Story: How the First Week of College Tested my Mental Space

I’ve struggled with depression ever since I can remember. Writing that down and publishing it on the internet is something I never imagined myself doing.

I asked my doctor about the way I was feeling once when I was about 13. She told my mom that it is just a phase, and that I’d grow out of it eventually. I never brought it up to my mom ever again, and spoiler, I didn’t get over it. The indescribable blankness never left my side. It was there for my first day of high school freshman year, my senior prom, and it remained ever-present as I hugged my parents goodbye when they moved me into my college dorm. 

I was pretty anxious about leaving the safety net of my home, but the first week of college was such a whirlwind, a flurry of unpacked boxes and new faces, that I allowed myself to be excited for what the future held. Between welcome week activities, repetitive ice-breakers in every class, and settling into dorm life, I didn’t have much time to think about home, my family, or what was happening. 

It was around halfway through my second week of classes that the all too familiar symptoms began to set in. I was tired all the time, holding myself back from fun activities, receding into my room whenever I had the chance. I had a hard time making friends when I first arrived, creating a network of friends at a university was so much harder than in high school. Everyone was busy already, well on their way to a successful career even though they were only freshmen. My peers seemed to be naturally smart, excelling without having to study, whereas I’ve always had to revise a bit harder to keep up. Even though I was supposed to be enjoying my newfound freedom, I found myself drowning in it instead. Each day it felt like I was sinking further, self-hating thought after thought pierced my mind leading to countless breakdowns in the sanctity of my dorm room.  

I eventually found myself a group of wonderful friends (what felt like months alone had only been a couple weeks), and my free time became filled with outings into the city, parties, and late-night chats. The distraction was much needed, but it didn’t change that weird numbness that seemed to affect my memory, thinking, and interactions. Something wasn’t right, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

I vividly recall the day that I forced myself out from my fortress of blankets and into a hot shower, where I scrubbed at my skin until I felt new again. My mind felt numb but I knew I had to move, get outside, do something instead of let my mind consume another 24 hours. I got myself to go to the school gym, and ran until my knees just about buckled. The weather was bearable enough to sit by the lake without a jacket, so I walked along the rocks until I found a spot to sit down. In my sweaty workout clothes, knees shaking and mascara blurring around my eyes, I sat, and watched, and thought. I watched groups of students walk past me, watched the waves collide with the jagged rocks in front of me. I thought about where I was, my friends, my family, my classes… Anything I could to get my mind up and running. It was like I was starting up an old car, wiping the cobwebs off the engine and changing the oil.

This has become my spot on campus. I start and end every year by returning to it, just to exist in for a little while. I find myself there whenever I’m in a state of unease, rain, shine, or snow. 

I’ve always struggling to discuss my mental health, with friends and family alike. Only recently have I been able to admit to myself that I was not in a safe space mentally, and I’m still trying to find the right words to explain it. Indescribable blank, weird numbness, the looming something, etc. The beginning of my freshman year of college tested me, pushed my mental state to places I’m not comfortable discussing. I don’t remember a lot of it, weeks at a time seem to just be missing from my memory (as has bits of highschool). I know that I’m extremely fortunate to have found friends that understood where I was coming from without me needing to outright say it. It truly felt like it was us against the world, and I feel blessed being able to say that I’m still friends with those same people 3 years later. College still pushes me, every single day, but I’m getting there. Finding out what I was passionate about has helped me, pursuing a career I love has helped me, and all of the love and support from everyone in my circle has helped me.

College is stressful. New environments are intimidating. Combining the two is perhaps the reason why thousands of other college students feel the same as I did during freshman year. I’m thankful that there are now more resources than ever for college students like myself, but I know that getting that push to seek help is the hardest part. I hope the articles we publish this week can serve as that push for someone.