By Emily Chaiet
The summer before my freshman year at Northwestern, I binge-watched the television series, “Greek.” The show follows a variety of college students partying, finding love and enjoying college with their best friends. As a high school graduate eager to escape the bubble of a suburb that I had always lived in, “Greek” was exactly what I needed. I pictured college exactly like it: making lifelong friendships, avoiding responsibilities and always having fun. But, there was a side to freshman year that “Greek” did not prepare me for. They never showed homesickness, they never showed how hard it is to make friends in a new place, and they never showed how much all of these changes affect someone’s mental health.
My freshman year was far from picture-perfect. I had the same friend group since middle school, yet now I was in the middle of a new city where I knew absolutely no one. I had forgotten what it was like to meet new people. How hard it was. As I jumped from friend group to friend group, I felt more and more like an outsider, like I had made the wrong choice attending a school where I knew absolutely no one. I wanted so badly to retreat back into my suburban bubble. My dream school was turning into a horrible nightmare that I could not wake up from. I was beginning to lose sight of my old self.
The worst part was that I felt a pressure to hide my unhappiness from my friends and family. I never wanted them to worry about me. I never wanted to stray away from the image of the perfect college girl who loves her school more than anything. When my distant relatives would come up to me at Thanksgiving and ask how Northwestern was, I would say I was completely happy. That I loved my school and had thousands of friends. I felt like I was acting, like I was reading from a script and performing a show just to please everyone. Just to tell people what they wanted to hear — even if it was not true.
But then I broke down. I could not force a smile, I could not keep lying to my home friends and telling them that I was having an amazing time. I called my best friend and I told her the truth, how I did not feel like I belonged, how I did not feel happy and how I felt like I never would.
She urged me to seek help and my parents and sister agreed. At first I refused. I did not think my problems were a big deal, nor worthy of help. Eventually I realized that getting help was exactly what I needed to do. I nervously dialed my phone and made an appointment to speak with a CAPS therapist. I learned that everything I was experiencing was normal.
I have anxiety. It was hard for me to accept, until I realized that anxiety is not a problem. It is like the common cold, everyone gets it at some point, some people just get a worse case than others. Curing my “cold” certainly was not easy and it took a lot of work. At times I was frustrated, I felt like nothing was changing and there were points where it felt like it was just getting worse. It took patience and effort to overcome the worst of my anxiety. It is still something I suffer with everyday, but it has made me stronger. Now that I have acknowledged it and accepted it, it cannot get to me anymore. My problem was never having anxiety, it was learning how to live with it.
No one wants to admit that their life isn’t perfect. When scrolling through Instagram and countless Snapchat stories freshman year, I only saw pictures of acquaintances from high school having the times of their lives. I felt like I was doing something wrong because I wasn’t happy, but soon I realized that social media only tells one side of the story. Everyone struggles, but no one is ever going to post pictures of themselves crying alone in their dorm room on social media. No one wants to admit when college isn’t going as planned, yet that is exactly why having anxiety and depression is such a stigma.
I went in to school with a different mindset this year. I stopped comparing my college experience to others’. I gave up on friendships that made me feel worse about myself. I started exercising not to look good but to feel good mentally and physically. Most importantly, I continued to seek the help that I needed. I did more of what made me happy and cut out the things that did not. I am not 100 percent okay all of the time, but I am doing better. After my rough start, I feel stronger; like I can handle whatever problems the future holds.
My sophomore year is still far from perfect, but to be quite honest, I am okay with that. The real world is hard and scary, and I know that when I leave Northwestern there will be new monsters hiding in my closet. I know there will be more battles to face, but I have a tougher coat of armor. Face your problems, but do not face it alone. For all of you freshman, or just anyone struggling in college, the battle is just beginning, but do not let the losses deter you from reaching victory. I can tell you that the great moments like staying up late laughing with friends or just sitting and enjoying the scenery at the lakefill make it all worthwhile. You are not alone and you will make it through. Take it from me: the girl who never thought she would fit in, the girl who struggles with anxiety everyday, the girl who became stronger and learned how to find happiness.