Up until this past August, it felt like I had spent my entire life getting ready to go to college. “High school, college, career, then you can settle down,” my dad would always tell me. He would even make me repeat it back to him in that exact order to make sure he got his point across.
But, not only was college ingrained in my mind as the natural next step in my life after high school, it was also something I had looked forward to for most of my life. Everyone tells you, “Oh, college is the best four years of your life, no question.” I’ve always considered myself very independent, hard-working, and friendly; I never doubted my ability to thrive as a college student. But now, as I am almost two months into the “best years of my life”, I am extremely unhappy.
When I entered high school, I had decided to attend a private school for many reasons; but, one of them was definitely to better my chances in the long run for applying to college. While my future was always in the back of my mind, I did end up falling in love with my high school. I loved everything about it; the community, my friends, the opportunities, etc.. I was so involved that I often felt like I was struggling to keep my head above water. Yet, I cherished every second of it. Even though I had always viewed high school as a stepping stone in the grander scheme of my life, it became my life. Even when I got into my dream school, the thought of leaving my life behind led to a rough summer before I came to the University of Richmond this past fall.
Me (left) and my best friend, Colette (right)
I’m tearing up as I write about this because I never really vocalized how depressed I felt as I graduated and was told to move onto “bigger and better things.” People tend to laugh at me or make a joke about how much I was tied to my high school and the life I had built there. I can’t count the number of people who would dismiss my anxious feelings with, “Don’t worry, college is way better.” What they didn’t realize is that, yes, I loved being in high school. But, my identity was my time there. The second I graduated, every relationship I had made, every grade I had earned, every experience I lived, was supposed to be in the past, a memory. Whereas I had always viewed college as this unparalleled excitement, I now began to view it as the end of who I was. Some people love the idea of starting over; I hated it. My confidence plummeted, anxiety became constant, and depression became something I just had to live with.
I contemplated taking a gap semester or a gap year but realized I was just avoiding something I used to be so excited about. As the last few days drew closer, I focused all of my energy on working my last couple of shifts at the restaurant, packing up my entire room, and surfing the University of Richmond website attempting to restore that spark I used to have. I was able to regain some enthusiasm and by the time I boarded that plane with a one-way ticket, I didn’t look back.
Well, I didn’t look back until about a week later. Orientation was through, and it finally felt like summer camp had ended and I was actually beginning the college experience. Luckily, I got along with my roommate well and had no issues with being homesick. To sum it up: I got all of the courses I wanted, somehow managed to get no classes on Fridays, was in the dorm I wanted to be in with a great roommate, the campus was beautiful, everyone was nice, and the weather was never less than perfect. Nearly everything had gone as well as it could have possibly gone and yet, as I settled in, I felt like I was just going through the motions. Another thing that settled in was this feeling that I was no longer somebody. No one knew my name, where I was from, what I liked to do, or the people that I knew. Each night as I would climb into bed, I felt more and more lost. Then I would get pissed at myself for feeling lost.
They prepare you for a bad roommate, or hard teachers, or a heavy workload, or bad cafeteria food… but they don’t prepare you to feel so alone.
No one told me how hard it was going to be when you have to completely reinvent yourself. No one has an answer for how I could not dislike a single thing here yet be so unhappy. Sometimes, in a single moment or during a single night, it feels like it’s getting better. But then I’m back in my bed, thinking about how even if I go home, nothing will ever be the same. Not even the thought of sleeping in my own bed gives me comfort. I’m just telling myself, “After this semester, you’ll love it,” or, “If you join this club, you’ll find your place.” But I thought I knew my place. And to make matters worse, when I’m honest with people about my experience so far, they all look at me like somehow there’s something wrong with me; it’s hard not to feel like there is.
So, what is my point in writing all of this? Honestly, I’m not really sure. I guess it’s so that anyone who is feeling the same way, knows they aren’t alone. I think that’s one of the worst things to think when you’re not feeling like yourself; that you’re alone. Also it’s because everyone has a different experience when they transition into college and we rarely hear how everything can go right but you can still struggle. I wish someone had told me all of this so that when I started to feel this way, it wasn’t a complete surprise. Even the kids who think they’re the most prepared and most excited for college are going to struggle in some way.It has taken me months to get to this point, but I do believe that I will find my place here. Now, when upperclassmen around campus tell me, “I promise, you’ll love it,” I have faith in what they say. I can’t end this article with a happy ending, because I haven’t had mine yet. But, I can say that I’m optimistic. And an added bonus, when family and friends ask me how I’m doing, I can just say, “Go read my Odyssey article.”