My college experience as a recovering agoraphobic

Content warning: depression, abuse

If someone told me at the beginning of 2020 that my mental health would improve by the end of the year, I never would have believed it. Yet, that’s what happened, somehow with the help of a global pandemic.

In the beginning of 2020, I made the difficult decision to end an abusive friendship. Throughout my senior year of high school in 2019 and 2020, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety. I also felt pressure as the student body president and a straight-A student at my prestigious, elitist high school. I then developed agoraphobia, loathing my school’s environment. As life moved to a virtual format with the shelter-in-place, I slowly realized completing the school year online was much better for my mental health.

While I felt myself grow into a mentally stable position by the summer following my high school graduation, I wasn’t enthusiastic or proud about my plans for the fall. I wasn’t particularly happy on an everyday basis; I was simply content. Initially excited to return to the East Coast for college where I had lived as a child, I decided to stay in California to attend UC Berkeley because I received an exceptional financial aid package. 

I knew there were countless alumni from my high school who were at UC Berkeley, and I didn’t want college to feel like high school 2.0. I made elaborate plans to transfer to a college back East, but after realizing UC Berkeley would accept most of the credits I fulfilled through college classes I took as a high school student, I committed to graduating in two years. 

Since the fall semester of my freshman year, I have focused on my academic and career goals. I took many classes, wrote for various campus publications, attended club meetings, made postgraduate plans and prepared to write my honors thesis. I spent most of my time alone in my apartment reading or writing for leisure, cooking up a good meal or watching a film. A lot of people around me were utterly confused about my lifestyle.

“Don’t you want to live the college experience?” they would ask. 

I knew what they were referring to, but it honestly didn’t resonate with me. In my opinion, the “college experience” is what you make it. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and my experience is shaped by the fact that I’m an introvert, a recovering agoraphobic and a survivor of abuse. 

While I don’t think my abusive friendship in high school severely impacted my ability to socialize or make new friends, seeing former friends justify my abuser and benefitting from leaving them made me realize I’d much rather have one great friend than 100 bad, or even mediocre ones. 

By college, I realized I felt happiest when I either spent time with a small group of wonderful people or when I pursued a personal project at home. Since I spent a lot of high school fulfilling other people’s expectations and staying in relationships that nearly killed me, my “college experience” was to find solace in my own personal expectations and only spend time with those who made me feel the most loved and lively. 

When I entered college, I knew I had a long list of writing projects to embark on. I’m a firm believer that writing is an exercise and is like a muscle that needs to be trained regularly — it’s an individualistic experience that requires you to write as much as you can, and get used to writing both bad writing and good writing. 

About a week away from graduating, I feel the writing process serves as an allegory for my college experience; I wrote and experienced a lot, writing and experiencing draft after draft while recognizing the good and the bad, so I could fulfill my own goals. 

Despite almost being done with my expedited college career, some remain confused about my decision to graduate since I turned 20 last month, noting that I probably have a lot more to experience in life. While I agree that I probably do have a lot more to experience, I don’t think these extra experiences are limited to college. 

Additionally, I still feel I’ve still experienced a lot during my few college years. I’ve made so much progress in my mental health journey and am happy to say I finally feel like I’m in a good place. However, the road to get to where I am has been far from smooth; yet, I persisted. 

When I was busy accomplishing a lot with my writing, I was also battling intense abdominal cramps due to my struggle with postmenstrual dysphoric disorder, which I later learned to deal with through different medications and lifestyles. When I finalized the list of graduate programs I was looking to apply to, I was also on a train ride home — the same one I used to commute to school from Santa Cruz before realizing the long journey would be unrealistic for me to undergo everyday. 

While my college years may not be for everyone, that’s completely okay and encapsulates exactly what a college experience should be: personal and different for each individual. 

My personal college experience has made me grow in ways I never thought possible. As a perfectionist, I didn’t find it necessary to celebrate myself when I recovered from my depression. But two years later, after experiencing more success, more failure and more mediocrity, I’m so proud of myself. Most importantly, I’m happy. 

Rossi was the lead business and economy reporter. She joined the The Daily Californian in summer 2021 as a general assignment reporter and worked on the business and economy beat in fall 2021. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political economy and classics as well as minors in history, journalism and politics, philosophy and law.