Becoming Unseen

“So, are you guys, close? I mean, do you do stuff toge- is it easy to get to know your fellow classmates?…”

Every program tour went like this, and I wanted to kick myself for it. I’d shadow a physical therapy student around, meet faculty, and end the day with a Q&A. With each visit to a school, I tried to find a balance between ‘we’re going to be best buds!’ and ‘I’m a professional, here’s my resume to prove it’ as I asked them about their experiences- curriculum, clinical involvement, and eventual burnout. I always knew I would end with the query above, but I never managed to do so without a break in my voice or a preceding awkward silence. It felt like a very childish question. Will I have friends!? Can we hang out all the time and make each other hot cocoa and complain together about how much we hate grad school!??

I’ve always held friends in high esteem, but more than that, I find myself seeking a sense of community. I actively did not apply to schools where I thought it would be difficult to connect with my classmates on a level deeper than anything I could find in a textbook. Student panels that didn’t mention anything about intramural or social involvement made me nervous and the ones that featured a family-like atmosphere drew me in. Even the moment I moved to Indiana, I signed up for various volunteer opportunities in an effort to find others my age.

In her book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer recounts her feelings of jealousy and self-doubt. She relays the ease with which she made friends in high school, but how it all changed for her once she started comparing herself to the “beautiful” girls in school. I could relate on so many levels, and once she noted that she longed to be “seen,” I was sure. This is what I was missing.

I don’t mean that I want to be seen in a superficial sense of the word. I don’t need a gaggle of friends or 40k (is that even a lot these days?) followers on Instagram, but being seen is about feeling like you have a voice, one that is important wherever you are. That’s something I lost after leaving my undergraduate institution. In part, it was taken from me through the course of toxic relationships. I saw hints of gaining back my self-worth in my last semester in grad school, but leaving my friends behind and moving to Indiana soon after sent a fresh wave of loneliness.

I’m slowly building my support system in Indiana, but the closer I grow to people here, the more I worry about leaving it to move back to North Carolina. I’ve never been one to stick within the bounds of my comfort zone- I tend to move to a new city just as I become truly comfortable in the previous one and switched career paths halfway through grad school. Maybe it’s because I get bored easily, but I also know that I’ve matured most through my most difficult transitions.

Even so, leaving a place is never easy. Everywhere I have been has become a part of me in some way, shaping what steps (literally) I’ll take next. I felt at peace last summer, where I felt like I was seen for who I truly am- faults and redeeming qualities alike- but as summers do, it came to a sudden end and I was back to wondering where I fit in a community that had been growing for years before I arrived. I’m still learning. I still struggle to be seen, to feel at home here, but from what I’ve seen of 2017 so far, I’m going to be okay.

But that’s the thing. I know I’ll be leaving again. I’m so excited for the adventures awaiting me at Duke, but I won’t say “I can’t wait.” Because for now, I’m where I need to be. I’m where God intended for me to develop some part of my personality, some facet of my faith or work ethic. Maybe there’s someone here that will have a major impact on my life who I haven’t even met yet. And as I grow increasingly comfortable and true in my friendships, my work, and my own self-acceptance, I finally feel like I am once again allowing myself to be… seen.

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