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Mental Health

Let’s Talk: First Year of College with Mental Illnesses

The sun’s out, the birds are singing, spring is here and summer is near. Exciting times are coming, minus the fact finals are coming….but let’s not talk about that. I want to discuss an overview of my first year of college. Now you’re probably like, “Oh no, I don’t care to listen/read about another person’s experience in college again”, which is completellllly understandable. Everyone rambles about their time in college, from your older siblings, to your parents, to your neighbors, to pretty much everyone. But after so many people talking about their college experience, I never heard about someone talk about their time in college with a mental/physical disability. And those are the stories we need to hear more about! So, I will share how my first year of college pretty much went with my mental illness.


So let me give you a background, I was diagnosed with severe general anxiety disorder and depression in December, 2018. I started college in Fall 2018 as a nineteen-year old freshman. I’m not going to lie, I was confident I would have a great time in college and be excelling easily in my courses. I thought this since I came from a good high school and was the student that got over a 4.00 GPA, took all AP and honors I could, was a three season athlete, national honor society member, occasionally working for part time jobs, and I graduated in the top 10% of my class. I was so busy in high school, but I was handling it all and was pretty much excelling. I mean my senior year in high school, I noticed that I had a lot of trouble studying for my classes, but I just brushed it off as senioritis.

So back to me starting college, I started with my fall semester with 9 credits I earned from my summer courses and registered for 16 credits. The first month of college wasn’t too bad, I was handling my courses while working 12-20+ hours a week between my school job and my serving job. After the first month of college, that is when shit hit the fan. Typically after the first month of college, you either have took some of your first exams of the semester or are preparing for them. Well this is when I needed to study and do practice problems for certain exams. So I’d go to the library and be there for awhile. During that time, I’d get easily overwhelmed, stare at the material, and not really comprehend the material, and hours past by. I describe those moments of knowing you have to study but you can’t. And of course I hated telling people this. People would try to give me tips, telling me I procrastinated too much, call me lazy, etc. And none of that helped. And I did the best I could, I went to my school’s learning resource center for the classes I couldn’t comprehend and spent like a minimum of three hours a week at that place, with a minimum of two one on one tutoring sessions a week. I went to my professors during their office hours, meet with my advisor weekly, etc. I literally did everything I could. Yet, I failed my first two exams in two of my classes.

This devastated me. I feel completely and utterly hopeless. I remember when I first got back the bad exams on the same day, sitting underneath a tree on campus later  and crying to my mother on my phone. Yanno nothing to see there, just a freshman losing her shit. To say the least, I was very discouraged. But I was not going to give up, I keep doing everything I could.

Despite of doing everything I could and only working my school job that allowed me to do homework while I work, I wasn’t doing too hot in my two classes. And I still couldn’t study. This lead to perfectionist me being realistic in seeing that if I literally killed myself in my studies, I could maybe, just maybe scrape by with a C. But with how everything was going, I ended up late dropping those two classes since I did not want to risk failing and dropping my GPA with a C or two. The classes I kept, I got A’s in.  In this whole trainwreck of a situation, I saw my counselor weekly who has known me for two years. I frequently broke down in her office and just didn’t understand what the hell was happening. Since she knew me so well and my family history, she thought I had a good chance of having ADHD/ADD. When she told me that, I was like OH HELL NO. I didn’t want to be labeled and have one of those illnesses. Anyhow, she recommended a psychological testing.

So, I eventually had a good case for my insurance to allow me to be tested. The test itself was on a saturday and was three hours long. Talk about a great saturday, amiright? And then waited like a week or two for the results.

Finally the results came in and the psychologist discussed them with me. Based on my results and from her seeing me a few times one on one, she diagnosed me with anxiety and depression. With untreated severe symptoms of both, they can lead to some of the problems I was having.

So fast forward to today, I am currently taking my zoloft medication and I’m in my second semester of college as a freshman taking 17 credits. I still have trouble studying, prioritizing, and keeping my impulsivity at bay. My counselor still has the hunch of me having ADHD/ADD as well as professors and friends making comments about it. Which at this point, it is what it is. I could have been misdiagnosed, but I have to focus on the now and do what I can.

My mental illnesses dramatically affected my college experience and classes. Yet, I didn’t share how it affects my daily life, so I’ll briefly touch upon it. My personal relationships are hard to maintain. With me getting overwhelmed, I hate making plans to hang out with friends and will avoid talking to people a lot of times. If I have free time, I end up going back to my parent’s house most weekends since I don’t really have to plan for that and it’s easier.

I tried to have a romantic relationship before I was diagnosed and didn’t know what the hell was going on with me. And he was the perfect person with handling everything. He was always there for me, listened to me, and said how proud of a boyfriend he was even with how much shit I was going through. He treated me so good and I ended up being a piece of shit person. I broke his heart once again since I created personal problems in the relationship that I couldn’t discuss with him. My impulsivity didn’t help at all with this. I overthink everything but I act so irrationally as well, so it was one of those situations where I thought I over thought it, didn’t communicate, and acted impulsively.

Now I can ramble on forever how my mental illness affects my school and personal life, but I’ll leave it at that. Maybe in the future, like next semester, I can give an update. The main thing with this article is to help spread more college experiences like mine so the perfect college experience picture starts to fade away. And if I could help anyone who is reading this, that means the world to me. And to everyone going through rough times affecting their school and personal life, you are not alone. I or other may not know exactly what you are going through, but someone is here for you. In my consenario, I know I will always deal with my mental illnesses. I have been dealing with them for 19 years, it is just college that triggered them to really affect my day to day life. For me, some days are better than others. Some months are worse than others. With that, I take it day by day. What helped me the most was self-acceptance and being grateful. I am one to never want pity from this and like woo is me, why is this happening to me sort of deal. I am grateful I have a great support system, and the resources I have to get help, whether that be the doctor’s office to the therapist’s office.

To wrap it up, not everyone’s college experience will be the same. Some are better than others. Unexpected things can happen and feel pretty much like the end of the world. Don’t forgot that you have the resources at school you can utilize, such as your advisor, the school’s counseling center, a tutoring center, and more.


Here are some number as well:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Hopeline: Call or text 919-231-4525 or 1-877-235-4525

Crisis Call Center: 800-273-8255 or text ANSWER to 839863

Depression and Bipolar Support: 800-273-TALK (8255)

National Mental Health Association Hotline: 800-273-TALK (8255)


Pictures from google images

Julia Fitzgibbon

PS Behrend '22

Sophomore at Penn State Behrend Nutrition major with a biology minor Professional procrastinator with a coffee addiction Workout and dog enthusiast
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