This past year, I went to school in the city of Salem, Oregon at a school I’m sure none of you have ever heard of- Willamette University (roll bearcats). Growing up and living in MA for my entire life, there was so much I didn’t know about Oregon. In case any of you are also in that same boat, here are a few fun facts about the state! It rains about 165 days out of the year, and almost all of those days happen from December to March. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that during my spring semester, there were maybe 14 sunny days. You think you like rain, and then you move to Oregon and everything changes!
As I’m sure many of you can relate to, I really struggle with change and transitions. My parents will tell me stories of how hard it used to be to get me to go anywhere. I would cry and cry and cry some more, unable to articulate that I was really just feeling anxious. The way these stories- and there are many of them- end is pretty much the same every time. I got to whatever thing or event I was so worked up about, and I ended up having an awesome time.
Even though I don’t typically cry for an hour before I have to leave my house now, I still struggle with the same feelings of intense anxiety. A crippling fear of the unknown and the lack of control that I often feel works against my happy and bubbly personality, as if they’re fighting a battle inside of my head.
Although I have, for the most part, learned a lot of great ways to cope with these feelings, they of course still get to me sometimes. Bouncing back to the unfathomable amount of rain in Oregon, the dreary and wet days were often the hardest times for me to cope with transitions.
One particular day always sticks out to me from this past semester. I woke up a little behind schedule, so I had to rush to get ready for my 9am anatomy class. As I sometimes did, I forgot my raincoat. My campus was small, my walk to class was only 8 minutes. No big deal, right? Wrong. The way to class was okay, the rain hadn’t really picked up yet. After an excruciatingly long lecture on the muscles and compartments of the lower leg, I was ready to go home and curl up into a ball. The minute I stepped foot outside, though, it was like the floodgates opened and dumped the entire Pacific ocean on my head.
When I say drenched, I really mean that I was drenched. Soaking wet from head to toe within 30 seconds. As I started my walk back home, same as always, something felt different. All over again I felt like that little girl who couldn’t do anything but cry uncontrollably. So, I did.
On my 8 minute walk back, I absolutely sobbed. I’m talking boogers coming out of my nose, eyes so puffy it was hard to see, gasping for air sobbing. I was so beyond overwhelmed by everything going on. The rain was so heavy I could hardly see where I was going, and I just felt like every little stressor and sad moment that had been building up for the weeks and months leading up to that day exploded inside of me.
I decided to stop at the less busy of 2 coffee shops on my campus to dry off for a minute and collect myself in a quiet corner. When I walked in, I was greeted, as I was every time I went in there, to a quote. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good quote. But, this one in particular really got to me. As I stood there, soaked to the bone and freezing cold, the chalkboard screamed in neon letters, “you can’t control the weather, so you must learn to dance in the rain.”
Although it’s a seemingly innocent and positive quote, it really got to me that day. There I was, just to reiterate once more- drenched in rainwater and tears, and instead of making me feel better it only made me feel worse. I couldn’t, and still can’t control the weather. I can’t control what happens to me- good or bad. Unfair things happen every day, even to the best and kindest of people.
If the “dance in the rain” mentality works for you, that is so wonderful and I absolutely support you and hope you kartwheel and twirl every time you need to. For me, that’s just not how it works. As has everyone, I’ve had my fair share of sticky situations in my life, many of which I had absolutely no power over. Upsetting, scary, and just all around unfortunate things happen to everyone. And, so often as a society we push the message that positivity is the only answer. The only appropriate response to terrible things is to dance in the stormy weather.
I’m not like that. When sad things happen to me, I feel a whole lot of everything. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I take a long shower, sometimes I lay on the floor of my counselors quarters just to catch my breath. And that’s okay. Whether or not I want it to, the rain has and will continue to come. So, I will continue to feel all of my feelings, however that may look on any given day.
It’s more than okay to not feel happy all the time. However you may feel in this moment, or any moment, is okay. Having emotions is not a weakness, it’s a strength. Experiencing the ups and downs of this life is the world’s greatest privilege. Without the rain, we would never truly appreciate the sun.
In case you’re wondering, I did get back to my dorm and continue crying for a few minutes, and then I picked myself up. I peeled off my wet clothes, took a hot shower, and put on dry sweatpants. I’m not ashamed that I didn’t dance, I’m proud that I felt my feelings as they came and so that I could effectively move on. I know I’ll never be a dance through the rain enthusiast, and that’s okay. I’m a hot shower and dry sweatpants enthusiast, and after a long long time, I’m okay with that.
I’m no longer the little girl who can’t get out the door for lacrosse practice without sobbing, terrified that if anyone saw my tears I would be viewed as weak. I’m a strong woman whose power is not limited by her emotions, but strengthened. And, to end on a happy note, the day after this story took place was sunny. So, no matter how stormy the weather may look, I pinky promise that eventually, the sun will rise, and you’ll come out even stronger on the other side.