Pretty and Witty and Gay: It might not “get better”

How I’ve learned to handle life’s hardest challenges and still succeed

The other day, I was talking with a good friend of mine. She was telling me about the struggles she was having with money, with her health, with her family, with school. After pausing to take a breath, she looked at me, suggesting I respond. I gave her some practical advice, but before I did that, I uttered to her one of the most useless phrases in the world of comforting others: It gets better.

After saying that, I caught myself and explained what I meant: that things always change, and this bad thing that happened won’t happen forever. But in the past few days, I’ve been thinking more and more about the “it gets better” sentiment.

Recently, Claire Barnett published an article in which student leaders (myself included) shared our imperfections. This was a much-needed article, and I’m grateful to have been part of it. I wanted to talk a little bit more about my experiences, though, in the spirit of honesty and transparency.

My first two years here were miserable. Coming to terms with my own identity worsened my already severe mental health issues. I remember sobbing because I was failing classes. I remember locking myself in dorm practice rooms all day to try to just escape. There were times when I would dissociate and wind up on the sidewalks of busy streets. During my sophomore year, I stopped taking all of my medication. I couldn’t shower, do my laundry, brush my teeth or eat. I stopped going to class. I could not focus for any amount of time on anything, which meant that I never completed any assignments. I took incompletes that I later failed because I just couldn’t do the work. In combination with a great deal of financial issues, I failed out of so many classes that I nearly had my financial aid revoked.

I write this today knowing that while I have so much more work to do on myself, and while I am approximately 70 pages worth of writing away from completing my 19-hour semester, I am in a better place. I take my medication. I brush my teeth every day. I do my laundry every Monday morning. I am in a wildly different– and wildly better– place than I was two years ago.

So when I had this conversation with my friend, what I should’ve told her was that it might not get better, but it will get different. She can try new ways of handling things every day. She can read books or websites on how to help with different issues. She can talk to people who specialize in helping people like her cope with issues. She is learning and growing and changing every day without even trying, and that means that even if no events in her life are objectively any better, the way she handles those events changes.

I’m still struggling with my identity and the consequences that come with being out as queer. And I’m still struggling with the reality that my mental illnesses will most likely affect me for the rest of my life. I’m broke (pretty much constantly), and I should definitely not be eating gluten or lactose. But by trying new things– different calendars, different therapists, different friends, different partners, different majors, different classes, different websites, different hobbies, different shampoo– I slowly learned how to claw my way out of my darkest pits of depression.

I write this column knowing how hard life can be. Hell, it can kick the shit out of you. I know it almost killed me (several times). I also know that if you just hang on– if you just keep pushing– something will change. So no, it might not get better. But it sure as hell will get different.

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Mac Ploetz

Mac Ploetz (’18) is majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. He is the 2017-18 President of the Vanderbilt Lambda Association, Vanderbilt’s undergraduate gender, sexuality, and intersex alliance, and he’s in his third year as a Sex Educator in Vandy Sex Ed. He has spent his time at Vanderbilt discovering and affirming his identity as a transgender person, and he works to help others affirm their identities as well. In his free time, Mac enjoys eating $30 worth of McDonald’s and watching poorly-produced mid-2000s YouTube documentaries.

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