The entirety of my freshmen year of college, I had a countdown set to tick towards its end.

Every day, I’d wake up and check the countdown. Mid-day- check the countdown. Before bed- check the countdown. Even when I’d wake up in the middle of the night, restless from wasting another day staring at this countdown, I’d still check it again.

This countdown was set to when this year would be finished. Days, hours, minutes, seconds until I’d be back home. I’d waste these precious days of “the best years of my life” staring at the days, hours, minutes, and seconds of my life disappearing on this all-encompassing countdown.

My rationale was, in watching my life tangibly vanish before my eyes, I could wrap myself in the potential idea of where I’ll be when those numbers vanish in their entirety. One day I’ll be watching these numbers wind down into that infamous 3…2…1… and I’ll be home. Home. Friends. Family. Tick tick tick.

This escapism whisked me away from the reality of my situation. 24 hours, 7 days a week in a state that I couldn’t call my home, with people that I couldn’t call my family, making not memories but rather trying my best to just make time pass. Tick tick tick.

My family would call and say, “How are you, are you just having so much fun?”

No.

Conversation continues. Conversation will probably take 45 minutes to 1 hour, so by the time my parents hang up, the countdown should say 17 hours left until 6 weeks until 3 months until vacation rather than 18 hours.

My family would call and say, “Well, we’ll be up there very soon. We can’t wait!”

Neither can I. Literally. I legitimately cannot wait, Mom. How many minutes left now, Dad?

And we’d hang up. One second…. Two seconds… three seconds go by… and I’d check the countdown.

My everything was stuck on this idea of what I was missing out on by attending a school far far away. I couldn’t shake this constant need to think of my home-state and all its people living their lives without me. My mind was locked onto all the moments and memories and everything else I was missing out on, while my body was locked into a cycle of moving through the motions and counting down the time until I repeated that cycle once more.

In between bouts of blinking away my own life, my time was spent glazing my eyes over with all the pictures, videos, and posts about all the fun those people were having.

Tick.

Look, now they’re having a sleepover.

Tock.

Now it’s their opening night.

Tick.

Oh, look it’s her birthday.

Tock.

Wow, they look like they’re having so much fun.

I was putting no stock in myself. I was wallowing in my own self-made misery with every second I spent drinking in the lives of those who were not around me. I was well past FOMO and was instead wading in a lake of obsessive deprecation.

“Aren’t you just having so much fun?”

No. But Mary C. from South Carolina looks like she is.

Because of this, practically the entirety of my freshman year on instinct feels like a regret.

The most prominent of all those many, many regrets, besides all the time I wasted in my own life, was the time I wasted that wasn’t mine to waste. Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad.

So, it was finally Spring Break. Here it was, that 3…2…1 I spent the past 3 months wholeheartedly desiring, and I was home. Except once I was there, everything was wrong. That FOMO wasn't disappearing, it was growing.

I didn’t want to be home anymore. I didn’t want to be with friends. I didn’t want to be with my family. I waited months for this moment, and suddenly the ideal was falling apart into another one of the many realities I spent all year trying to avoid.

I spent the entirety of my vacation, that fleeting week with the precious company of my family and friends before another three months without them, crying.

The dream was dying. I was now a ten-minute drive away from all those good times and smiles, and yet no one wanted to see me as greatly as I wanted to see them. I was heart-broken. God bless my parents who tried so hard to comfort me and my irrational grieving over not having constant activity, but this year-long deprecating mentality wasn’t budging.

So I kept crying. I cried until I finally saw healing.

And they sat with me through night after night of tears as the realization set in that this idea of mourning memories that were not mine to have slowly withered. My week was up, my time once again-wasted, but at least my cheeks were drying as my clouds began parting.

With baby steps, of putting down my phone, of grounding myself in the tangibility of my situation, and continually striving to find pleasure in every new moment, my spring break came to a happy close.

The drive back up. The three of us piled in the car and spent all of a Sunday driving me back to school, a drive full of giggles and jokes and smiles. It was nice to feel grateful for where I was and who I was with again.

In those final seconds of that drive, upon seeing the same Elon post office I saw on my first visit to campus almost a year prior, I said something that shocked us all.

“Elon! Look we’re home!”

My eyes got wide. I wasn’t expecting that. My mother looked at me with the same surprise as I had on my own face. This was the first time I’ve truly accepted Elon as my own, let alone my “home”.

The sound of healing.

The vacation had officially ended, along with the end of my dismal wading through my time here, and so- I deleted the countdown.

And things got so much better. So good, I now look back on this year with a smile, not a grimace.

Within the final weeks of my first year of college, I found my fit. I do not mourn the time it took to find it, I now just relish in the finding it at all.

I put down my phone. I lift my eyes. I go through my day as to feel grateful for the experiences the day brought. Rinse and repeat.

So yes, I spent my freshman year watching the seconds of my life tick away on a countdown, but the only counting I do now is making sure that each day full of those precious minutes and seconds simply count at all.

Do not wait for life to happen. Live it now.

Make it count.