Hey ya’ll! You might have heard some mention of this new series I’m starting, which is called “College Real Talk” (or CRT). Two times a month, I will be sharing stories of people who are in, or recently finished, college. These stories are going to be honest. I want people to read them and think, “I’m not alone!” My point is not to bad talk college – it’s actually the opposite! I want young women to realize that bad things happen, and college won’t always be easy – but in the end it is so worth it!
Today I am starting out the series by sharing one of my own stories. The story of my sophomore year, when I struggled with extreme loneliness and anxiety. I hope you all can find some comfort hearing my story, and know that you’re not alone!
The End of Freshman Year
While choosing my roommate for the coming year, I decided to room again with my freshman year roommate. Although we definitely had our struggles and difficulties (a whole other story), I felt it was better to be with the devil you knew than some random placement. I was also nervous about trying to find anyone else to room with. Over the summer, my roommate dropped her housing contract. I no longer had a roommate. My school emailed me that summer, giving me the option to have a random placement or buy out my room for an extra thousand dollars.
Well, if you’ve ever had to share a room with someone, you know why I would choose to buy out my room. I looked forward with glee to having a room all to myself. There would be so much extra room, not to mention a king sized bed! I was incredibly happy with my choice.
The Start of Sophomore Year
When I arrived at college, everything was fabulous. My parents helped me move in, and I had so much extra space, a problem that no college student ever has. I had a giant king bed, and a room entirely to myself. In the flurry of back to school, everything was great. I was seeing my old friends, getting ready for the new semester, welcoming new freshman as a welcome week leader, and overall staying busy.
Once the semester settled in, however, I started to feel lonely. The loneliness wasn’t terrible, but it was rough. Everyone was busy with their own schoolwork, my boyfriend lived 5 hours away, and my family all lived 4 hours away. I had also given myself several large breaks in my school day, which gave me lots of time to be alone. I started to feel depressed and alone, and started to believe that no one really cared what or how I was doing.
The Curse of a Single Room
As the semester went on, I realized how much I missed having a roommate. Sure, my roomie freshman year was gone pretty often, but I always knew where she was and vice versa. If she was around, we would go shopping together, eat meals together, and hang out. At the end of a long day, I could come home and talk to her about it.
Without a roommate, I became a bit of a recluse. Rather than eating my meals in the dining hall, I took them to-go and ate in my room while watching tv. Almost every day of the week I ate my meals alone in my room. Most weekends I would just stay in my room as much as possible, avoiding the outside world. I talked to my boyfriend most nights on the phone, but that didn’t replace having a real live person to talk about my day with. For quite a while, my days went on like this, the loneliness barely kept at bay. Then it started to get worse.
Anxiety Sets In
As the loneliness and depression continued, I started to get extremely anxious. If my friends didn’t want to hang out, I assumed they hated me. If my boyfriend for some reason couldn’t talk to me on the phone that night, I was a mess. I started having panic attacks, episodes where I would be unable to breathe and felt like the world was closing in around me. They came for no apparent reason. There was no easy to identify moment that would lead to an attack – they would just hit me out of the blue. For a few months, I was having at least one panic attack a week. I felt like there was no one in the world that cared about me. My mind was going to a really dark place. I stopped eating meals rather than going to the dining halls. I had a lot of self hatred.
My loneliness wasn’t anyone’s fault. My friends, family, and boyfriend were all very supportive, and talked to me as much as they could. Living alone, so far away from most of my support system, with only a few good friends was making me have panic attacks. I went home for Christmas break and things were better for a while, living with family and having loved ones around. When school went back in session I started really struggling with my course load. I wasn’t sleeping, I was having several panic attacks a week, and I was finding it difficult to get out of bed except for mandatory classes.
My mom called me one night, and I just burst into tears. I couldn’t explain it, I just knew I needed someone to help me. That weekend my mom drove down to my college town and spent the day with me. We didn’t talk about it, she just knew I needed someone there. When she left, I cried and held her for a long time, telling her more about how I had been struggling with loneliness. I had panic attacks in high school, but never more than one a semester. This was a whole new ball game.
During the semester, my boyfriend decided to move to Muncie so we would be close together. We decided that sooner he could move in the better, so he moved in April, three weeks before the semester was over. Moving out of that dorm was one of the best feelings of my life. I had felt trapped by my loneliness and anxiety, unable to really get out. We moved into an apartment and my panic attacks almost entirely stopped, despite the pressures of finals. Just having someone there so I wasn’t so alone was an incredible weight lifted off my shoulders.
Looking Back + Fighting Loneliness
Now that I think about those long nine months I spent consumed by loneliness and anxiety, I wish I had done things differently. First of all, I wish I hadn’t bought out my room. Aside from that, there were several things I should have done.
- Talk to a psychologist/psychiatrist. Honestly, I am still terrified of taking this step. I wish someone would have made me go see someone, especially during the height of my panic attacks. Just having someone to talk to would have made a big difference.
- Tell more people that I was struggling. Aside from my boyfriend, mom, and best friend, I didn’t really tell anyone about my attacks. I didn’t tell any of them how bad it had gotten, how dark my thoughts had been some days. If I had reached out to my school friends, they would have been able to help me more. They had no idea I was so alone, so they didn’t make extra efforts to include me in things.
- Forced myself out of the room. Once I got in the habit of eating my meals in my room, it was very hard to break. I should have stayed in the dining hall and eaten there, because even if I was alone, I would at least be around other people. I would also likely see someone I knew, meaning I wouldn’t always eat alone.
- Cared more about my health. Some nights I would just eat everything in sight. I wasn’t watching my weight, drinking enough water, or eating right at all. Within a few months, I had gained so much I couldn’t fit into the bridesmaid dress I had picked out in November. I was able to exercise and eat well enough at the very end of the school year that everything worked out, but I was definitely not treating my body right.
The Moral of the Story
I wish I had asked for help. I’d put a lot of pressure on myself to just be better, rather than asking other people to help me climb out of the hole I had dug. I always wanted to appear strong. Mental health is so important, and it’s something a lot of college students don’t open up about. If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to reach out. The suicide hotline is always open, and it also has an online chat feature – don’t be afraid to use it. I have also included some other resources and tips at the end of this post.
The adjustment to college can be really difficult. As much as I love college, I have to admit that last year was one of the darkest of my life, despite the positive aspects. If you ever need to talk to someone and don’t want to open up to someone you know well, feel free to email me, text me, etc. I am always here.
Honestly ya’ll writing and publishing this post is one of the scariest things I have ever done. If it helps just one person, or makes one person feel less alone, it will be worth it. No one should ever feel alone!
If you have a personal story to share about college that you want to share as a part of the college real talk series, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Suicide hotline – 1-800-273-8255
Dealing with Panic attacks – everyone deals with their panic attacks differently. For me, I like to be held tightly if someone is around. I don’t really want them to talk to me. Nothing is worse than someone telling you to take deep breaths or just calm down when you literally cannot. Some people like to layer heavy blankets over themselves. I have read that it helps to touch as many physical things as possible, and distract your mind by counting things. As much as it seems like you can’t try to take a long inhale and long exhale, counting each breath. Many other symptoms are caused by quick and shallow breathing, so taking deep breaths can help if you are able. Again, if you are struggling with panic attacks and need to talk to someone, I am always available to talk.