Life Gets Better After High School. This Is My Story.

Flickr / hans van den berg
Flickr / hans van den berg

Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: Does life get better after high school? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.

It does get better.  I know people say that all the time, sort of like a cliché, “Trust me, it gets better!”  Let me SHOW you how it gets better, and let me TEACH you how YOU can MAKE IT BETTER.

When I was 14, I fractured my spine playing hockey.  I cannot explain to you how badly I wanted to make it to the NHL.  I was the kid that woke up at the crack of dawn, laced up my roller blades, and refused to take them off for the entire day.  I would skate inside at noon to eat my macaroni and cheese.  My mom would yell at me because I would leave skid marks on the floors.  I would sit in the family room and watch Mighty Ducks over and over again, holding my hockey stick in my hands, acting out my favorite scenes.  This was me, every year since I was five years old, every summer, all the time.  I couldn’t get enough.  Playing in the NHL, to me, was like being a gladiator in real life.

When I fractured my spine, my dream fell apart.  I laid up in bed for weeks.  The irony here is that my father is actually a spine surgeon.  My fracture was too small to operate on, but big enough to essentially destroy any future career I had playing hockey—mostly because the injury came in my most pivotal years.  A year off from the sport at 14 put me so far behind other kids my age, that I was pretty much done for.  So you can imagine the rage that started to build up in me, feeling like here my dad could heal everyone else in the world with an operation, but he couldn’t help his own son.

I started playing World of Warcraft because I was in a back brace for four months. I channeled my anger and my fears into that video game, escaping the pain of my reality by obsessing over my progression in the game.  At some point, it turned into more than that though, and even when my back was healed, I couldn’t let go.  World of Warcraft had become my new sport, and I wanted to pursue a career in professional gaming, or game development, something along those lines.  My parents, both extremely successful and overbearing (like yours), pressuring me to succeed in more conventional ways, were DISGUSTED by my decision.  They made every effort to stop me, but I pressed on regardless.  Every day, I was called an addict, a kid “wasting his life,” and every day, I snuck around the house to get in more hours chasing my dream of becoming a professional gamer.

By the time I was 17-years old, I was one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America.

I had a 3v3 team sponsor.  My gaming blog was one of the most popular Mage strategy blogs on the Internet, and I had an active reader fan base of ~10,000 readers.  I started freelance writing gaming articles for money, and for 10 hours of work a week I was making about $150.  Not bad for a kid in high school.  None of this my parents found to be very impressive, and instead of seeing my success and supporting me, they demanded I get a job at the local ice cream parlor working for minimum wage.  This made it EVEN HARDER for me to find time to practice and pursue my dreams.

When college rolled around, they basically gave me an ultimatum.  Either I quit the game and they send me to college, or they don’t send me to college and I go support myself and I can “play video games all I want.”  I chose college, and the decision wrecked me.

The only thing in my life that mattered to me, the thing I loved more than anything else in the world, was gone, and I didn’t know how to cope.  I tried playing in secret, opening my own bank account while away at school and continuing to play, but one day my parents called and said they’d found my gaming blog online (how, I’ll never know).  They called it garbage and said if they found out I was still playing, they were going to yank everything and bring me home.

I coped in very destructive ways.  I quit the game, and rebelled in a way I knew they would hate. I started drinking and smoking and popping pills and purposefully destroying my life so that I could prove to them that my original intention of becoming a professional gamer wasn’t so bad after all.

This didn’t work, obviously.  Instead, I found myself in a rehab group a year later canoeing 320 miles through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico for a month. I had nothing.  I hadn’t seen my friends in forever.  My parents hated me.  They had pulled my siblings aside and told them that I was a terrible human being never to be trusted again.  They told all our family friends that I was a drug addict and that hopefully this trip would “fix” me.  It was the low point of my life.  I felt alone and I felt abandoned and in that hole of depression I realized that nothing, absolutely nothing in my life was going to change unless I MADE IT CHANGE MYSELF.

When I came back from that trip, my family acted like God had just saved me. I was fixed!  Hurrah!  I saw that and it killed me inside, because I knew now the future was on me.  I could either give in and succumb to their game, or I could rise above it.  So I did.

I got into bodybuilding shortly after, and transferred colleges to an art school downtown Chicago—I needed to get away from my friends, all of whom were still using drugs quite regularly.

For two years, I kept completely to myself.  I rarely went to any college parties at my new art school, and the ones I did go to, I left early and stayed sober.  I meditated every morning, and I journaled every night.  I spent a lot of time reflecting on my mistakes, questioning where I could improve and then finding ways to act in a more positive direction.

When I started lifting weights, I found the friends I needed to find. I found other people who didn’t drink, who didn’t smoke, who wanted to better themselves too.  I was studying creative writing during the day, and I was practicing bodybuilding at night.  Slowly but surely, my life was turning around.

By the time I graduated college, I was a completely different person.  The shy, unhappy, manic-depressive teenager you see on the left of that photo was long gone, and in his place stood a 23 year old who knew who he was, through and through.  I no longer cared what my family or the people around me thought of my pursuits.  I did what I loved, and I didn’t need their approval.  I just put my head down and kept focused on myself, knowing and trusting that as long as I kept doing the work for ME, then I would do nothing but keep improving, and keep walking a better path.

Life since then for me has been completely different. Because I MADE IT DIFFERENT.

So, to answer your question: Does it get better?  Yes.  It absolutely gets better.  It gets better as soon as you decide you are going to MAKE IT GET BETTER NO MATTER WHAT.  It gets better when you wake up every dayDEMANDING THAT IT GETS BETTER NO MATTER WHAT.  It gets better when you have the COURAGE TO SAY “THIS IS WHO I AM.”

If you need someone to believe in you, I believe in you.  I believe in you because I know what you’re feeling, and I can tell you that as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, holding in your vision who it is you want to become, you will get there. Slowly but surely, you will get there.

IT DOES GET BETTER. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

This answer originally appeared at Quora: The best answer to any question. Ask a question, get a great answer. Learn from experts and get insider knowledge.

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