Change doesn’t wait: Student overcomes stress, health issues to graduate this year

Published by Katie Gray on

Life changes in unexpected ways, but for UCC student and library worker Ashley Swearingen, change happened fast and derailed her life.

Swearingen is almost always found in the library because its one of her most beloved places to be.
Photo provided by Ashley Swearingen

While striving toward her goal of working in a museum living in Portland three years ago, Swearingen began having severe migraines, neck pain, and vertigo likely related to a car wreck she was in when she was 10. She ended up in bed for nearly a year trying to recover. Swearingen also was experiencing high stress due to personal matters and school while working toward a degree at Portland State in Asian Studies and History.

“On top of everything, I even have fibromyalgia,” Swearingen said. “School and stress probably accumulated it. I have had to cut out caffeine completely and a lot of food as well, like avocados. I even must watch out for meat and cheeses and even citrus because it can trigger migraines. I have to watch out for a lot of different things like smells, lights, and computers. I actually have special glasses to block out blue lights.”

Trying to get healthy took her a few years because she had to re-adjust to life after her diagnosis and stayed home, trying to regain her health. During this time, Swearingen moved to Roseburg to get help with her health from family.

Swearingen loves to read manga and hang out with her cat in her spare time away from school and the library.
Photo provided by Ashley Swearingen

Swearingen said she finally found a good doctor who helped her figure out what was wrong, and then in summer 2021, Swearingen’s health started to get better, so she decided to go back to school.

“As much as I didn’t want to get sick, it improved my life for the better, and it opened me up to get healthier. It allowed me to change my diet, and it helped me learn how to balance things. I cut out a lot of people that were toxic and all my bad habits. I learned to put myself first, and I even take self-care days,” Swearingen said.

This June, Swearingen is graduating from UCC with an office assistant certificate, and she is hoping to get a good job with it or use it to continue working in the library. “I work in the UCC student library almost every day, and when I’m not here, I work at the Roseburg library,” Swearingen said. Swearingen grew up, she says, in the library instead of on the playground.

She is also considering moving back to Portland.

“I love Portland and miss it a ton because they had tons of Asian culture up there, and that’s what I was passionate about. Portland also had a lot more public transportation other than the bus to get around the city, and it was convenient,” Swearingen said. 

Swearingen didn’t do her academic journey alone. While she was sick, her physician got her connected with resources provided by the state through vocational rehabilitation and the Oregon Health Plan.

“I am so thankful for what our state offers because you can ask your doctor for help. Vocation rehabilitation helped me protect my job. There are a lot of state funded things, and you should look a little harder for the people that do care and use resources that exist.”

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