WRiter + Editor

While the sun set fire to newfound summer lovers, life set fire to my mind. Outside boats jetted down the Willamette River, music and laughter filled the air dancing with the heat, and a bunch of friends made memories to reminisce on it all. Inside I trapped myself in my room with closed curtains to withdraw from human interaction in order to scratch an itch in my brain; An obstacle that limited my experience of life. They were faced with the resistance of the wind from speeding boats and the worries of being sunburnt. I was faced with the rumination of unanswered questions of my identity, life, anxiety, and purpose bringing worry to mind.


Before summer 2015 started, I dropped out of college. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go in life but I didn’t feel connected to myself to instill passion into the process of pursuing it. I had a fragile understanding of who I was and where I fit in this world. My identity had always been wrapped up in athletics and that ended prematurely due to three knee ligament tears and four surgical incisions. I was facing a blank canvas open for colorful self-expression. But who was I to express outside of what I’d been the past 15 years of my life?


This brought the pressure of more anxiety as I got trapped in this cycle of being detached from the world and worrying about being too removed to enjoy life. It was uncomfortable. I wanted to be outside with my friends in the sun. I wanted to be in school learning. I also knew I’d be a slave to my anxiety, unhealthy mind, and lack of self-identity if I didn’t deal with it.


One day I got off from my summer job and I went to Powells. I bought fiction books, books on anxiety, Psychology books, biographies, classic literature, and Philosophy books. I spent about $160 on used books then went to buy notebooks and pens. My room became my cave. My escape away from the world. My laboratory to conduct my research and studies on the problems I faced. 


For three months in the silence of my room and the chaos of my mind, I read stories of great men and women, both real and fictional, who faced adversities and pushed through them. I filled my thoughts of my anxieties and emotions into notebooks. When I got brave enough, I started to expose myself to the things that scared me the most. It was scary. I fell. Often. But I got up. And I grew. After those three months, I had a foundation and understanding of what I needed to do in order to get to a point where I could go back to school to focus on what I wanted to commit my life to. 


This foundation took me backpacking around the world. It gave me the opportunity to work for Nike as a Fit Model for the past five years. It led me to many experiences that have helped solidify my understanding of self and the passion I put towards my pursuits. It brought me to a point of feeling ready to step back into the university education setting. So I did. 


This winter term 2020, I emerged from the cave I created within my mind wielding the fire that once drowned it. I re-enrolled full time at the University of Oregon to finish my undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Creative Writing. Education has always been important to the development in the quality of the life I experience. Because I left college preemptively, it’s been lingering in my mind as something I left unfinished. I’d hate to go through life without ever checking the box of obtaining a college degree. Plus, it’s a necessary step in order to progress further into a Masters in Psychology. The end game with my educational journey is to become a psychiatrist with a focus on botanical & naturopathic medicine and psychotherapeutic methods as a means to help people connect their bodies with their minds and both with their souls. But no matter where life takes me, I will always have a pen and paper at the ready to write.


I like to think that that summer I committed to becoming a psychiatrist and scientist even without conscious awareness of where I was stepping. While not formal or in the hospital or the therapeutic setting, I did a lot of introspective and scholarly research on anxiety, depression, and the philosophy of life and death. I became a scientist and researcher of data and emotions analytically thinking on how to apply it all to my life by testing and refining my theories. I became my own therapist and partook in psychotherapy through writing my thoughts in journals, analyzing those thoughts, questioning the framework of my mind, and putting myself in uncomfortable situations with exposure therapy ultimately climbing myself out of what would have consumed my existence.


Away from education, I’ve started my own endeavors in botany. I’m currently growing my own indoor garden to understand how fruits, vegetables, and herbs grow in order to concoct my own herbal medicine for personal practice on myself. I’m also interested in studying plants at the cellular level. My next steps involve getting a microscope and journal to document my findings. In order to support my career goal and this hobby, I’m also taking the minor path for Biology next year at the U of O.


I reflect a lot on that summer and where I’d be if I didn’t deviate from school and isolate myself in order to connect my body, mind, and soul. I wonder who I would have become if I didn’t take time to introspect on my anxieties in order to live an authentic life. It has become part of my foundation of myself and the juncture in which I refer to in order to guide myself towards my goals in life and remain focused. 


Derien Oliver Ward


University of Oregon

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© Copyright Derien Ward 2020