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My Other Life: A Journey
Ingrid Magnani, Alum
School of Engineering and Applied Science 2001

When I hear someone say "I wish I were in 21 again; life was so easy," I always respond: "You can take 19-23. I'll stay who I am now!"

I came to Columbia-SEAS at the young age of 17 (1993), full of ambition, expectations and energy. I remember moving into John Jay Hall in 95-degree weather wearing a leg brace - you can only imagine how difficult it was to move my fridge!

First semester went off without a hitch. It seemed the most difficult part of being at CU was getting up for my 8:00 a.m. chemistry class. Those days were short lived.

During second semester, the migraines I had since I a young age seemed to be increasing in intensity. For the first time in my life, I began having nightmares horrific enough to force insomia. I didn't know what was going on. It seemed I spent more time in Health Services - luckily right downstairs - then in class. Everyone said it was stress, but I knew it was more.

In late March of 1994, my floormates and I joined hundreds of others in "Take Back the Night." We sat listening to all our fellow schoolmates bravely telling their most intimate secrets, when suddenly, after one particular speech, my entire world, as I knew it, imploded. A door, long closed in my psyche, suddenly crashed open pouring darkness into every cell of my body. My heart splintered into fragments as my body collapsed.

From that moment forward, I would forever exist in two realities - with moments I remember and the ones I wish I never could. It now seemed, every time I closed my eyes or let my thoughts wander, I became a small 5 year old girl - scared, hurting, and alone. I had always believed I didn't like going to my grandmother's house because it smelled, but the reality was much more bleak and sad.

By second semester sophomore year, my physical body could no longer take the mental strain. My migraines had already been re-classifed as hemi-plegic, but during the second week of school, my fever shot to 106, and I stopped breathing. I awoke at St. Luke's hospital with people scurring and an IV entering my arm. Everyone said I had died for 6 seconds. I don't remember much. St. Luke's became my home for two weeks; I missed the first round of engineering mid-terms. My diagnosis was Crohn's Disease; I was only 18.

My nightmares continued and my health became worse. I never slept, instead writing in my journals, or talking on the phone. I couldn't concentrate on anything. Through the rest of my sophomore year and early junior year, I fought my battles silently - ashamed and alone. I spent more time at St. Luke's over this period, no time less than 7 days. My despair increasing everyday yet still, I was not talking. Until one day, I finally had it.

Suicidal thoughts had plagued my mind for quite some time; I had spoken about them to others, even once meeting with a counselor. However, I began rationalizing the thoughts, weighing my options, writing lists of the pros and cons. Over time, with enough analysis, anything can seem a good idea.

So, on a September evening in '97 (my second senior year), after calling everyone I knew and receiving only voicemail, I emptied all my medications onto my bed, and began popping one by one chasing down with vodka. Nothing mattered anymore, I just wanted to shut off all the thoughts in my head, go to sleep and never wake up. My roommate and another schoolmate brought me to the hospital, where I stayed under suicidal surveillance for 4 days. For the first time, I spoke the truth.

"My uncle began touching me when I was 5....."

In those 4 days I told my story; I allowed the voices in my head a forum to speak up and be heard; I allowed myself to sleep. I merged my two lives into one. I was 21.

In 1998, I made a promise to myself and my friends to tell my story at "Take Back the Night"; three days before the rally, my uncle died. I went through the wake and the service emotionless, but as they lowered his body into the ground, a new emotion emerged, replacing the anger with peace and fear with understanding.

As I said at the rally the next night, I thought I hated my uncle for what he had done to me; I thought this monster deserved to rot, and all I wanted to do was ruin his life. But as I saw him laid to rest, I realized my tragedy had reached its end and I whispered a prayer of forgiveness for both of us. Forgiveness for him - living with the demons which drove him to hurt an innocent child. Forgiveness for me - for feeling ashamed, alone and suicidal.

In October of 1999, I turned 23!

Everyday of my life, I deal with the remnants of my childhood, forcing me through a whirlwind few days of chaos. I am currently in remission with my Crohn's Disease, and my migraines happen, at most, twice a month. I now talk openly about my abuse and understand it is part of who I am, for better or worse.

Though all of this, Columbia never gave up on me! I finally graduated in 2001. The entire SEAS faculty and administration and the wonderful people at Health Services stuck with me and for this I will eternally be grateful.

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