor who monotonously told me that if I was struggling with a personal issue I should have spoken up sooner and that two C minuses are not acceptable in the program, but I could speak with my professor directly about the grade. There was hope. Except there wasn’t, because my professor would not budge on the matter. With that being said, I was kicked out of nursing school the fall of my senior year.

My recently furnished dorm room had to be dismantled—clothing back in suitcases, photos taken off the walls. I had to say goodbye to my roommates who were confused and concerned. I had to say goodbye to my friends of four years. The reality that I would not be graduating after years of hard work crushed me.

I experienced panic like never before. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, couldn’t feel anything but my lungs constricting. I felt like I was going to explode. A counselor diagnosed me with both panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

I moved back home and tried to figure out what to do next in a frenzied state. No nursing school would accept someone who was dismissed for poor academic performance. The panic attacks only got worse. I was having them at least three times per day. Most people would have given up at this point and settled for less, but I had always known that nursing is the only career I wanted for myself. I would not settle, no matter how much I was hurting, no matter how impossible things seemed.

I began seeing a regular therapist in an effort to get my life back on track. Things seemed to be improving. During the winter of 2015, about four months after my dismissal, I was driving home from a therapy session down a road I’ve known my whole life. Suddenly, a car pulled out in front of me, taking me off-guard. I slammed on my breaks, but it was too late. I smashed into the car head on. My insides were screaming panic, but I couldn’t move. Bystanders got out of their cars to help, but my doors were locked and could not be opened. People were asking me through my window if I could move my legs and I didn’t know if I could. I heard sirens and thought to myself, “I have to be dreaming.” Paramedics had to cut through the top of my car, hoist me out, and strap me to a board that was put into the ambulance. More panic.

Though I questioned my faith during that time, I thankfully left the hospital banged up and bruised, but not detrimentally damaged. I sustained a treatable back injury. After my recovery, I applied for a job at an urgent care clinic because I wanted to maintain medical practice in my life. I thought it would help, both with my practice as a future medical care provider as well as my emotional state. I was happy to get the position, but that meant having to drive again. During that period of time, my drives to work consisted of multiple instances of having to pull over and having countless panic attacks. But I got there. I kept up with both my therapy sessions for the anxiety and physical therapy for my back.

That spring, I attended the graduation ceremony of the friends I was forced to leave behind. I can’t begin to describe how happy I felt for them. At the same time, I worried that they would end up leaving me behind. I felt that in a way, they already were. I felt awkward being with them in public because I didn’t want people from outer circles asking questions that I was too embarrassed to answer. I didn’t know how to fit in anymore with my best friends. This caused panic that I cannot forget.

Rather than closing in on myself, I mustered up the courage to apply back to the same nursing school that I was dismissed from for entrance the upcoming fall semester. I was asked back for an interview, which I graciously accepted and prepared for rigorously. On the day of my interview, I walked into a familiar building unable to control my shaking body. As I sat across from my old professors, I was asked what will be different this time around, should they allow me back. I told them the truth. I spoke about my journey dealing with anxiety and ways that I am now able to manage it, though it goes without saying that it is challenging. I highlighted my relentless drive to be a nurse, and that if the past year wasn’t enough to stop me, then nothing ever could. I was accepted back into the program; my faith was slowly being restored.

I was taking classes with students who had known each other their entire nursing school careers. I also struggled to grasp the material at first, being that I was rusty from having to take time off. I felt disoriented and like an outsider, but I didn’t let that distract me from achieving greatness. I made the dean’s list at the university that only a year ago had told me that I wasn’t good enough. I eventually made friends with my classmates and strengthened the relationships with my old friends.

That May, I graduated proudly. All my friends and family were there to support me. Panic took the backseat.

After passing the NCLEX, I worked in a couple of different clinics and health systems gaining invaluable experience. Despite my fear of rejection, I applied and was accepted into a master’s program for midwifery. I now happily work at a fertility clinic and am excited to graduate the midwifery program stronger than ever. I have discovered my interests within the nursing field, which include researching the United States’ shockingly high maternal mortality rates and normalizing breastfeeding, especially among women of color.

Now, I have been invited to become a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Once more, I have to ask myself whether I’m dreaming, only this time it’s under completely different circumstances. I won’t lie, a sense of underlying anxiety persists within me, but I can now recognize that I have valuable coping mechanisms that I have learned through therapy, a group of friends and family members who are my rocks, and a sense of proudness and empowerment in what I have accomplished that cannot be taken away. I am eager to make my mark on the field of nursing. I can’t wait for what will come next.

Rachel Robins, BSN, RN

Rachel Robins, BSN, RN, is a fertility nurse at Extend Fertility and a nursing tutor with Upswing. She is currently earning a Master of Science in Nurse Midwifery at SUNY Downstate Medical Center with an expected graduation date of May 2020.

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