Find What Works for You
When I started college one year ago, the world was a much different place. Stores and restaurants were booming, handshakes and hugging were commonplace, sneezes were met with “bless yous” and not suspicious side-eyes, and no one wore a mask. I remember at one point during Orientation, the lobby of the freshmen dormitory was packed with so many people that we were literally on top of each other. And we didn’t think twice about it.
One year ago, the world was in a different place. And so was I.
Since I was thirteen, I’ve struggled with an eating disorder and depression. Getting to a place in my recovery where the mere possibility of going away to college was plausible had been a difficult feat, but I’d conquered it—or so I thought. In fact, everyone—from my parents to my therapist to my guidance counselor—was under the impression that I could succeed at college. After all, I was eating independently, I’d been weight-restored for years, and I had a foolproof plan that included a local support system, a single room, and unlimited access to the dining hall. Not to mention that I was attending my number one school.
But even the best-made plans can flop, and that’s exactly what happened. Without getting into the specifics, basically everything that could go wrong went wrong, and I couldn’t cope. I knew I was sinking fast, but I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone because then I’d be admitting that I needed help.
My inability to reach out was my greatest demise. Without anyone to intervene, my eating disorder weaseled its way into my life, and suddenly, I was back in that dark place; restricting food, sleeping most of the time, and barely leaving my room. It felt like all the progress I’d made and everything I’d worked so hard for was coming undone right in front of me, and I couldn’t stop it. I kept trying to convince myself that it was just a phase and that something positive would happen, and I’d be able to climb out of the hole I’d fallen into. But as days, then weeks, passed and nothing changed, I realized that if I didn’t take action soon, that hole was only going to get deeper. So one afternoon, as I lay in my bed feeling completely hopeless, I finally mustered up the courage to call my mom. I told her that I couldn’t do this anymore and asked her to take me home, which she did.
I’ve been home for almost a year now, and while things in my personal life and the world continue to challenge my recovery, I’m in a much better place. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but I know now that leaving college was the right choice. It wasn’t the easy one, but it was right nevertheless.
My college experience, while a bit of a disaster, taught me a lot. I still wanted to get a degree, so I enrolled in an online school in January. Realizing that there are options for people who can’t get a “traditional” education was reassuring, not to mention timely given the increase in online learning lately.
While online learning works well for me, I know that isn’t the case for everyone. I still remember how excited I was about moving into college last year, and in retrospect, I feel fortunate that that excitement wasn’t hindered by legitimate safety concerns. My younger brother is one of many students who was looking forward to starting college but can’t due to that school exclusively doing remote learning or—worse—personal health concerns.
To the freshmen who are in this position, it’s okay to feel upset and angry. But know that there are still so many new beginnings in your life to look forward to. Just because this one was taken away doesn’t mean that others will be as well. The world won’t be this way forever. This too shall pass.
And to the freshmen who are starting college on-campus this fall, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed and uncertain. There’s a lot to navigate—now more than ever—and it can be challenging. But keep in mind that you’re not alone. Furthermore, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help.
Maybe if I’d reached out sooner I wouldn’t have had to leave college. Maybe I was doomed to fail no matter what. I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is that leaving college wasn’t the end of the world. Sure, it was a hard decision and took time to get over, but it was in my best interest. Everyone has to find what works for them. For me, that wasn’t traditional college, and by realizing that, I was able to discover new options and opportunities that will help me achieve my goals and dreams.
Freshmen, we’re rooting for you. You can do this. And, if for some reason you can’t, then that’s perfectly fine too.
*This post was written for a back-to-school newsletter for Jewish Family Services. Read the full newsletter here.