Starting your first college semester can feel like a big black hole. You know that people are experiencing the same feelings as you are and sharing the same thoughts, yet you feel a sense of total isolation.
You try explaining to your parents what you are going through: cold sweats coming and going as they please, thoughts rushing through your head at ripping speeds, and they try and calm you down, insisting that you’re not the only one.
Yet in my head, all I’m thinking is, “they just don’t get it.”
Sure, every freshman starts off their first college semester anxious and afraid of the unknown, but when you suffer from anxiety, everything is amplified. This makes normal nerves turn into gut-wrenching and body-shaking anxiety attacks.
My semester seemed a little more daunting, as I was commuting to Temple instead of living there like most students. This was the onset for unique fears that other college students would not even have to think about.
“What if I miss the train?”
“What if the train is late?”
“What if I miss my stop?”
“What if the train is perfectly fine, but then I get lost on campus?”
And then the most daunting, “What if the train is late AND I miss my stop?”
Little tasks that meant nothing to me on any given day now seemed like huge hurdles that I would not be able to jump over.
A waterfall of tears streamed when I least expected it. Unexplainable feelings of doubt and fear overtook my body, making me unable to see clearly and think rationally. It felt as though I was having an out–of–body experience, awake and aware of what I was saying and doing, but having no control over it.
Just a few months before, I could not wait for college to begin, sick of the same old routine of high school. New faces, classes, scenery, it all excited me, but also frightened me to my very core.
I have suffered from anxiety my whole life. In fact, I thought I had finally conquered it. As the months got closer, I started to suppress the feelings of anxiety that were slowly but surely taking over. This new feeling of anxiety for college not only made me fearful, but also angry at myself for letting what should be an exciting time in my life turn into what is giving me anxiety attacks at night. When a thought about going to orientation, registering for classes, or commuting to school crept into my mind, I would try to focus on something else, anything else.
A waterfall of tears streamed when I least expected it. Unexplainable feelings of doubt and fear overtook my body, making me unable to see clearly and think rationally.
As many people with anxiety do, I tried to suppress my feelings.
Night time was the worst for me. As I lay in my bed, I felt as though my mind was working in double speed. A million flashes of anxiety pierced my body.
Suppression, the action that at one time brought me momentary calmness, was now too far out of reach. As summer was rapidly ending, I could no longer act like college was not happening.
I started sharing my concerns with my mom and sister. Knowing how I’m an overly anxious person and oftentimes freak out about insubstantial things, they assured me what I was feeling was normal.
Not wanting to let them down, I left out the fact that I was having anxiety attacks at night and was completely second-guessing going to Temple.
My family always supported me throughout my journey with mental health.
Honestly, they understand me better than I understand myself sometimes. But I found myself growing annoyed at them when they tried to calm me down.
What I wanted from them was impossible: I wanted them to somehow be able to read my mind and suggest I take a semester off, but I did not want to be the one to utter those words.
It is one and a half weeks until my first semester starts, and my anxiety has turned into full fledged irrationality.
My anxiety left me moody. I would snap at my family when they called me out for my attitude, when I should have been taking that as a sign that there were feelings I was still ignoring.
My month-long anxiety attacks and depression eventually culminated into an hour-long cry fest with my mom and sister.
This time, however, I truly expressed the severity of my situation. I explained to my mom that I knew the feelings I had were irrational, but I felt as though there was nothing I could do about them now.
We dabbled with the idea that I take a semester off to calm my nerves, but decided that doing so was the exact opposite of what I needed.
I needed to face this anxiety head-on, using my fears to fuel me instead of constrict me.
The first day of classes finally arrives.
Feeling better but still uneasy, I woke up bright and early and got ready.
In order to make it to class on time, I had to catch a 7:33 train which realistically meant I had to leave my house at 7:10.
Being me; however, I left my house 45 minutes early, just to play it safe. Extra safe.
My train arrived, on time of course, and I got on. Each little task I completed felt like mini-accomplishments and put a smile on my face with each succeeding feat.
Stepping off the train and onto campus, I had a smile on my face that I never expected.
The sun was shining and I was feeling good.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have many minor anxiety-filled episodes during the day, but I welcomed the anxiety instead of pushing it away.
There are even some days—in my second semester of college—now that I am overcome with a sense of anxiety and fear. But each day I complete brings me a new sense of accomplishment, and closer to graduation.
College is hard, that is just a reality. Some days are really good, and some days I want to crawl into the fetal position and cry my heart out.
All of this is to say that fear of the unknown is normal, even some anxiety is normal; they don’t define you. It’s how you deal with them that defines the kind of person you are and the experiences you will have.