Even though a large part of me really did not want to go back to school, it was still hard to walk away because of the emotional bond I'd formed with the place and people since it had been my home for three years. I still have moments of grief when I'm reminded of some event I'm missing or the fact that friends' lives are moving along without me. I'm not even sure if I'll ever be able to wrap my head around the fact that I'm not there. It's surreal. It feels like I'm still on summer break most of the time.
But although I haven't told many people this, I knew I needed to leave that place because, for me, it was toxic. Even when I wasn't in a really bad place in terms of my mental health, I was not in a good situation emotionally, and I considered transferring more than once even before this year.
It really breaks my heart to think about how disappointed I was by my college experience. High school wasn't so great for me...being a shy, socially anxious girl, I had few friends and just felt generally uncomfortable being surrounded by people and threatened with group work. I was too anxious to get involved with after-school programs either. My general anxiety problems combined with my school's immense pressure on taking high-level coursework left me a mess.
I chose to go to a small Christian school because I thought it would be my chance to be with people who liked to have fun without getting drunk and learn too. I had these dreams about how happy I would be. The school seemed like such a good fit and I was so excited about going. I saw it as my chance to come out of my shell and I dreamed of being an amiable tour guide who would pass lots of friends on my tours who would wave hello and give some cool shout out and I would have a cute boyfriend and graduate at the top of my class. The classes seemed so fascinating when I pored over the catalog and I thought I knew just what I wanted to do for work. There were so many clubs listed and I would circle all the ones I was interested in...
When my family left after moving me in, I called my mom after standing on the sidewalk for five minutes in the same place they had left me and sobbed into the phone that I needed them to come back and take me home. I couldn't believe when other girls on my hall said they hadn't called home once the whole of orientation week. I called home pretty much every day the rest of my three years there.
I introduced myself to one girl after another but soon despaired of ever actually forming any friendships. We had seemed to be all on even ground when we came in. But you are never on a level playing field. Certain girls just clicked or even had the benefit of already knowing people. They dated guys on our brother hall. They got to start on the path of future fraternity sweethearts. I felt like every time I met a person I clicked with, they disappeared and I never saw them again. Or if I did, they had moved on to make other friends.
After one semester, everyone seemed to be set as far as friends, so forming new relationships after that point was even more difficult. I bravely set out on my journey to find a group to be involved in - I love having a community to contribute to - so I could make friends. But this was to be the bane of my existence my three years there. I tried for and was rejected from the following:
- Chapel worship team (I actually didn't even get an audition...)
- A women's Bible study and mentoring group (I was waitlisted. Guess Ill have to wait on that spiritual growth...)
- A women's honorary service society (because you have to reach a certain caliber of goodness to be qualified to do nice things for others)
- Homecoming weekend coffeehouse (Twice. But then I figured out that this was because all the slots were given to attractive males. I guess that's why the all-female audition panel looked so bored while I played.)
- A group that put on concerts (Because you need a small, select group of people for that. And this was after they walked you into a dark room and made you sit in front of an overhead projector while disembodied voices asked questions to gauge your professional experience like, "Who would win: Batman or Superman?")
- Librarian job (In spite of the fact that I spent probably 5+ hours in the place every day of my freshman year...And I have the soul of a librarian.)
- My long-dreamt-of Tour Guide job (Because shy people are obvi incompetent. Whatever. I didn't want to memorize your canned, basic white college speech anyways.)
- Probably some other stuff
- Happiness (just being melodramatic now.)
So I ended up in an emotional state of loneliness and disappointment, feeling like an outsider (still), rejected and unable to break into the cool crowd. I felt angry because I knew I had talent and a heart to serve but people were making you go through ridiculous audition/application/interview processes so they could power/ego-trip and then pick their friends.
Living in such a situation, as you might imagine, made things even worse when I had a severe bout of depression in the Spring of my sophomore year. I was a wreck physically and mentally due stress and panic attacks that kept me awake for hours every night. I fell into a pretty bad state of depression and struggled with suicidal thoughts. I felt so worthless and insignificant, disappointed and frustrated.
Junior year, I was finally able to join a group and loved having a social outlet where I was, amazingly, able to break out of my shell quite a bit and make many friends. But over Christmas break, I fell into another Major Depressive episode, probably my worst yet, and things broke back down into their original miserable state of being. My moods were very erratic, such that I questioned if I had Borderline Personality, and small slights hit me hard. I had struggled all my time at school with feeling unsupported by friends, unaccepted by cliques, unpopular, barred from serving as I dreamed, too far from family...all this came to a head in that semester.
I needed unconditional love and support but found people were busy, flaky, unsure of how to deal with an emotional basket case, or even judgmental. New friends meant fun outings and inside jokes, but also let downs, being an outsider of closer relationships, and occasional insensitive comments (mostly from males. Insert eye roll. Then go into a corner and cry.) Not to mention the tumultuous rise and fall of an inaccessible romantic interest who chose another girl. These things all tore me to pieces. I, sadly, started tearing myself to pieces with it, feeling it was what I deserved.
In the midst of my bold attempts to finally break free of my shackles of shyness, I was imprisoned by other old foes: depression, rejection, loneliness. I had these beautiful moments of freedom: dancing on my roommate's bed to a freshman dance going on outside the room in the dorm courtyard. Dancing my little heart out before finding out the man I thought I finally had a chance with was going to make it official with an apathetic hipster. Doing improvised lunchtime sit-down stand-up comedy for friends at mealtimes....
But the flip side was eating alone 2/3 of the time. Not having the energy to go without taking two naps a day. The cold stare and offhand comments of my overachieving roommate. The nights crying curled in a ball on the bathroom floor. The sweater inseams covered in dried snot from phone calls home in the vacuum closet. The showers spent lying on the tile, letting the torrents wash over me. The smattering of red scratches on my upper thighs. The social events ruined by a look or eye roll or short remark.
I had to walk away.
It's easy to see myself as the problem child: Too emotional. Unbalanced. Not committed enough. Lazy. Taking things too personal. But I also see myself as sensitive, generous, compassionate, concerned. And brave. This week I am proud of myself for walking away from a toxic place. I have attributed my relief from the worst of my depression to being home, but today I am giving myself some credit for the recovery: I removed myself from a harmful place even though I knew people would judge, abandon me, not understand, etc. I always rag on myself for being so dependent on others, but I made a choice to protect myself instead of just following what everyone else expected.
Give yourself credit for something.