Four years ago, when I was starting my senior year of high school, I didn't think I was going to go to college. While college had always been a part of my plan for the future, I had been dealing with anxiety for a long time without really knowing what it was or why I felt the way I did. So, when the daunting tasks of touring campuses, filling out applications, waiting to see where I got in and choosing a school-- and then you know, actually GOING there-- came around, this monster that I had been keeping under wraps started to show a lot more. The idea of leaving home and going to college felt impossible at times, and I had no idea how other people were excited to go. Anxiety can really cause a fear of change, and that was certainly the case with me.
I went to therapy for the first time that fall of my senior year of high school and started to figure out the root of my anxiety so that I could work on it. It definitely didn't change anything over night, and it wasn't a fix-all. At the time, I struggled a lot more than I do now, and I still work on my anxiety every day. But it got me to a point where going to college at least felt like something I thought I could handle. I decided to go to the University of Central Florida, and December 2018, I'll graduate after going there for 3 and a half years.
Going away to college is hard for everyone, but it can be considerably more difficult for people who have anxiety. When I look back at how much I've come out of my comfort zone and how much I've accomplished that I never thought I'd be able to, I can honestly say that being in college created my largest period of growth. That's not to say I didn't have some really hard times, but as a whole I look back and feel really proud.
At the beginning of my freshman year, after a summer of scattered crying and panic attacks over leaving everything I was familiar with and hurling myself to a place I had never been before, I actually experienced a weird sense of calm. Sure, I got really homesick during my first few months. And sometimes I felt so far away from home that I got really freaked out. And sometimes my classes had me on the verge of tears and I had to convince myself to get out of bed and walk to class. BUT, I also did so many things I would have never predicted myself doing. I did something I didn't usually do-- I reached out to someone I barely knew and asked what he and his roommates were doing for Labor Day weekend. That unusual move was the catalyst for finding myself in a really amazing group of friends, and they are still the people I hang out with today, still the people I spend my summers missing. I drove two hours to the beach with these people before I even knew all of their names. And I didn't realize it then, but I was stepping out of my bubble and having a really great time doing it. I immersed myself fully in my environment instead of staying scared in my dorm room and it paid off big time.
In the quiet moments, I made sure to recharge. I remember I left the very first football game of the season pretty early because my entire week had been full of firsts and it was starting to catch up with me. I could still hear the cheers of the stadium from my bed, but I put on my pjs, made tea, watched TV on my laptop and went to sleep early. In the midst of doing all the things I didn't usually do, I needed to take time and get back in touch with making myself feel at "home." I knew that if I kept going at full speed all the time I would burn out, and I think that's something really important to remember when you're challenging yourself away from home. It's good to learn to enjoy hanging out with yourself and finding the best ways to give yourself a break.
My sophomore year of college was a challenge for me. I think the hard parts of college have nothing to do with academics-- it's what goes on outside of school that can end up making things difficult. I was dealing with heartbreaking family issues (on top of the homesickness I often felt I was drowning in), I was in the middle of a confusing relationship with food and struggling because of that, and in general was feeling more depressed and anxious than I had my first year away. I forgot about the tools I had used to make things more fun and distracting and instead spent a lot of time alone in my room. I was still surrounded by my awesome friends and had a boyfriend who did everything he could to help me out of my funk, but I couldn't seem to pull myself out of it. This was a time where I should have reached out for help, but these times are also the ones that can make us go silent. Looking back, I wish I had been more honest about how sad and helpless I felt. I wish I had been more open to suggestions on how to feel better. I wish I had told someone sooner that I wasn't eating all the time. Nowadays, I spend a lot of time now feeling guilty for how I treated that version of myself, and how long it took me to want to get better-- I honestly don't think I could confidently say I was truly proud of my progress and feeling a lot better until this summer, which means I still spent most of my junior year struggling with these anxieties.
I've learned, however, that dwelling on the past tends to not be helpful when you do it in a negative light. Despite the pain I was feeling my sophomore year, I still had moments where I was really happy about where I was and who I was spending my time with. And despite how it took me longer than I might have hoped to make real progress, I did so much better my junior year than I did my sophomore year. And now, going into my last semester, for once I weirdly feel like I’m ready to put certain anxieties in the rearview mirror and focus on new things. It can be really hard to move on from failed attempts to overcome anxiety. It can really suck to look back on all the time that has been wasted feeling stuck. But at the end of the day, I try to remember that I got through it-- and I am confident I can get through more.
College is so much more than parties and red solo cups. It is SO much more than studying and taking tests. It's more than feeling homesick and Face-timing your mom so you can look at your dog. For me, it was about gaining perspective and confidence. I learned so much about my anxiety while in college, and through my anxiety I learned so much about myself. I found ways to cope in situations I never wanted to be in. And now when I'm faced with those situations, I feel like I can handle them because I've experienced them before and lived to tell the tale.
Above all else, remember that you are not alone. There are others who have been where you are, have felt how you feel, and can understand your experience. Reaching out for help was the best thing I ever did. You deserve to feel better, too! Lean on the people around you, and find comfort in knowing there are better days ahead. It will all be so worth it when you get there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Haley Lubas attends the University of Central Florida, studying Radio/Television production. She started her blog, Some Worries, in 2014 after deciding she was tired of hiding the fact that she struggled with anxiety. Since then she has learned how common mental health issues truly are, and is passionate about breaking the stigmas that come along with them. Haley hopes to combine her love for television and mental health awareness in her future career. Her guilty pleasures include watching Bravo reality TV shows and organizing her Pinterest boards.