I finally started to feel the first significant decrease in my depression symptoms the spring before I left for college. Over the summer, I continued to become healthier mentally, spiritually, and psychologically. I was excited to go to college and have a fresh start, and I couldn’t wait to start living more independently.
Fighting depression had forced me to grow up early in many ways, and I thought since I was “strong” and “self-motivated,” I would adjust wonderfully to college.
It wasn’t until I got to college, however, that I realized having spent the last four years focusing much of my energy on my fight against depression, I hadn’t focused as much of it on many of the normal processes of growing up.
I was mature beyond my years in some areas, and immature far below them in many other ways.
While many of my friends were excited to have independence from their parents, I found myself feeling lonely and ill-equipped as I struggled with a small relapse of depression without my parents right beside me to hold me up.
When feelings of inadequacy and self-hatred arose, I struggled to find my identity now that my life wasn’t controlled by mental illness – something most of my classmates had figured out during high school. When difficult or uncomfortable situations arose, I had to learn how to face them instead of just running from them–something I needed to do before because I was already facing as much as I could handle. It was a stretching and painful experience, but it also taught me two important lessons I may not have learned otherwise.
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One of the most important lessons I learned my first year of college was:
Growing up doesn’t mean growing out of a need for support.
Depressed or not, everybody is designed for relationships. We all need to be cared for and supported by others. It took me a long time to adjust to the fact that I couldn’t handle all of the struggles I was facing on my own.
I learned the importance of calling my family and sharing my life with them – letting them help me make decisions without relying on them to fix all of my problems.
I learned the importance of developing deep friendships and opening up to allow the other person to invest in me, even when that means I have to make myself vulnerable and trust them.
I also learned many of the coping mechanisms I grew accustomed to were no longer necessary now that I was healthy. I no longer need to avoid relationships and situations that could end in pain or heartbreak because I am now strong enough to withstand hurt, rejection, and disappointment. I no longer need to ration my energy to the same extent as during my struggle with depression.
My first year of college was difficult, painful, lonely, and terrifying. I didn’t have time to take growing up one step at a time; I was forced by necessity to grow up more quickly than I would have chosen. But one year later – stronger, sure of my identity, independent, and more mature – I can see that the hard times and desperate emotions were growing pains.
I grew more in one year than I ever could have in an easier situation. The pain of my first year of college surprised me, but the strength it brought out of me surprised me more.
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