My transition to college bore zero resemblance to any warnings I had received from others prior to move-in day. From my AP English teacher’s tales of horror of one “Professor Higgenbottom” to the mentally drained expressions worn on the faces of those who had graduated years before me, my only impression of college was that it was a soul-sucking, money-guzzling institution of despair fueled by mental and intellectual degradation and stress – mostly stress. I prepared myself for an onslaught of unmanageable assignments, constant all-nighters, and the knowledge that I would be crying myself to sleep most nights over a paper or exam. And this is likely a very real experience for a lot of people, which is all the more reason why I was surprised to find my personal experience quite different.
Something that I was not quite prepared for when I was finally sitting alone in my dorm room and my mom was on her way back home was the emotional instability. As someone who is extremely close to my family, I was expecting tears, but not the overwhelming feeling of loneliness, insecurity, and separation that followed me through my first month of school. I had spent months preparing to be academically distraught; however, it was my emotional health that instead consumed me. I found myself completing my assignments early, reading ahead, and never going to bed much later than midnight each night. I felt that my workload was no different than what I had experienced in high school. I still have yet to find myself in the depths of an all-nighter. In fact, to me, college was and is just a much bigger, way more expensive, and a seemingly increasingly wasteful version of high school in another state. Emotionally, however, I was in fifteen mental places at once, none of them good. I missed my parents and siblings horribly, and I struggled to make friends as it seemed that everyone already knew everyone from high school. No number of incessant texts to my mom or phone calls at odd hours calmed me enough. It wouldn’t take much to make me break down in tears, and while I was thriving academically, my mental and emotional health was disintegrating.
In a way, I almost felt cheated. All I had heard before starting college was that the academics would be the slow death of my mental health, not my emotions. I wasn’t prepared for the sudden realization that I was truly alone on the opposite side of the country. I just did not know how to handle it. Being away from my family was so difficult for me, and as the first semester of my freshman year passed, it didn’t become any easier. I began to consider transferring somewhere closer to home where a weekend trip wouldn’t be a $500 ticket and a 5-hour haul, and where I might find people more like me. This emotional distress culminated in me eventually taking a last minute flight home to California for a weekend in March following a pretty dramatic emotional breakdown after being dismissed by the only acquaintance I had made. And if I was being totally honest, there was no part of me that wanted to get on that plane to come back.
Two years later, and oh so much closer to leaving Michigan behind, I’m not sure how much has really changed. I still struggle with feeling so emotionally tied to my family; even now, there is a mild, and maybe even irrational, hatred and feeling of dread each time I board a plane to come back to Ann Arbor, and there is no shortage of tears every time I come and go. And with this comes a side of jealousy of those whose families are so geographically accessible, despite it having been my choice to study here. My mom, thankfully, still texts me back on a very daily basis and I owe 95% of my emotional stability to her being such a constant. I do wonder what this means for me though. I feel that in a lot of ways, my college experience has hinged on my ability to detach myself from others and to focus on the work. Though maybe not necessarily true, my mind believes that there isn’t much for me here, and that I just need to get the work done so that I can finally leave it behind and move forward. As a result, my end goal from day one, it seems, has been to get the grade and a sheet of paper saying I have a degree and to leave as soon as possible; even I see a slight problem in that, but so much of this attitude is tied into my emotional health. Part of me wonders if I would have experienced the more talked-about, academically stressful side of things had I chosen somewhere else, if I would have thrived academically and suffered emotionally in the same way. It’s hard to tell. Hail to the victors, I guess.