“In college, you’ll make friends for life!” said every college graduate ever.
This is an old adage adults like to tell young students when they first get accepted into college. They’ll gush about the time a roommate adopted a miniature pig or when a friend came to the rescue on a date gone wrong or how a classmate ended up becoming a business partner. Former college students seem to forget the daily grind of university life — the essays and exams and expectations set by you and others.
When people would tell me, a prospective college student, that I was going to make friends for life, I’d nod unenthusiastically, looking for a way out of the conversation. I was a moody teenager, skeptical of these kinds of sweeping statements that make college out to be some sort of promised land for hardworking, scholastically minded youths like myself.
I was right to be skeptical. The majority of time on campus is spent with a book or computer propped up on your knees, not creating memories with best friends. But still, I was not entirely justified in my skepticism.
My skepticism stemmed from the mental health issues I’ve dealt with in the past. As a freshman at Northwestern University, I was plagued by depression, completely certain that every day would be worse than the last. It was difficult for me to make friends because it was difficult for me to believe I was worthy of friendship.
When I moved back to Los Angeles, the depression eased, making room for some of the worst anxiety I have ever experienced. I learned that the depression had calmed me. When it subsided, my nerves went wild with the feeling that life would only get worse, and I became terrified that my depressed ideas about the world would come to fruition. I took this anxiety with me to Claremont McKenna, attempting to work through my problems with a therapist who offered to counsel me for free because of the perceived severity of my problems.
Taking a gap year helped break this vicious cycle. I lived on my own in Chicago, supporting myself financially and emotionally. Though everyone suffers from mental health challenges in unique ways, I found it beneficial to work through the anxiety and depression in a different setting, one so dramatically different than I was used to. With more responsibilities and fewer people to lean on, I trudged through each day, slowly but surely battering down my insecurities, worries and fears.
Though I still deal with bouts of anxiety and depression, I feel better now than I have in a long time. With this renewed health, the fog over my undergraduate career has been lifted, and I, like the all-knowing adults, truly believe I’ve made several friends for life at each college I attended. Well, maybe I won’t make friends for life, as I’ve learned to take things as they come, but I’ve definitely made friends for the foreseeable future.
Among the friends I’ve kept close to is my freshman roommate from Northwestern University, a woman whose savvy sense of humor is only surpassed by her charm and likability. She is someone who has remarkably accomplished everything she said she hoped she would when we first started living together as unsure 18-year-olds: a productive undergraduate career, a semi-autonomous job and a (soon-to-be) fiance. When I’m in Chicago, we get together and talk about the ways our lives have careened onto different trajectories, each of us grateful to be where we are today.
I’ve also managed to preserve a relationship with a friend from Claremont McKenna, a person whose confidence and intelligence is so strong it actually rubs off on you. She is someone that I can relate to at times when I feel most self-assured and most alone, someone I can drag to a bar for a raucous good time or someone I can brood with in my room, satisfactorily wallowing in my sadness with an audience of one.
Now that I’m at UC Berkeley, I don’t know who my friend(s) for life will be. Will it be the classmate that radiates positivity even under the worst professorial circumstances? Will it be the San Francisco resident whose one-liners and rides home make me think I might be getting more out of this friendship than he is? Will it be you, oh judgmental reader?
Truth be told, I don’t know. For all the ups and downs of college life, all of the applications and locations and people I’ve encountered, I’m still figuring things out. While this will be the last piece in my column, it only marks the last time I publicly try to unravel the enigma that is undergraduate life. So for now, farewell.