When I started my first semester of college in the fall of 2013, I was eager, excited, anxious, and a bit fearful like anyone else. My parents went to college outside of the United States and I was the first in my family to embark on such a different journey. During the first semester, I signed up for calculus, general chemistry I, cellular biology, and English 101. It was quite the workload, but I felt confident in myself. I cheered myself on, especially every other morning when I had to wake up at 5:30am to make it to my 7:30am English class. As the days passed by, the curriculum got harder and the commute to and from campus became more difficult. I would sit in my general chemistry class completely confused so I would seek help during office hours, but still nothing made sense to me. I convinced myself that maybe college wasn’t for me. That although I had potential in high school, maybe that’s as far as it went. Everything started to slip away from me; I found myself barely making assignment deadlines, and dreading every class. Even the thought of socializing was extremely agonizing for me.
I remember sitting in my chemistry class one afternoon and contemplating whether or not I should go to my advisor and just drop out. Not just out of my chemistry class, or the College of Science, but drop out of college. My first semester had become such a nightmare, and I couldn’t explain to anyone what was going on with me because I really couldn’t figure it out myself. One night after I came home from classes I decided to head to bed a bit earlier since sleeping had become the only thing that interested me. I was brushing my teeth and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor with my mother hovering over me, freaking out. My heart started to race and I was just lost. All I could think of was making it to my chemistry lab in the morning. The next day I went to my physician and he diagnosed me with mononucleosis (mono) caused by Epstein-Barr virus. I was in shock. How could this be? It’s known as “the kissing disease” and I had yet to even hold hands with a guy that I liked.
With my limited knowledge, I kept looking over and over the lab results. A part of me was in denial but something inside me wanted to accept it. It all finally made sense. I spent hours reading up on mono and its symptoms. The virus, which prevalent among high schoolers and college students, doesn’t usually show symptoms until four to eight weeks after the infection. It may also cause anxiety and depression, as well as feelings of fatigue, and muscle weakness. There isn’t any type of treatment other than managing the symptoms with rest, hydration and over the counter pain medications.
I was glad I’d solved the mystery with the help of my physician but that wasn’t the end. Quite frankly, that was the start of my battle. How was I going to overcome this? My immune system had weakened so over the next few months I was very prone to minor viral infections. I fell into depression and endless anxiety. It was a battle where I was constantly wounded without any recovery. There were days where I couldn’t handle my illness and the constant pressure of staying on top of my school work. And my classes were getting harder as the semester went by. Mono made me feel so heavy and unproductive, but I kept pushing and telling myself that this isn’t me and that this doesn’t define my success. Not today or in the future.
I somehow managed to pass all of my classes that semester but not with the grades I wanted. It was difficult for me to look at my transcript and not be upset with what happened. I went from being a spectacular student to merely average. I never thought that something that was completely out of my control but would affect me so heavily.
Eventually, I pulled through from the situation but it was extremely difficult. It took a lot of self-motivation, a lot of tears, and a lot of dreadful mornings. I never received a pep talk from anyone or have a life changing moment in class. It was that the little things throughout the day made me motivated to keep on pushing. There were days where a simple “good job on your chemistry report” gave me the extra push I needed to get by. I started to live day by day. My goal was just to finish what I needed to do, barely meeting deadlines.
What truly helped was my passion for my biology major and for medicine. Biology has been my companion, my zealousness for it became my motivation that pushed me forward. I had to believe in the legitimacy of my dream of becoming a doctor; I had to convince myself that this was not going to ruin my chances already. I was still on my way to doing what I love, and this hardship was only going to make me stronger.
Although it has been almost three years since it happened, there are still marks of it on my transcript and on my habits. Sometimes I catch myself overthinking, overanalyzing and giving into anxiety. But I try not to let it bring me down. Rather, I wear it as a medal that I earned because I didn’t let this one event define me nor crumble my passion.
To me, this obstacle merely tested how resilient I could be. I know I’m not always going to be perfect; I will make mistakes. It’s what makes me human and what makes me feel so deeply and love so passionately. I don’t focus on where and how I messed up, or how life mistreated me, but rather how I kept my poker face on and stayed focused when the ocean waves gathered around me.
About Yasamin Rahmani
Yasamin Rahmani is an undergraduate student and a peer mentor at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia. She is currently pursuing her Bachelors of Science in Biology, and aspires to become an Emergency Physician. Yasamin’s parents are immigrants from Kabul, Afghanistan, and, after spending a small portion of time in Tashkent, she moved with her family to Moscow where she spent majority of her childhood. At the age of ten Yasamin moved to the United States, where her affinity for the field of medicine came to fruition. While moving from country to country, Yasamin refined her language skills and is fluent in Farsi, French and Russian. Aside from her passion for medicine, Yasamin takes part in cultural understanding and historical research about Afghanistan. Some of her publications include co-authoring Afghan Proverbs Illustrated Russian-Dari, from which all profits are donated to literacy courses in Afghanistan, as well as co-editing Art through the Ages in Afghanistan. Yasamin hopes to use her diverse background and her love of medicine as tools in the rapid globalization of the field medicine. During her free time, Yasamin significantly enjoys writing, dancing, volunteering and being involved in philanthropy projects.