Photo of Paula & Julia by a school friend
I wake up to a firm ray of sunlight bursting through my dormitory window on July 2nd, 2019. I can’t wait to finally see my family after what feels like years. Suddenly, an inexplicable feeling of heaviness fills my chest, making it hard to get out of bed. ̈Could this be happiness? ̈ I thought. I try to distract myself but my head spirals, wondering why, on a day I’ve been waiting for so eagerly, I feel like the world is about to collapse. After breakfast, I’m summoned by my counselor. I find myself in his office with six other classmates who, just like me, are talking excitedly about going home. Before I can find the connection between the seven of us, he takes out a white sheet of paper from his folder. I will never forget the acerbity in his eyes before dropping the bomb. “On the 30th of June, Julia K…” I shut down and feel my body and head detach sharply. The heaviness in my heart consumes me. I’m paralyzed. My tears flow uncontrollably as my soul shatters. Only one piercing thought shudders through my mind: “She’s gone.”
Julia was my best friend, and probably the most brilliant and selfless person I’ve ever met. Julia suffered from severe depression, among other mental health issues, during the last three years of her life. We both had been struggling separately, and when we met, we found a deep friendship that we each had been longing for so desperately. We just clicked. In the years after her passing, I was consumed by an inner war— Julia’s voice demanding I live for her— against the heavy guilt that was suffocating my soul. I felt like a coward for having said I refused to live without her, but there I was, all alone with one decision to make that could change everything. For a few years, I cycled through various stages of my grief: rebellion, apathy, isolation, and, worst of all, rage. I fell into a dark hole too deep, and frankly, I didn’t see the point in climbing out. I feared finding something that would make me want to live, something that made me truly happy again. With time, I realized that the decisions you make after a traumatic event have the power to define you. Blaming myself for things that were beyond my control was paralyzing, but it was also the easy option. I could give up and throw my life away thinking I wasn’t enough, or I could choose to fight. Julia’s battle was over, but I was ready for mine.
Living vividly with grief from an early age defined me, but it was the belief in my potential to serve others that saved me and helped me retake control of my life. Since I was a kid, I’ve been captivated by the human brain and its complexity, but only since Julia’s departure have I understood that helping others was my life’s mission. My love for psychology has changed my perspective on every one of my surroundings, and at large, my life. In my healing, I accepted that it wasn’t my fault. I was just a kid playing a grown-up. Even though I tried my best, nothing I could have done would have saved her then. I learned how to cope, and I understood, once and for all, that life is not just about surviving obstacles but seeing each hard moment as an opportunity to become a better version of yourself. My struggle with grief turned out to be the source of my determination and devotion to save others in the future. I now know that I am incredibly passionate about understanding human psychology and supporting people to find their purpose and discover themselves, for it was finding my purpose and self-love in my own life that saved me. Who knows? In another life that could’ve been me…I could’ve been Julia.
Paula Lurueña Marquez – for application to study Psychology at University in the US
(and she has since been accepted at her dream university!)
Received on 3rd November 2022
(All words, other than the title, are Paula’s)