warning: long (and probably boring) post ahead with a lot of inward-thinking and too much information about me me me. Also this is relatively personal and unfiltered.
First year of college. It’s over. Thank god.
I was never entirely looking forward to coming to college. To be frank, I thought I had committed to the wrong school and proceeded to spend the summer fretting over my decision. I know–I was supposed to approach college with an open mind; it’s the law of attraction; blah blah. And I didn’t outright reject Penn at the beginning of the year. In fact, I found myself in a group of affable, fun people, but I missed the familiarity and routine of my past life. In the first few months, I really tried to be something I’m not. I forsook all my introversion and sought friendship and genuine connection so longingly. Surely if I smiled and seemed eager to listen and befriend others, I would find the right people. Unfortunately the world doesn’t work like that. It follows its own clock, and hearts aren’t poured open in the span of a day.
I worked really hard my freshman semester. I enrolled in an introductory computer programming course and wanted to rise up to the challenge. My laptop illuminated the dorm room until 3 or 4am on so many nights (apologies to my roommate, Olivia), as I frantically typed up last-minute essays for Spanish or tried to keep my eyes open to digest the monotonous readings I had for my EU class. By the way, I’ve devolved into That Student who never completes all the readings. I tried to exercise regularly (and failed), I partied a small amount, and I tried to immerse myself in the full college experience.
But I questioned everything I did. I realized November how pointless my classes seemed, how inadequate and lost I felt, and how discontent I was with the trajectory of my life. I couldn’t see the meaning or purpose behind the things I was toiling so arduously over. Why did my computer science programming assignments matter? Did I really think I could fool people into thinking I was capable? Basically, shit ensued. Eventually, a mix of self-hatred and confusion swallowed me. I derailed and inadvertently lashed out at those around me in my state of turmoil. Returning to school after winter break felt equivalent to marching slowly towards my death, similar to the sleep inertia in the morning, not wanting to wake up, but x1000.
I realized–college is lonely.
I didn’t understand the full force of this alienating feeling until after my breakup because I had always had someone to confide in and share daily happenings with. That’s a beautiful, rare alignment of the universe I never want to take for granted. But I digress.
I fell down a rabbit hole my second semester, enshrouding myself in a cloud of negativity. I felt so excruciatingly lonely that I googled things like “can loneliness kill you”, “why do I feel so alone”–pretty desperate internet queries, I know. I can’t count how many nights (and days) I broke down, alarming a good number of my professors and TA’s. The thing is, everyone and everything at Penn flies at 1000 miles per hour. It’s so easy to feel invisible against this backdrop. A part of me expected someone to slow down and notice my pain, my loneliness, but that’s silly. People don’t notice jack shit. How could they while life is throwing obstacle after obstacle in all of their faces? If we’re barely managing to stay afloat, how much of ourselves really can we give to others? I mistook this for self-absorption and blinded myself with the consequent bitterness. I think when we’re suffering, we desire human connection the most. That makes sense; we seek outlets for our pain and hope that there’s someone out there who’ll just get it and validate all the pain we’ve felt. But because college was such a new environment, I keenly lacked what I needed most–a support system. I noticed second semester how much I drifted apart from most of my high school friends. Es la vida. But I kept half of myself in the past and never fully let go. I had such unrealistic expectations, hoping my friends from back home would sense through their magical ESPN how shitty I’ve been feeling this whole time. But of course that kind of idealism doesn’t carry over into the real world. I experienced a lot of crumbling bridges and felt a gaping sense of loss.
I was depressed my second semester in college. And no, it wasn’t a meaningful existentialist crisis. I didn’t discover any crazy truth about life or any of that romanticized shit. My days sucked. ass. I slept through classes, ate meals sporadically, and broke down quite frequently. Trudging back from class, I’d want nothing more than to lie down in bed and wake up as a new person in a new place and life. I hated the cold student body and how lonely that made me feel; I hated the suffocating, spirit-crushing homework load (thank you CIS 160) that relentlessly slapped me in the face; I probably hated myself most of all. God. I really lost myself. That doesn’t imply that I completely knew myself prior to college either because I was a lost, wide-eyed lamb then too. But the vortex of pre-professionalism and appearance of perfection and put-togetherness of everyone around me made me depersonalize. My life felt directionless. I was so worried I wouldn’t blossom into someone I’d be proud of. I was terrified of being exposed for the failure and fraud I inherently was. I felt too stupid for my computer science courses. How did people fly around getting dual degrees across Wharton and SEAS while performing in a dance group, an a capella group, and an entire theatre production, all while maintaining meaningful friendships and blasting out on the Internet what a grand old time they’re having? Every step I took was crippled with self-doubt and lack of self-compassion, and I grew to despise my surroundings too to the point where the fibers of my being outright rejected Penn and the people in it.
