For someone with anxiety, starting new things can be scary… especially when this involves moving away from home and into college. Admittedly, I cringe whenever I think back on my freshman year, yet I’m also grateful for it. While this was a painful time for me in many ways, if I hadn’t struggled so much, I probably wouldn’t have been able to make such incredible progress. Now that I am in a place in my life where I feel content, I’d like to share my journey of how I made it to the mindset that I am in now.
As I said, my freshman year wasn’t the greatest experience; I stayed in my room 90% of the time unless I was picking up dinner or going to class. Because of my social anxiety, the idea of meeting and talking to new people made me nervous. Consequently, I didn’t branch out much like everyone urges you to do during your first year at college. Yep, I was the kid going home every weekend – and I mean every weekend. The only “friends” I had at college were ones from high school, and a lot of these were the kinds of friendships that did more taking than giving. Nevertheless, I stuck by them because they were familiar to me, therefore I saw them as safe. I always heard that college was the time to meet your forever friends, but I didn’t feel this way… I felt like I was missing out on something.
My poor mental health was not only restricting me socially but also academically. I’ve never been the type of person who craves any form of attention (in fact, I hate it), and as a result, I never participated in my classes that first year. If I had a question, I would try to figure it out on my own or merely accept that I didn’t understand, rather than asking a peer or my professor; I found a concept as simple as this to be too frightening. Even if participation was graded, I would let my GPA suffer. If there was an ice breaker on the first day of class, I wouldn’t just roll my eyes like the rest of my classmates… my hands would shake and my heart would pound for what felt like ages, even after my turn was over. My least favorite professors were always the ones who called on people randomly because I’d be on edge the whole class, never knowing if at any second everyone could be staring at me while I scrambled to find words. Imagine the levels of my anxiety when it was my turn to give a presentation.
So, how did I get to the positive place I am today as a junior?
Lately, I’ve been thanking my true friendships for lifting me up and getting me to the place I’m in now. In sophomore year, I realized how fed up I was with my past toxic relationships, and this forced me to finally put myself out there. These people I met, one of them a best friend and another my girlfriend, helped me creep out of this dark place. Around them, I realized I was less socially anxious. We enjoyed the same activities, had the same humor and the same taste in music, and all of these similarities made me feel more relaxed. I could finally enjoy myself instead of having to worry about what other people may think or say.
Once I finally found this social group I belonged to, it was easier for me to slip out of the poisonous relationships that had been draining me emotionally. At first, it had been difficult to break these negative friendships off for two reasons: the history we had, and the potential to hurt their feelings. However, with the assistance of my uplifting and encouraging relationships (both old and new), I concluded that I had to do what was best for me and my mental health. Getting rid of that toxicity was the most crucial step to improving my state of mind.
By this point, my anxiety was decreasing exponentially, and not just when I was around the friends I felt comfortable with. In class, I was more capable of initiating a conversation with other students than I had been before. I attribute this to my rising confidence since I finally believed I was where I belonged – something I had never truly experienced. My newfound assurance brought me out of my shell: I could finally talk to strangers without basically having a mental breakdown, I could ask professors for help or clarification whenever I needed it, and I could even go to Starbucks or a club meeting alone without dragging someone along for moral support. To some, these tasks may seem painless and uncomplicated, but for someone who severely struggles with anxiety, these are huge wins.
While I still may not be the girl who volunteers in class every single day, still encountering bits of anxiety daily, I am sincerely proud of myself for coming so far. This leads me to my advice for anyone who is also battling their mental health: put yourself out there, get rid of any negativity in your life, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and hang in there because it does get better.