I came to Cal thinking I was ready. I had read every Society9 article, watched every college horror story video on YouTube and harassed every single one of my friends in college until they couldn’t think of any more advice to give me. I knew it was going to be hard, and I had braced myself for it, prepared for anything that would come my way.
And then, Golden Bear Orientation happened. I was overwhelmed by everything: the campus size, the amount of activities we were doing, the fact that it was only two days after move-in and somehow it felt like I was already falling behind. While everyone around me seemed to be already finding those friends that every adult tells you you’ll meet in college and keep for the rest of your life, I found myself floating, not quite yet sure where to plant my roots. Confused, exhausted and struggling, I began skipping out on activities and isolating myself, slipping back into unhealthy but familiar tendencies.
This wasn’t the first time I had found myself struggling with my mental health. In high school, I grappled with fits of anxiety and depression, finding reprieve in the comfort of my home, a place where I could distance myself from academic and emotional difficulties of school and take the time to relax and heal. I figured I could do the same in college, but spending time in my dorm room only made me feel worse.
And so, only a week into college, I found myself hunched against a wall, hysterically sobbing in the middle of a stairwell for all of my dorm peers to hear. Never before had I had such an emotional public outburst. I felt pathetic and weak, but it was the wake-up call I needed — what I was doing wasn’t working and something needed to change.
People tell you that college, especially UC Berkeley, will be difficult, academically, socially and emotionally. But what people rarely mention is that in addition to all the changes that starting a new chapter in your life brings, the way you deal with challenges will also have to change.
In high school, my home was a place I could use to escape. But in college, school is literally inescapable. When you’re a freshman, you don’t eat alone or sleep alone, and even the sacred act of pooping isn’t free from the judgement of your peers. Not having a second to myself weighed on me in ways I could not begin to anticipate. Without the time alone to internally process, I was keeping my feelings bottled in, and it’s no surprise that they eventually exploded in such a sudden, unexpected and public way. But that experience forced me to do something that I had never done before. I reached out to my roommates and told them what I was feeling, and I found out that they were going through the exact same thing.
The lack of privacy combined with the constant pressure of social and academic success means the way we process our emotions in college is entirely different. We’re forced to be vulnerable in completely new and unexpected ways. For me, that meant vocalizing my emotions to my peers, for others that might mean utilizing mental health resources on campus.
College is a terrifying and unfamiliar world and so are the emotions that come with it. It’s why so many college students struggle with mental illness silently, and it’s probably why so many of us use self-deprecating, detached humor to talk about our mental health with our peers.
Nothing you can hear from friends, read in an article or watch in a video really prepares you for how difficult college is. But I’m learning that it’s okay to struggle, to be scared and to be overwhelmed, and I’m seeking comfort in the knowledge that while I may be in a sea of thousands of different people, I know we’re all going through similar experiences. Hopefully, you can, too.
Contact Anna Tseselsky[email protected].