Back in 2017, when I was 18 years old, a freshman in college, I hit rock bottom. I was attending a college that had once been my dream school, but had quickly turned into more of a nightmare. I had no friends, I’d been dumped by my first love, and I had lost sight of my hopes and dreams.
With nowhere to turn, I went to my computer and wrote down all the thoughts and feelings that were flooding through my brain. Whether it was an act of bravery or a cry for help, I decided to post my story on Facebook. Within a few hours, my post had garnered more likes, shares, and comments than I could have expected and within a week or two I had gained the attention of Grown and Flown.
They asked me if they could share my post as an article on their website, and I agreed, hoping that maybe my story could help someone else who was struggling.
I was in a dark place when I wrote an article that resonated 5 years ago
Cut to five years later, and I’m a college graduate with an apartment in New York City and a job I love. Today, I received an email from a student who came across my article in Grown and Flown and was asking for advice. He is a freshman at the same school I was at and is struggling with the same things I dealt with. He asked if things got better and if I ended up finding my place at this school.
After all these years, it’s been easy to forget that dark place I was in, but after receiving that email, my heart broke all over again. It broke for this student because I remember the pain and hopelessness, grasping for an answer to the question “Will it ever get better?”
My heart broke for my 18-year-old self as I reread that article, as it forced me to remember that defeated version of myself, the version of myself that felt so alone. After five years, I can finally answer that question. It does get better.
The title of the article I wrote all those years ago was First Semester Was Not the “Time of My Life.” Before I left for college I had been told that college would be the time of my life, but at the time of writing that article, I had come to accept that maybe college wouldn’t be the time of my life. Maybe, I thought, I just had to suck it up and get through the next four years, faking smiles and waiting for greener pastures. I was wrong.
This is how I turned my life around
I ended up taking the second semester of my freshman year off, and went back home to focus on my mental health. As I worked on regaining my strength, I looked into transferring to a new school, to give myself a fresh start.
At the time, my older sister was a junior at Brandeis University, which was only a forty minute drive from our home in Massachusetts. Originally when I was looking at colleges as a senior, I was firmly against going to school anywhere near my hometown. But by that time the thought of going to school a little closer to home was appealing, so I decided I’d look into it.
I went for an interview at the admissions center, and upon entering the building I was hit with the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and students with warm smiles on their faces as they greeted me. I walked around campus and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I’d finally found my home.
While, of course, my time at Brandeis had its ups and downs, it really was the time of my life. Many of my most cherished memories were made on that campus or in the off-campus house I shared with some of my best friends. All the tears I had shed my freshman year were worth it because they led me to my favorite people and to experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
It gets better and college CAN be the time of your life
So, to anyone who’s currently in college and is struggling to find their place, and to 18-year-old me, it does get better and college really CAN be the time of your life. Pieces of a puzzle don’t just magically come together overnight, it takes time and patience.
The advice I gave to the student who reached out to me is that life is too short to be unhappy. You don’t have to just suck it up and get through it. If you haven’t found your place, guess what? There are thousands of other places, and I promise you that yours is out there.
I felt so much pressure to make things work at my first school because it had been my dream school. But people change and so do their dreams, and that’s okay. I know that not everyone has the ability to transfer schools entirely but there’s a lot you can do. Find a new major, a new club, or take a class that’s entirely out of your comfort zone. Sometimes the most unexpected choices can lead to the best outcomes.
Be gentle with yourself because finding your way is hard
My last piece of advice is to be gentle with yourself. It’s not easy to find your way in this world and everyone is bound to take a few wrong turns. The path to happiness is rarely a straight one. I often find myself wondering how much pain I could have avoided if I hadn’t chosen my original college, if I had just gone to Brandeis in the first place.
But that pain made me stronger and gave me the ability to see more clearly what I was looking for in life. And getting caught up in the what ifs will only do you harm. My hope is that for anyone who can relate to my first article, this follow-up will serve as a glimmer of hope during a dark time.
Someday, you’ll be 22, working at your dream job, and you’ll look back at your time in college with a smile. That dark time will be a mere blip on your path to finding your place. I promise.