Haley’s House: There is no ‘ideal’ college experience


According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), nearly one in six college students have been diagnosed with or treated for anxiety  or another mental health disorder.  I was diagnosed with not one, but two after my freshman year. The severe anxiety and constant social media exposure controlled my life, both academically and socially.  At first, I thought this would hinder what I thought to be my college experience.

Any college student would have difficulties coming to terms with any mental health diagnosis, much less two.  When you mix social media and the feelings of anxiety and depression, you are in a constant, depressing state of comparing your college experience with the experience of someone else.   

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is filled with photos of road trips, parties, semesters abroad, big moments such as internships or job offers and a new person or friend in every published photo.  I constantly asked myself, why couldn’t that be me?  My friends lived the college experience that I imagined for myself, but struggled so deeply to find.  I always knew Facebook and Instagram sparked feelings of jealousy.  Now, it accelerated the depression and the anxiety every time I looked through my feed.   

The idea that I was not able to find this right place for me and live that perfect college experience I saw all my friends living only made the anxiety control me more and more.   

college experience graphic
Illustration by: Sarah Blankenship

It was a long, exhausting process, but ultimately it came down to this: I was not going to let my mental illness and social media define my college experience.  I did not want to continue living in constant anxiety and overthinking my every move.  In choosing Webster, I was more determined than ever to make this experience different. 

I reminded myself every day to work hard and push myself in ways that would bring me up rather than push me back down.  I dedicated myself to my writing and pursuing my career in journalism, something I was passionate about.  Through the mentoring with my professors and The Journal, I found a place where I felt myself.  I found myself smiling, laughing and enjoying school again.  It was the place where I felt I could finally have a college experience all my own.

Something I needed to remember as I adjusted to this new mindset was my college experience was what I put into it.  Mental illness and social media does not define the college experience.  On the surface, posts on social media appear to be positive, but you never know what is under the surface.

Mental illness and negative college experiences are not things many openly talk about on social media outlets.  With this new mindset, it was important for me to remember that because something appears positive on the outside, you never know what may be happening on the inside. 

Many high school and college students are suffering in silence, but with the cover of happiness through upbeat pictures and statuses on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  Comparing your college experience with the experience of another person only provides a perfect place for unhealthy mental health habits.   

When I started college two years ago, I had high expectations for what I assumed was “the ideal college experience.” I would live a minimum of six hours away, meet new friends, maybe go to a few parties, cheer on the school football team and graduate with a bachelor’s in film production from the same school I spent four years loving.

Four schools later, I live at home across the hall from my little sister instead of “my girls,” I do not go to parties and to be honest, I do not understand football. 

Four schools later, I can say I found the college experience is exactly what you make of it.  You do not have to go to parties, spring break road trips or live hours away from home to have the perfect college experience.  I found my perfect place 100 feet out the back door of my high school, and now, I could not imagine it any other way.

Not everyone will have the same experience I did and I will not have the same as the person sitting next to me.  In my way, I am living my own perfect college experience.  My struggle did not hinder my college experience in the way that I thought it would; it led me to the place and the people I am happy to call my second home.      

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