Things I Learned When I Went To College (With a Mental Illness)

Before I moved off to college, I expressed my concern about making friends. My friends and family reassured me that I would meet lots of people and that plenty of people will see how cool I am and want to hang out with me. However, when I got here, I realized that it was going to be a lot harder than I thought it would be.


In high school, I really came out of my shell and felt more comfortable being me, so everyone who knew me knew that I was as an outgoing and witty young gal (don’t get me wrong, I am witty). I was in all my school’s theatre productions, choir, speech, and tennis, so I liked to be in the spotlight sometimes. But, some people didn’t realize how much I struggle with socializing and getting comfortable with people. When I was around 11 or 12 years old, I began therapy in order to control my anxiety that was stopping me from participating in... pretty much anything. Although I had (and have) a naturally outgoing personality, I was too consumed by the intrusive thoughts I was having to let myself be me. My anxiety got better after regular sessions, but then about a year later, I told my mom I thought I was depressed. She scheduled me an appointment, and sure enough, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and moderate/severe depression. I went through ups and down in high school with my mental health, but my senior year was one of the hardest. I started going to a different therapist that specializes in CBT, which stands for cognitive behavioral therapy. I had to switch my medications multiple times, so that really screwed with my head and put me  in crisis-mode a few times. Since then, I felt extremely lonely, and it was really hard to differentiate my personality from my illness. My symptoms kept persisting, and it came to a point where I talked with my mom about if I should seek in-patient treatment. We decided that I would get an appointment with a psychiatrist, and I was prescribed an as-needed anxiety medication so I could feel a little more control with my emotions. Since I had been having such trouble with my mental health, I was really concerned about how I would do when I moved four hours away to a place where I didn’t know anyone. I have trouble with meeting new people, because honestly? It’s scary as f*ck. Maybe not for everyone of course, but to me, the thought of being vulnerable to someone, even as just a friend, is a really scary thought.


So, after being here for a few weeks, I thought I’d give some insight on my experiences with making friends.


First of all, it will be intimidating. It will seem like everyone has someone, like they have it all figured out. And maybe some people do, but the majority do not. Trust me. When I first moved, I thought that everyone had already found their place, except me. But the more I looked around, the more I saw that other people were in the same boat.


Second, it’s worth it to try something that might be uncomfortable. For me, that was just talking to people and saying hi. It seems like such a simple and obvious thing, but I actually met people by doing it. I also joined Her Campus, an on-campus club, which is something that really made me nervous. I didn’t know anyone else who was in the group so I went to the first meeting alone, and it was pretty scary. But when I went, I also found a great outlet.


Third, it’s okay to feel like a loser. When I first got here, I spent a lot of time in my room, and even when I was out and about, I still saw people with their designated group of friends. But it’s perfectly okay to be alone sometimes. It’s okay to eat alone, it’s okay to sit alone in class, and it’s okay to just be with yourself. In the beginning when I was alone, I worried that other people would see me and think I’m a grade-A loser. But being alone actually helped me to realize things about myself and how I operate, and I think it’s important for people to be comfortable with themselves. I have a long way to go, but I love being able to take comfort in myself when I need to.


My last piece of wisdom is that you have to be patient with yourself. A lot of things in your first couple months can be very frustrating, and it’s so easy to want to quit and beat yourself up; but don’t. Take care of yourself, and ask for help when you need it because there will be bad days, and that’s okay. Let them happen and let yourself feel those negative emotions. But after that, pick yourself up again because you’ve got a degree to get. You’ll find friends, you’ll find things that you love to do, and maybe you’ll find yourself in the process. I know, easier said than done; but give it a shot.


Channel your inner Elle Woods and get after it, ya badass.


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