by Haley Northrup
During the spring of my freshman year at UCF, I was Baker Acted. It was a dark period of my life that I don’t like to recall. I had just moved approximately 500 miles away from my friends and family to attend college. I struggled making friends that first year, despite being involved in organizations and generally socially active.
I would have never written this article a year ago. Recently, however, I’ve had the opportunity to have conversations with several other college students who have been Baker Acted. I was recently talking to this freshman girl and she asked me what was the hardest thing that I have gone through. I remember hesitating. Did I want to tell her? I hardly knew this girl and it was definitely a sensitive subject. I decided to be honest and told her that being Baker Acted and what came afterwards was probably the hardest point of my life. She immediately grew solemn and admitted to me that during her first semester at UCF, she too had been Baker Acted.
I was ecstatic in the loosest sense of the word. She would understand. She wouldn’t become uncomfortable as I shared this sensitive subject. In fact, as I talked about my experiences, she gave me her fullest attention. Her eyes were wide and she drank in every word I said. In that moment, I saw myself. A scared freshmen girl who had moved away from her family and struggled. I knew of her in the fall. We were both in Marching Knights and I had heard her name thrown around. What I didn’t know is that during the marching season, she had gone through such a hardship.
The week after I had been Baker Acted, I didn’t attend class and stayed in a hotel with my mother. She wanted to be there for me but the lack of understanding was astronomical. I count myself very lucky in my situation. During the semester that I had been Baker Acted, I was going through the process of joining a band service organization called Kappa Kappa Psi. My big brother, when she got the news, packed me a bag with approved clothing and several books. I had no idea at the time, but she too had been Baker Acted as recently as a few months before at the very same center. She knew what clothing was permitted and although she wasn’t allowed to see me (visiting hours are very strict at these facilities), getting handed this bag by the supervisors made me feel emotions that I can’t even properly describe.
After I was out of the facility, all I wanted to do was regain a sense of normalcy in my life. I went to chapter and pretended nothing had happened. My big and I went to get coffee and donuts afterwards and we had a very long discussion. Before that time, we had trouble connecting, but afterwards we had everything in the world to talk about.
I’m so far removed from the event that I hardly even think about it. But when I was talking to this girl not too long ago, it made me realize that I should talk about it and I should share it. I knew what state she was in; I recognized it in her gaze. She was scared but pretended to be strong.
I wanted to write this for all of those out there that are scared but pretend otherwise. The easiest thing is to ignore that it happened and try to move on. That’s what I did. I didn’t want anyone to know. I was already so desperate for friends at the time and I didn’t want anyone to look at me differently. I realized that although a lot of the people you first meet in college are superficial, the people you meet later are worth more than anything else.
Having this conversation with this girl made me realize that there had to be several other girls like her. Girls like me. Trying to be strong as they tackle the hardships of becoming an adult. Struggling because it’s never easy. And sometimes failing and succumbing into the darkest places of their minds.
I realized how helpful it was to have someone to talk to, someone who understood. The absolute solidarity that comes with that is more comforting than even the most heartfelt embrace. Experiences like this make you feel alone. You feel mismatched to others and you never want anyone to look at you like you’re some specimen.
But it happened.
Never forget that it happened. Never ignore that it happened. Learn from the experience. If being Baker Acted does anything, it forces you to look introspectively at yourself.
For the first time in my life I was grateful that I had been Baker Acted. I knew that this solidarity that helped me could help her. We had a very long conversation and I told her the things that helped me climb out of this period. After talking with her, I wanted to make it my goal to be more open. I know not everyone is as lucky as I was to have someone close by to understand the complex emotions that you feel. Admitting to being Baker Acted doesn’t have to be a dark secret. As a writer, I knew I was given a platform to reach people with my words. Hopefully these words reach someone who is struggling and scared.
I no longer feel embarrassed about discussing it. I don’t try to sweep it under the rug in conversation as a poor attempt of tidying up. When I talked to her, I felt strength. Real strength. The kind of strength that comes to you when you know you can help someone. My wounds weren’t as freshly opened as hers were so talking about it came easily. I dropped all the barricades to my heart and allowed myself to be vulnerable. The exact same way that my big brother did for me.
If you’re reading this and you have been Baker Acted, know that you’re not alone. Realizing that there were others like me was the biggest thing that helped me.