How I Learned to Embrace Personal Growth

You are the main character in the book of your life. Just like in any good book, character development is necessary and to be expected. In real life we change gradually from day to day; the small changes we make add up and only become noticeable when we compare our current and past selves. So, just how much can we change in a year, and why should we embrace it?

Every day I compare myself to who I was last year at the same time, and every day I am prouder of myself.

My personal journey

Photo is author’s own

My freshman year of college was not easy, and I struggled a lot academically, emotionally and socially. It really hurt to see that everyone I followed on social media already had what seemed to be a solid group of friends. While I was by no means a shut-in, I found it hard to start conversations with the people who lived on my floor and also frequented the lounge area. I felt as though my peers would find me too outgoing and annoying to deal with. Without realizing it at the time, I allowed the loneliness and anxiousness I felt because of my social life to affect me emotionally and, by extension, academically. I had a hard time asking my floormates for help even though I knew that we were in the same classes, experiencing the same struggles. Eventually, I found a group of friends and we did almost everything together. I still didn’t feel secure in any of my relationships, though; I was constantly afraid that everyone in my life would find someone better than me.

Even though I did find a group to hang out with, I wasn’t fully okay mentally and emotionally. Coming into college, I knew that I probably wasn’t going to walk out with a 4.0 GPA, and I was okay with that. Still, it seemed like I felt more overwhelmed with my workload than everyone else around me. I was severely stressed out about so many things including my grades, my long-distance relationship, maintaining friendships and just trying to seem normal. I dreaded going home because I was afraid that the façade I had built while I was at school would crumble in front of my parents. I always told anyone who asked that school was going great. Yeah, it was hard, but it’s college, right? It’s supposed to be difficult. I’m supposed to feel stressed. While college-level academics are meant to challenge you, you should never wake up at three a.m. so anxious about life that you have to rush to your bathroom, nauseous. You shouldn’t have to sit with your head in your toilet for three hours waiting to puke because you feel so lonely, so overwhelmed and defeated that your stomach won’t settle down enough for you to walk back to your bed.

I seriously let my mental health go last year. That’s on me. Looking back, the biggest reason wasn’t even the social aspect, because I had been used to the feeling of being replaceable. The most prominent reason for my horrible mental health was my suffering academics. I went to my classes, took notes and heard my professors speak. Not a word of it was absorbed. I was aware of that too. That to me was the worst part. I knew I had an excruciatingly hard time both with focusing in class and when it was time to sit down and study. I didn’t know what to do about it, though. That hadn’t been the case for me through high school, so I really didn’t know what was going on. I was terrified that something was “wrong” with my brain, so I hid the struggles I was having. I didn’t say anything about it to anyone the entire school year.

All of these problems continued to compound on each other as the school year progressed. I decided to take a lighter load of credit hours in the spring so I could work on my grades. That was the best decision I made for myself last year. Still, my mental health continued to deteriorate. To cope, I had been switching between restricting what I ate and binge eating. Throughout the week, I wouldn’t eat nearly enough. By the time the weekend rolled around I ate every crumb of food I could find. I gained a ton of weight quickly and unhealthily, and I noticed it. I “ignored” it. I knew it was happening, and I tried to work out more to compensate, especially during the spring semester. However, I never outright admitted it was happening. I didn’t try to seek help from anyone, I didn’t even tell the people who I considered to be my closest friends. Because of my severely unhealthy coping mechanisms, I worsened my already bad body image. I hated looking in the mirror at myself.

How far I’ve come

This year is a completely different story. I worked a lot on myself over the summer. Some changes happened because I made them happen, but I grew even more because of the things that I didn’t have direct control over. I can’t describe everything directly, because to be honest I’m not sure about what caused some of the changes, but I’m still glad they happened.

One of the biggest changes I made happen affects me academically. I finally spoke up about my struggle with paying attention in and out of class. I was tired of taking several hours to complete tasks that should have only taken a few minutes out of my day, just because I was constantly distracted by everything around me. I opened up to my mom about it, and she immediately knew something had to be done. I had hidden it for so long out of fear and denial. I thought I could make the change happen on my own and that I would “get the hang” of school. But we all need help sometimes and you should never be ashamed or afraid of speaking up and asking for it. After going through the process of talking with a psychiatrist, I was formally diagnosed with ADHD and an unspecified anxiety disorder. The first of the two diagnoses was the most vital to my overall wellbeing. I can finally be both mentally and physically present in my classes. So far this year I’ve been able to start (and finish) multiple tasks in one sitting. I have already noticed a difference in my ability to retain the information I’m being taught, and my grades reflect that greatly. Because I am able to devote meaningful time and effort to important tasks like homework, projects and studying, I also have been able to join clubs and be an active member. It sounds extreme, but the world is a completely different place for me now.

My diagnosis and the subsequent treatment have also helped me recognize and feel more secure in my social life. Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder affects everyone differently ­¾ for me, a lot of my underlying symptoms went unnoticed because they were hidden in my mannerisms. Things that I did when interacting with others weren’t always truly part of my personality. Recognizing and managing my ADHD has allowed me to be a more authentic version of myself. In the past, I think people were driven away because of how intense of a person I was. I’m still extroverted, loud and opinionated, but now it’s easier for me to read a social situation and adapt to it.

Despite all of this, I still find it hard to trust myself when I interact with others. I’m very afraid that I am going to scare people off or be too loud. I’m by no means at the end of that portion of my journey and I have a lot of growing to do. I have to learn to trust myself and my personality again. I’ve forced myself into social situations where I have to deal with everything on my own. One of the best things I’ve forced myself to do was join Her Campus. From the beginning, all of the girls have made me feel so welcomed and I forget for a hot second that I struggle with talking to new people. Having such a supportive group to look forward to spending time with each week is a new experience for me and I’m so glad I found HC this year.

Photo is author’s own

Over the summer, I started to repair my relationship with food. Instead of seeing it as a coping mechanism for when I’m upset, I began treating it for what it is: fuel. I began working out more often, not to be “skinny” again, but because I wanted to be stronger than I ever had been before. I wanted to set goals, achieve them and set personal records in the process. This motivation, coupled with my new view on food, really helped me develop a new lifestyle. I didn’t label food as “bad” or “good” based on any criteria other than taste. If I wanted a brownie, I ate a brownie. I learned about moderation and how I can fit sweets, pasta, veggies and everything in between into my life, without having to worry about unhealthy weight gain that would cause severe health complications for me. I’m not afraid to look in the mirror and tell myself that I look good. I feel amazing, I’m the strongest I have been in a while and most importantly I’ve built a lifestyle that enables me to get along with the food I’m eating and my body.

In only one year, my life made a complete 180. I can honestly say that I am happy and content with life now.

The lesson

Even if you don’t realize it, we all are constantly growing and maturing. Life throws crazy things at us, but your ability to adapt is what defines you. Embrace the changes in your life whether they are external or internal. At the end of the day, you are unique and so special because the changes you’ve made in your life define your story. Remember that life always gets better, sometimes you just have to open up the flood gates and let it happen. You have the power to turn your entire life around in less than a year. You’ll walk out stronger, more mature and happier in the end.