Help! I’m having trouble adjusting to college and accepting myself, and it’s stressing me out. What can I do to fix this? Lots of details inside.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry for the length. :(
I’m a female college freshman in the US. A majority of the time I feel fine, like my normal self. I’m intensely interested in learning things and making things, as usual; possibly even more so. But recently (for the last 2-3 months) I’ve started feeling both a general dread of being at college and pangs of acute unhappiness.
First, for example, when I returned to campus after a month, I felt this physical resistance as I was walking back to my room, like either I didn’t want to be on campus or the campus didn’t want me here. Thinking about various places on campus, I can’t remember many happy memories. Second, I never used to cry in high school. I can remember barely one or two instances over four years. But in the last 2-3 months, starting over fall break, I’ve started becoming emotionally unstable. I cry on average once every two weeks, sometimes multiple times in a day. The frequency seems to be linked to my period and PMSing, but I’m not sure why this would be happening now if it never happened to me in high school.
The crying is weird. I feel these physical pangs of sadness running through my body, and it seems to be triggered by specific thoughts. For example, one of my professors sent me an email including the phrase “I just want you to be happy,” and that really made me cry. It also seems to be triggered by thoughts like “I need to take care of myself,” “I feel totally alone,” “I feel profoundly unhappy” (even though the feeling is localized to this moment, and most of the time I feel okay), “I really need help,” and “I really wish someone would care about me.” Writing this is making me tear up. I know something’s wrong, but I’m not sure what it is or what I can do to fix it.
One thing that stresses me out is that I don’t feel like I have many friends here. I had a close group of friends in high school that I cared about a lot, and we would often hang out after school. Here, I feel like I haven’t met many similar people. I know the stock advice is to hang out with people different from you and each person will teach the other interesting things, and that’s true, but I would really like to find similar people. Part of it is that I have niche interests spanning two very different fields, but that’s not extremely niche. Another part of it is that many freshmen I meet are undecided about their major, whereas I came in strongly set on my major and my goals. I know there are definitely other decided and passionate people here -- my school is known for ambitious overachievers, actually -- but I’m not sure how or where to meet them. I feel much more comfortable talking to professors and upperclassmen, because I feel like we’re similarly driven and I become inspired by their achievements.
The cycle of loneliness gets worse because the fewer friends I have, the less likely I am to meet new people through them, and the more likely I am to avoid people. I’ve already started avoiding dining halls. It’s an irrational and expensive habit, but sitting by myself makes me feel insecure, and it’s awkward if I see people I know. So I prefer to buy food and eat by myself even though I’ve paid for a meal plan. During the beginning of the semester, I was outgoing enough to introduce myself to strangers in the dining hall, but now every meal feels like a struggle.
Also, I don’t understand why I feel so lonely. I’m an introvert, and I strongly prefer being by myself (I would spend days in the summer just reading things), but something in my mind is making me unhappy now that I’m by myself. I guess it’s the fact that I don’t feel like I have a choice in being by myself. I like being around people, in the long run: I’m pretty extroverted around new people, and I have no problem making small talk. My friends matter a lot to me, and if people need help, I’ll always try my best. I also have a boyfriend who goes to a different college (who happens to have very similar interests, so I know people like us exist). Talking to him has helped a lot, but I don’t want to spread my negativity to him.
I’ve considered transferring to another college. I often feel like I don’t fully belong here, and there are two I can think of that I’ve visited and really liked because I’ve easily found people with my interests. It’s probably too difficult to transfer, though, and I have extracurricular ties here that I value.
One concrete thing I’m doing to meet people is that I try to go to as many technical events on campus as I can, time permitting. But they’re usually lectures or co-working events, so nothing has really come of it. What other things should I be doing?
Also, I’m very confused about the conflict between finding myself and being myself. The stock advice for new college students includes both “try new things, meet new people, and improve yourself” and “pursue your passions wholeheartedly, gain deep skill, and ignore what other people are doing.” These don’t seem that contradictory, but I’m having problems. For example, I like music and dancing, so I decided to try the college party scene. After going to pregames, formals, and clubs, I realized that I’m personally not interested in drinking, dressing up, or hooking up. I have a boyfriend that I’m devoted to, and it’s more fulfilling to me if I spend my nights on making something or learning something. I could “improve myself” by learning to be more social and having a good time, or I could be myself by pursuing what I’d normally pursue. Should I work to change myself or should I work to really be myself? I know it’s a spectrum, but each task demands time, and time is limited.
I guess I already knew the answer to this; I just needed someone to talk about it with. In the last few weeks, I’ve learned that if I really want to be myself, I need to take a pretty unusual path and give a lot of my time. I feel like the combination of interests I have, the things I enjoy doing, and the things I want to do mean that I should concentrate fully on things that most other freshmen aren’t doing now. I’m seriously considering graduate school (with open eyes -- I’ve talked to professors, I’m fully devoted to my major, and I see several paths that really appeal to me). This means I need to focus on my GPA and doing research as an undergrad. My passions include coding and writing and combining the two, and even though just getting good at one skill is a life’s work, I want to gain deep skill in both and produce as much as I can. This is tough and time-intensive and often a solitary task. I don’t really have free time and I don’t hang out with people often, because I always have a personal project or four that I want to work on. (I guess I prefer to make my work my life instead of dividing it into “work” and “free time.”) I know I don’t have to do this alone, and I would love to work with people who are similarly driven. But how?
Thanks for reading. I guess these are the questions that have been bothering me:
Why did I become so emotionally unstable and what can I do to take care of myself?
What can I do to meet more similar people and/or stop feeling so alone? (How did you meet your closest friends?)
Where’s the balance between changing myself and accepting myself?
Throwaway email: firstname.lastname@example.org