Learning to let go

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This year, I learned a lot about letting go of things that are no longer right for me, no matter how much I love them.

I have written for The Spectrum for two full academic years. This newspaper has shaped and defined my college experience at UB. It gave me a home when I was a transfer student overwhelmed by this giant school. It provided a space for me to grow as a writer and a person, and I have made some of my closest friends here.

When I was a staff writer, the Spectrum editors saw my potential. After being rejected from the newspaper at my previous university three times, I cannot tell you how much it meant to have people believe in me and my writing.

I’ve called myself a writer for years with little to show for it. But The Spectrum has given me a space to finally live up to something I have called myself for years. It has given me the chance to tell some of my most personal stories, which has been simultaneously empowering and validating.

This paper gave me a voice, and I will never stop being grateful for that. It has shaped me into the person I am today, and in many ways helped me develop the courage and self-awareness to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life: stepping down from the editorial board.

When I was 16 years old, I sat in a state psychiatric facility that would be my home for the next few months. A woman in a white coat asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. Despite dark circles under my eyes, unwashed hair and arms littered with self-inflicted cuts, I suddenly sat up straighter before answering her question. With an unexpectedly self-assured voice, I replied matter-of-factly, “I am going to be a political correspondent for CNN.”

I may not have made it to CNN, but I’ve lived out my journalistic aspirations here at The Spectrum over the past two years. It might be a college newspaper, but I did real reporting. There was a time when psychiatrists placed brochures for group homes and residential treatment facilities in front of me, uncertain I could ever lead a “normal” life.

I wish they could see me now.I’ve come farther than I could’ve ever imagined as a mentally unwell teenager.

I’m a high school dropout. My parents didn’t go to college. I was never supposed to make it this far. And The Spectrum has played a huge role in helping me grow into the accomplished, talented young woman I am today; one who placed as a finalist for a national journalism award, who is an editor for her student newspaper, who lives on her own. I have become a young woman I barely recognize in the best possible way.

It’s the same young woman who is mature and self-aware in ways my teenage self could never have imagined. It’s the part of myself that can see no matter how much I adore this newspaper, the level of commitment it requires has taken a huge toll on my mental health and academic performance. I am the type of person who gives her all when she loves something, to the detriment of my own well-being at times.

I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life while I was going to community college and working as a barista. I was a solid B+ student and a decent food service worker. And I was happy. Because I loved myself, I prioritized myself and I knew I was not defined by my job.

On the surface, I was “happier” here. I was in a serious relationship, but it was incredibly toxic. I maintained an editor position at the student newspaper. But I have not been truly happy in a long time because I’ve been lying to myself about what I can handle. I’ve defined myself as a journalist first, and Maddy Fowler, a complex and interesting human being outside of what she does for work second. That is never healthy.

I left that toxic relationship in November, and I’ve spent the past six months getting to know myself again and learning what it means to prioritize and love myself the way I used to. And that means making difficult, painful decisions. It means letting go of things that no longer serve me, while taking the time to be grateful for the important lessons these experiences provided.

Thank you to Gabi for seeing my potential and believing in me and for being the best role model I could ask for, both as a person and a journalist. Thank you to Dan for understanding me in ways no one else ever has, and for always being there to provide laughter and friendship whenever I need it. Thank you to Brent for being my favorite person to talk about pop music and attend concerts with, and for being a genuinely wonderful friend and person. Thank you to Ben for always being such a vocal supporter of my writing. Thank you to Pierce for being the best Broadway duet partner a girl could ask for. Thank you to Jody for being more than just an adviser, but one of my biggest cheerleaders and like a second mother to me.

And of course, to Emma, my best friend, my confidant and radiant sunshine in human form. I could not have gotten through this year without you. Thank you for everything.

And to the entire team –– I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you. I will never stop being grateful for my time at this newspaper. This was more than just a job to me; it became a second home and a family.

I’ve loved my time as a journalist, but I am looking forward to opportunities to explore other avenues, and most importantly, having the time to get to know myself again. I’ll always have stories to tell, and you might see the occasional byline from me in the future.

But for now, I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.

Maddy Fowler is the editorial editor and can be reached at maddy.fowler@ubspectrum.com