Your Freshman Year Doesn’t Have to be Instagram Worthy

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When I turned five, my friends sang me “Happy Birthday,” and I crawled under the table, sobbing hysterically. Needless to say, social interactions freak me out. Any sort of group activity causes my heart to race a mile a minute. I can’t help thinking about all the potential ways I might screw up and humiliate myself. College has been no exception.

While college helped me grow as a person (I now wait until after a few interactions before my instinct to judge kicks in), it wasn’t the overnight cure for my social anxiety that I had hoped.

The first day of move-in wasn’t so bad. Everyone showed his or her clear distress, and I felt incredibly relieved to know that everyone felt the same way. A week in, things started to change. While I still struggled to put a sentence together and introduce myself like a normal human being, other people had already bonded over getting lost on public transport and 3 a.m. Taco Bell runs. Everyone else seemed to take the classic advice, “Just talk to people,” very seriously. For them, it seemed to work out. I, on the other hand, desperately needed the pre-step of “How to not pass out and hit my head on floor tiles,” but no one seemed to be giving that pep talk.

I ended up making friends through a matter of convenience. My California-acclimated body couldn’t handle the Michigan humidity, and I could always count on the dorm theater on to be cool. There, I met my core group of friends. We all sought refuge amongst the air-conditioning and bad television shows. It got to the point where not being friends would be substantially more work than getting to know each other.

This process was gradual and by no means took away my anxieties. While I recognized my irrationality, I felt terrified that my new friends only invited me to hang out because they just felt awkward not inviting me.

Dealing with social anxiety amidst the already present stress of freshman year can be a literal nightmare. On top of classes and learning to manage life all on your own, you (if you’re like me) have all those pre-conceived notions of what college should be weighing on your mind. My first night at college definitely did not match up with Rory Gilmore’s. Add this pre-existing perpetual anxiety to browsing through every Instagram post and Facebook update captioned “#squadgoals,” and you’ve got a perfect recipe for endless self-doubt.

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to realize that this feeling of isolation lives inside my head. Because of my social anxiety, my perception of my world is way off base. Even though I now live with my friends, I still sometimes wonder, do they really want me around?

Luckily the answer is (almost always) yes.

Of course, I still spend some days home alone wishing I made a few more friends. But at the end of the day, I’ve got a nice, supportive group of people to come home to and my same solid hometown group who I can reach with the tap of a touchscreen.

From my small group of friends here at Michigan, I’ve found the knowledge that other people exist with the same fears and endless anxieties as myself. Trust me, none of us know what we’re going to do after college. Even though I do still sometimes wish I experienced those “#squadgoal” weekends, that knowledge endlessly reassures me. Because for all those times I wished my life was a little more like Gossip Girl, reality sets in that crowds freak me out, booze isn’t my cup of tea and I refuse to breakdown over a boy like Serena van der Woodsen. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Natalie is a senior English major at the University of Michigan. She loves listening to terrible pop-punk music and complaining about inclement weather.

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