Everything leading up to that first day, was what I had previously been preparing for. I thought back to everything I had done and done well that got me here. Graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA. Being in National Honor Society. Winning athletic awards and academic awards and being captain. My entire life had revolved around school and athletics and I thought college would just be the next easy step I’d so quickly adjust to.
Weeks leading up, I packed my things all excited picking a color scheme. I talked to roommates I hadn’t met yet discussing who would bring what. In my mind, college was going to be everything high school was minus the parents.
I was ready for the next four years of my life to be the best four years.
What became my reality was far different than what I had experienced.
Recently I read the book by Kate Fagan, “What Made Maddy Run.” I was brought back to my freshman year. A story about a young athlete struggling to adjust to college, which later ended in a tradgedy.
In every page I read I found myself in Maddy. I found myself struggling and not knowing how to ask for help.
But how did it get to a point of me staring at my bloodshot eyes in the bathroom falling deeper into depression and saying to myself, “if you stay here something bad will happen?”
How did this excited overachiever so ready to take on college turn into someone who was a shell of myself?
I stepped on scale and it was obvious just looking at me, what many considered an accomplishment, (losing weight) I saw as a side effect I was ignoring. Coming home from break everyone kept asking how college was and saying how great I looked.
I remember staring at the calendar not wanting to go back.
If someone were to ask me to describe my first year of college in one word, I would say lonely.
I had friends, even a relationship but even then something was off I couldn’t explain or shake.
My parents would call and ask how school was and I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I was struggling. Instead I told them I was happy. But mother’s intuition maybe, every conversation my mom would ask, “Are you adjusting well. So and so isn’t doing well. It’s okay if you’re not.”
I never told them though over the phone. Instead I’d say I love you, I’d hang up and I’d cry in my room alone.
In the years that followed my mother confided in me how she felt driving away after moving me in, “I drove away and I knew it was a mistake.”
If I could give the 18 year old me a piece of advice it would be, “if a school doesn’t fit, transfer.”
But in that moment I didn’t think the school was the problem I thought I was.
It was on a beautiful campus, I had a pool within walking distance of my apartment. I lived in a place people would kill for.
But in every picture I took of me laying by the pool or me laughing with people at a party and a caption reading, “the life,” or something along those lines, there I was looking around at everyone around me wondering what I was doing wrong here. Why was I so lonely? Why did I hate it here?
What they don’t tell you about college is you have a lot of free time.
A lot of time of time to think and for someone like me who came from a lifestyle of constantly being busy and doing things all the time I didn’t know how to adjust to that.
What they don’t tell you is how homesick you are going to get and how much you’ll miss your hometown friends that first year.
I went from a group of 25+friends to very few. I was caught between two very different lives, one I longed for with lifelong friends and wanting that type of life in this new place I was supposed to call home.
What they don’t tell you is making friends might not come as easy to you, you’re going to have to put yourself out there.
Being on a team year round I didn’t have to make friends or worry about plans on a Friday night. Not when I had practice and tournaments every day and every weekend.
I joined clubs but it wasn’t filling this void I so longed for I couldn’t explain.
I thought struggling to make friends was a character flaw within me.
When you are in the wrong place, there is no way you can change who you are to adjust to that. I felt like I was playing a character in someone else’s life trying deseperately to make something work that was never going to.
And I saw that early on and I thought I could change it.
You put an academic and athletically focused person at a party school they are going to drown there. I couldn’t adjust. No matter how hard I tried. No matter how many games I went to. No matter how drunk I got trying to be this person I wasn’t.
Sometimes the problem isn’t you. Just like you can’t force a relationship I couldn’t force myself to be happy in that place.
I confided in a few people about how much I was struggling.
I sat on my friends bed crying and I just told her “I can’t be here anymore. I can’t do this for the next 3 years.”
The thought of making it to finals seemed like a task. But making it to graduation feeling like I had every day since I got there, that was near impossible.
I kept trying so hard to make it work and fall in love with this place the way all my friends fell in love with their schools.
But every time I visited them I looked at them jealous and full of envy tbat they were getting the college experience I so desperately wanted.
I remember driving with my family friend back to school after a long weekend and I looked at him and I said, “do you ever feel like you are not supposed to be somewhere?” Without having to explain anything further, “if something feels off in your life change it.”
I began filling out transfer applications to my friends schools not telling anyone about it.
The most exciting part of my freshman year wasn’t what most people would say. The most exciting part was my last day, walking through campus taking all of it in. And it was beautiful. I looked at stunning building and campus overcome with sorrow that I didn’t love it. But there was a moment of relief as I turned my back looking at it all one last time and realizing, despite not knowing what my future would hold in my sophomore year, I knew it wasn’t going to be there. That moment was like a weight lifted off my chest.
If I could give my younger self advice or any freshmen who finds themselves struggling to adjust it would be leaving a school that isn’t right for you, doesn’t make you weak. Not enjoying college just because everyone else does, doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. And asking for help when you need it and trying to find a solution can change your life for the better.
I would have told myself to transfer sooner. I wouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself to try and force happiness. Because you do only have four years but you deserve those years to be something you look back at grateful, not something that hurts.
In my sophomore year I transferred to a small liberal arts school to play volleyball. And even that was an adjustment at first. But I found that thing I was looking for within a team, within a sorority, within a small department full of mentors and classmates who felt more like family in end.
I don’t regret staying a year at a school I hated if anything it taught me about resilance and how strong I could be.
But if I learned anything from that experience it’s that happiness shouldn’t be so hard to obtain and if it’s not working that’s okay. Don’t stay in a place where you are so miserable it turns you into someone you aren’t.
But more than anything don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.