My first few days of college were pretty standard. New Student orientation was in full swing and I was sent to countless activities with the goal of learning about my school and meeting friends. When I arrived at the first of many activities, my mask went up. I disguised myself as an energetic carefree guy who didn’t care what the world thought about him. Little did everybody know that inside I was calculating my every action in order to avoid looking dumb or out of place. I watched as people went around introducing themselves to others and it terrified me. I couldn’t put myself out there like that.
My first few weeks of college were pretty lonely. I went from my dorm to class, to work, to lunch, to class, to dinner, to my dorm. This became routine for me. The only person I had regular interaction with was my roommate, but even that interaction was superficial. The time in my dorm was spent either sleeping or staring at the ceiling wishing I was anyone else. Wishing that I didn’t have to be the only freshman without friends. Wishing that I was home. Wishing that I never left my home state.
By the time midterms had rolled around I was lost. I had nobody I could talk to. My inner dialogue consisted of self-doubt and pessimism. I stopped eating more than once a day and any free time was spent sitting alone in my room. When I was around people, my only focus was to hide what was happening. It wasn’t their problem and I didn’t need to make drama. I didn’t want to tell anyone about the issue because I didn’t want to look weak. I didn’t want to be the person people were afraid of breaking.
My first semester of college was stressful. By this point, I had made some friends and I am glad to say they are still my friends. But initially, I avoided opening up to them for fear that my issues would overwhelm them and I would end up alone again. My workplace was my refuge. My supervisors and coworkers had all been exceedingly welcoming and kind. When I was at work I felt like everyone there was part of this great family of friends and it was there that I first stopped wearing my mask. However, the issue remained that for the majority of my time, I was not at work. I was around peers, and the stress was only mounting.
All semester, I had been looking forward to the auditions for the school’s musical. For my whole life, the stage had been a haven for me. It was somewhere I could be a different person. I could leave behind the unsure, mask wearing, me I was used to. I auditioned and when we received our roles I was cast as one of the male leads.
When the second semester came along, so did rehearsals for the show. On the first day of rehearsal, I was invited to hang out with a group of longtime members of the theatre club. Everything inside me told me to say no. I was terrified that I would say something wrong, do something wrong, or that they just wouldn’t like me. However, I said yes. The friend group I made that night would be what got me through the rest of the year.
From then on, I had a friend group that was understanding, loving, and supportive. Rehearsal became a time full of happiness and confidence. And while I was still struggling to be confident and happy I was headed in the correct direction. At some point, a few of my friends encouraged me to go to therapy. I scheduled my first appointment and from then on I was actively dealing with the problem. It took the majority of the year for me to admit I needed help and to actively seek it. I realized that by asking for help, I was not weak. I was dealing with an illness. In the same way that I would go to the doctor for a broken bone, I was treating my mental illness.