In Hindsight: What I Learned Freshman Year

Let’s be blunt: freshman year was hell. All those daydreams and media-sold ideas of parties, friends, campus activities, and the most freedom you’ve ever had? What they gloss over is the mental stress of college, especially as a first-generation student that has no idea what they’re getting into. Oh, and if you already have mental health issues? No one stops to think about informing you *beforehand* of the resources you should definitely involve yourself in. You figure this out once you’re already flailing through the middle of your first semester. 

In all honesty and transparency, I’m lucky I made it through my freshman year. My first semester was enveloped by an abusive, controlling, older boyfriend who kept me from making friends and exploring my campus. I finally had my independence from my parents, but fell into someone else’s control. (We had been together for a year, but he became much more controlling once I left for school). The only places on campus I knew by finals week was the dining hall, my classrooms, and my dorm room. When he came to visit me, I wasn’t allowed to go to class - because “spending quality time together!” was more important. I lost weight, my only friend was my roommate, and I was falling heavily behind in my courses. By the time I finally managed to leave the relationship, it seemed like there was no saving the semester. Luckily, I had done well the first two months, and while he was begging me to come back and stalking me, I managed to juggle it all on my own and end my first semester with my lowest grade as a ‘D’. 

Related: An Assortment of Items That Got Me Through Freshman Year

When I came back for my spring semester, I felt like I would be able to take control and succeed. I had a regular therapist off-campus, I was on anti-anxiety and antidepressant medication, and I had an official diagnosis of PTSD. Then, I wound up in a situation that had me being sexually harassed and bullied, along with my new boyfriend. I was depressed from the situation with my ex, and spent two weeks drinking so much that I was consistently numb from my mental health issues. The “turn around” I had planned on had lasted maybe a week into the semester. 

This time did turn out to be different - I was pushed to my limit by the harassment, and found myself in the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office. From there I was recommended to the Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC) and the Title IX office. After a few not so good meetings, I found my match with an SSAC advocate who was a major proponent to me not failing the entire semester. Through SSAC, my professors gave me assignment extensions, and allowed me to go back and submit assignments I had missed. Title IX issued No Contact Orders and launched an investigation, so the people harming my boyfriend and I could not continue their behavior directly. 

Related: #ITriedIt: Freshman Year of College

 

Overall, the communication with my professors and their understanding of my situation gave me the ability to improve my grades and end my freshman year on somewhat of a positive note. As someone who has spent their whole life relying on their independence, it was astounding to see how much a little communication with your school could help you. It wasn’t perfect - one class was too heavy in classroom activities for me to make up the work, so it was left as an “incomplete” and I have to retake it. While I beat myself up over still failing a class, my therapist comforted me by telling me that it is very impressive for a struggling student - or even just a college freshman - to fail only one course the entire year. 

So here’s the cliche: there is SO much I wish I could tell my freshman self. Therefore, I’ll make sure to tell it to every other incoming and current college freshman. 

If you have previous academic struggles or mental health issues, set yourself up to succeed and begin the conversation with your school and professors now, rather than risk it being too late. College is a lot more difficult than we would like to admit to ourselves, and you shouldn’t have to do it on your own. Don’t pass off campus resources - if you have a need for them, they’ll have something for you. Your friends are struggling too, and if they aren’t willing to have that conversation or support each other, you need to find new friends. 

Even if your first semester or first year is rocky and not ideal, it’ll be okay.