Transferring for Mental Health

Two years ago I was starting college, moving into a dorm room with all my cute things, and meeting new friends who I expected to spend the next four years with. It was going to be the best years of my life. No parents to tell me what to do, no more restrictive schedule of high school, no more gym class, nothing I didn’t agree to do (except maybe gen-eds). With all these factors, you would have expected me to be ecstatic, bouncing off the walls with excitement, maybe even a little anxious. But I wasn’t.

Maybe that was the first sign. The fact that I chose a college and felt nothing about it, not even the excitement of leaving the house, even though I had been looking forward to it for years. Everything just kind of was and nothing really mattered. Sure, there was anxiety about the situation, but I was numb all around, indifferent to the change of surroundings and unable to force myself to appreciate it no matter how many times I attempted to cocere myself into adapting.

To be fair, the first semester wasn’t as rough as it could have been. It was probably about the same as most high achieving high school students who hadn’t quite learned how to properly study, though I did skip a lot of class. Nothing went horribly, though in hindsight it’s safe to say that I chose my friends poorly, which only truly came into effect during the second semester.

The second semester was a disaster, to say the least. There was a situation during the second week back that involved the cops and a reversing of expectations surrounding a friend. It was enough to throw anyone off for a while. It was… not fun.

Side note: if your friend does something illegal that puts people in danger or scares you, that person is not your friend at that moment. You need to call the cops and have something done about it. Friends are people you feel safe around, not people who put you on edge or have to question their intentions at all moments.

Anyway, following that my year was pretty much shot. One of my other friends decided that they were going to transfer in the fall semester so they could be near their S.O (not recommended, they broke up a year later) and left me behind. The other started taking depression naps to the point that I had to make sure I was aware of her location at meal times so that they would eat at least one meal a day. The one we called the cops on had to be watched because I didn’t believe they were stable. I was considered the mom friend, which was fair because I neglected myself to make sure they were okay. So as they were adding more stress to my life, I was falling apart.

There was a month where the only thing I ate was bags of chocolate covered pretzels for dinner, and sometimes nothing at all when I decided that I didn’t want those anymore. One time I stayed up for 56 hours straight, mostly because people kept telling me not to. Honestly, I don’t think I really went to any class because I couldn’t get out of bed once I was in it. It just wasn’t worth it anymore.

Clearly, there were underlying issues that contributed to this, but to be fair, I wasn’t overly fond of the college I was attending either. When it came time for me to pick a college, I basically picked out of a hat. The one I attended was the only one I visited (besides one in Indiana that I didn’t ever truly consider). If you asked me what drew me to the college, I would just shrug. It didn’t really matter to me at that point, though it should have. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the people but the professors in my major were a disappointment. It was hard to be motivated when the professors made me feel like I was an idiot no matter what I did or even made the course painful due to their own opinions or ideals. English can sometimes be a little rough, but it was just plain hard.

When it came back that I had failed a course and did poorly on others as well, it became apparent that it was time to transfer. I hadn’t wanted to; I wanted to go back to the remaining friends I had just to have some sense of continuity, but my parents insisted. At the time, I was beyond irritated. Now I’m thankful for the switch.

I registered for a semester and began to attend part-time. It was a test to see if I even wanted to be in college if it was worth it for me. If I couldn’t handle taking three classes then college wasn’t my thing, which would have been just fine and I would have taken a step back and found a job. That semester brought back my love for learning and my desire to strive for something because I wasn’t overwhelmed and I didn’t have to worry about the life I had built for myself on my previous campus. It’s highly recommended if you have the chance.

Whenever you hear about people transferring, they usually tell you that it was because of money, better opportunities, a better fit, or because they already finished at a community college and this was the next step. Nobody ever says it was because they had a mental breakdown. With that, it feels like you have to lie about it. Laugh a little, mutter some bullshit about money or professors, hope they don’t inquire further.

Believe it or not, you are allowed to have mental breakdowns when you enter college. We are all collectively falling apart, so much so that everyone makes jokes about it while trying not to cry because they can’t sleep anymore and don’t remember the last time they ate real food. At the same time, you are also allowed to decide that it’s too much.

If you are in a place that is negatively affecting you and you can’t find the silver lining anymore, you should leave. Yes, college is challenging, but you shouldn’t hate every minute of it. There is somewhere out there that you will thrive, even if it’s not college. But for colleges, transferring is always an option.

There are a few steps that you should take beforehand, like seeing a therapist on campus or seeing your doctor to find out if there is something else you can do. However, I once read  that you can’t heal in the environment that made you sick. If you are constantly surrounded by the same things that were part of your descent, clawing your way back out will take much more time and effort, especially if something traumatizing happened. Sometimes places just have bad vibes,  and it’s not worth the effort and pain to force yourself to stay.

Here’s the thing: you don’t have to tell anyone at the new school if you don’t want to. People will ask why you transferred, it’s just a natural part of conversation, but they don’t have to know. You will not be judged for saying that it was for your mental health.

When I considered writing this article last year, I considered titling it “Transferring for the Wrong Reasons”. That doesn’t even make sense. Sure, you probably shouldn’t transfer for a S.O., but that doesn’t make it a wrong reason. There are no wrong reasons for transferring, even if you may not agree with someone else’s reasons.  You never know, there could be something deeper that is driving them to transfer. That friend who transferred for their S.O. was actually transferring because they were having bad depressive episodes and wanted to be closer to home. I transferred because of poor performance, but it was truly my mental health as well.

No matter what people say, everyone transfers because of something mental. The idea that you have found a home on campus is mental, it’s your brain telling you that you would be happy there. Just selecting a different campus means that the other one must have been missing something that matters to you. Maybe it’s not because of something going weird in your brain, but it’s still in your head.

College is a guessing game. “Maybe I’ll fit well here for four years,” you tell yourself as you select a random admissions letter based on one or two trips and extensive Googling, convincing yourself that you have enough information to make this important decision. Sometimes we get it wrong.

You are allowed to transfer. You are allowed to leave when it makes you unhappy. Think of it being in a relationship with that college. If someone doesn’t make you happy, would you continue to date them? There is no shame in taking time off, going part-time for a semester like I did, or switching up where you are in order to make sure you’re okay. Life’s too short to suffer for something you can change.