Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
Last winter, right before starting my last semester of high school, I had lunch with a friend who was a freshman at NYU. It was her first time home from college, and I remember sitting together at our favorite restaurant, eating soup and listening to her marvel over what an intensely strange experience it was for her. I was taken aback by her insistence on how different everything felt — I expected many things in college were going to be difficult, but I never thought the hardest part of it all would be going home.
Fast forward nearly 365 days to me sitting in a cramped airplane seat, clutching my Brown sweatshirt, and watching the snow-capped peaks outside grow as the pilot prepared to land. I hail from a tiny town in the Rocky Mountains with a population smaller than that of my university’s undergraduate student body; therefore, moving to Providence, Rhode Island for college was already dichotomous, but being back for the first time since I had packed my bags in August only amplified this change more. Before the plane wheels even touched the ground, I knew that my older friend was right — the place that I had considered home for 10 years suddenly seemed distant and alien.
At school, I eat regular meals and stick to a workout schedule. I study between classes and go to club meetings after dinner with my friends. I make my bed (almost) every morning and curate every belonging in my small dorm room. I am a passionate Google Calendar devotee. Now that I was apart from school for the first time, the tidy, scheduled, independent life I had created for myself there was thousands of miles away and being home seemed chaotic in comparison. While I knew that I had changed, it felt like everything around me had stayed the same.
After a few days on break of irregular meals, mild panic attacks, and aimless movie watching, I began to realize that in order to appease my anxiety and preserve my mental health, I could make daily schedules for myself to replicate my lifestyle at Brown. Wake up at 9? Check. Gym at 11? Check. Get groceries and check mail at 3? Check. This system has worked out well for me so far (though I do still indulge in the occasional Netflix binge), and has allowed me to find a begrudging sort of compromise between my dual lifestyles.
I return to college in a few days, and find the prospect of starting next semester exciting and bittersweet. Being home has been both refreshing and challenging, but overall has taught me so much more about myself than I ever expected it to. It has helped me become wary of the dangers of isolating myself in the safe haven/bubble of college, and instead finding ways to transition my school habits into real world living. I am now in a state of constantly learning and relearning what I need as a newly minted adult to function and to preserve my mental health. More importantly, I’m beginning to understand when to give myself a break — and even occasionally force myself to go with the flow — for my own good.
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