Loneliness During My First Year In College
By Hope-Elizabeth Darris
Hope-Elizabeth is a rising sophomore at Swarthmore College. She is intending to major in Sociology and Anthropology. In her free time she loves to dance, read, act, and continuously rewatch The Office.
I hit my own personal rock bottom on one particularly sad night when I was having the biggest breakdown of my life, and I decided to take a photo of myself. I don’t know what possessed me to do such a thing, but I snapped a quick selfie of myself mid-breakdown with my tears and makeup running down my cheeks.
There was also this weird vacant look in my eyes. I completely forgot about the photo until the next morning when I woke up and saw it on my camera roll. It’s a disgusting, gross picture that is evidence of a moment that I never want to remember but I seemingly can’t forget.
For some reason though, I can’t bring myself to delete it, even though it’s a reminder of really bad times. The irony in it is that if I scroll a few rows up, I’ll see photos of myself the summer before starting college, that are filled with me smiling so big, you can’t even see my eyes.
The summer before college, I was the happiest I’d ever been. I was surrounded by nothing but love and support and I was finally comfortable with my body and sexuality. With this new positive energy, I was nothing less than excited to start college and finally be independent. Looking back now, I know for a fact that I went to college with my expectations way too high. I had let the stereotypical portrayal of college become the only experience that I’d want to have and the only one I thought was acceptable. Even though I’d heard that the friends you make during orientation are most likely not going to be the friends you leave with, I was hesitant to believe this. I wanted the transition from high school to college to be smooth sailing but it turned out to be anything but that.
That first week of orientation, things were as easy as I had hoped they’d be. That first week, was filled with late nights, early mornings, laughing and listening to music on shag carpets while eating pizza, talking fondly about times back home, and the nervous excitement for what’s to come. I found a group of friends that seemed to like my presence and I was at an all-time high. I was ready for the school year to start with my new “best friends” at my side.
Once classes got underway, I had a lot less free time but I was still hanging out with my orientation friends and surprisingly doing well in my classes. I was able to properly manage all my homework during the weekdays which meant weekends were spent hanging out with friends and going to parties. I’m not sure what triggered my awakening but, a few weeks in, I realized that I wasn’t happy. It was as though all the confidence and self-love I had acquired during senior year went down the drain with no explanation. I believe that part of this was due to being in such a drastically different environment than what I was used to. It hadn't really set in that I was an actual college student until I had started classes and wore a lanyard around my neck like the stereotypical first-year student. I grew up in NYC and went to school in Manhattan. I have always been in love with skyscrapers and busy streets. The campus however, was the opposite of that and it was the first time I was living in a place that didn’t really feel like home.
This along with the realization that I was seemingly expendable in my friend group, put me in a funk. I thought that the root of my problems stemmed from the fact that I was surrounding myself with people who didn’t really understand me and who seemed to like me better quiet. My friends from orientation were wonderful people; they were funny, intelligent and kind but I just didn’t belong. Unconsciously or not, I would go unheard in conversations, and when I spoke, I was talked over or brushed aside.
I don’t believe these were conscious decisions on their part, but it hurt. I knew I was feeling lonely and I wanted to change that. I wanted my first year of college to be fun and enjoyable, anything but what I was currently experiencing. I started meeting with a therapist on campus because I thought to have one would be beneficial. When I first started sessions, I was in a relatively good place mentally. I was lonely yes, but things could be worse. We only had a few sessions before the first semester ended, and I hoped I would be in a good place by the time we met up again next semester. However, things got worse second semester. My mental health took a nosedive.
I started hanging out with new people who I quickly grew close with. I got more involved on campus; getting a job, joining theater productions, dance groups, and writing for school publications. I thought that creating a fresh new start for myself would make me happier. I thought I was taking steps in the right direction, but my mental health was not cooperating. The last few months of my second semester where the hardest of my life and I had never hated myself more. I would end almost every night locked in my dorm room either crying or just lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering if this is all there is.
Getting up and doing simple things was tiring and starting the day was a struggle. Additionally, I regret it now, but I was scared to talk to my therapist because I didn’t want to acknowledge that things were bad and getting worse.
This downward trajectory came to an end that night I took that horrible mid-breakdown selfie. When I woke up the next morning and saw that photo, I knew I couldn’t continue to bottle up all these feelings. In my last few therapy sessions, I opened up about this anger and loneliness I was feeling. I reached out to close friends, not filling them in on everything, but telling them I’m struggling. Although it didn’t solve everything, it was such a relief that I wasn’t going through this alone.
Now that the school year is over, when I look back on this first year, I realize just how much it sucked. This isn’t to say there weren’t some great and amazing moments, but overall it was mentally exhausting.
Things aren’t perfect now, but it’s getting better. I have come to the understanding that the emotions I’m feeling, this anger and loneliness that I continue to grapple with, are valid. I come away from this year believing that while things get worse for a while or maybe for a long while, they will get better in time.
You go through shit and you endure the pain, but you deal with it. You may come out different from all of it but, you’ll survive. You just gotta take things moment by moment and realize that with each small step you take, you are making your way towards something better.