Eventually, I gave up on all interpersonal relationships. I fell into a routine of eating lunch in my room while watching an episode of Friends. Sometimes, I worked out. I developed a habit of tuning out the world with music. A simple “play” button on Soundcloud could surely help me escape from all the weights on my mind…after dinner (which I usually ate by myself too), I sat in my CIS class office hour space for hours. Finally, I’d plunk my head down onto my pillow and scroll mindlessly through some mind-numbing feed like Reddit until I could fall asleep.
I only started healing towards the end of the semester (the last two weeks, to be exact). I started taking my mental health more seriously and stopped deprecating myself on an hourly basis. A lot of pieces fell in place too. Countless Piazza questions, LaTeX hours, and sleepy-eyed attempts at staying awake during lectures later, I’m going to be a TA for a class that I almost dropped and withdrew from! A pretty nice turn-around, if I might say so myself. I met some kind people and opened up more to the friends from my dorm building (I have realized these human beings are all pretty weird and lovable). I grew up a bit and stopped caring so much about what other people thought of me and if they even thought of me and whether our friendship stood the test of time. I have a theory that all that obsessive rumination over the people in my life was an elaborate ruse my subconscious plotted to distract me from thinking about myself because I had a nonexistent notion of my self-worth. I don’t seek perfection from this world anymore, and I certainly don’t seek it in my relationships with other people. I’ve learned to worry less about the future, too, so I dropped some of my apprehension about finding a passion, developing an arsenal of marketable skills, and outright failing. I’m still working and growing though, but I’ve come to accept who I am a bit more. Sometimes, my head is in the clouds, and I’m completely ungrounded from reality. I’m kind of kooky and neurotic. Also, I am the world’s slowest learner. But I’m trying to not worry so much about who I am anymore and to just leave myself alone, so I can actually live.
Looking back, it’s strange to me how acutely in pain I was, how deep into the rabbit hole I fell. So much stress and self-doubt and depersonalization culminated in an inner crisis. The result was that all these fragments I so carefully pieced together fell apart. But I’ve rebuilt myself a bit and gained some perspective–or at least I stepped out of my own microcosm that deviated so much from reality. Why did I religiously worship such unrealistic ideals like the immaculate kindred spirit or the most fulfilling college experience? Why did I hold on so dearly for things in my past that had decisively ended already? Why was I searching so hard for things in the world that simply didn’t and won’t ever exist? I’m working on coming to terms with the human imperfections of myself and the world around me (oh Annie, shouldn’t this be obvious by now?). I’m never going to 100% connect with anyone, I’m never going to fully know myself, and I’m never going to be content if I don’t supplant my outlandish expectations with ones more grounded in reality.
Without these hardships, I wouldn’t have grown as much. I guess I have that to be grateful for. (trying really hard to find the silver lining to all this)
In fact, there are a good number of things I’m thankful for. Besides, this blog post would be a dismal diatribe if I didn’t incorporate at least a few positive notes…I started compiling a list mid-semester of things that made me happy/that I cherish in an attempt to mitigate all my negativity:
- Arizona tea
- Very cold water
- Post-cold shower feeling
- Wawa quesadillas
- Post-workout sense of accomplishment
- Friends (TV show)
- Being productive and not floundering in CIS 160 hw
- Beefsteak workers making me an eden bowl five minutes before close (even after they packed everything up)
- Open-hearted convo with ciara
- My makeup looking good
- Cherry blossom trees in full bloom
- Olivia’s granola bars
- Jenny’s letter
- Productive sunday’s at 160 office hours and helpful TA’s
- Creative nonfiction (Jackie Gu’s digital portrait)
- Oatmeal streusel cookie
- Talking with Mary
- beautiful, sunny weather followed by a golden hour that bathes the world in warmth and vibrance
- being able to hear. being able to hear music and escape elsewhere by simply pressing “play” and tuning myself in
- the fact that my parents are healthy and alive and doing well. As much as I like to think I’m an independent grown-up (which I’m not), I certainly didn’t start that way.
- Having the capacity to feel viscerally. The lows feel excruciating and eternal, but brief moments of respite are beautiful. I’m more poised to appreciate them.
- Muji 0.38 pens
- Talking to my mom over the phone
- Sweetgreen kale Caesar salad oh. My. God.
- The “swoosh” sound of cars zooming by on pavement that’s still wet from rain (heard from my dorm)
- Red velvet biscotti a la megan
I feel at least five years older now from the me that entered college wide-eyed and scared. Perhaps the most valuable lesson I’ve gleaned is the importance of resilience. I know these words have been reiterated to the point of meaninglessness, but I understand them wholeheartedly now (or at least a bit better): the world is going to fling a lot of shit at you. Unfortunately, those circumstances are entirely out of your power, but how you react and grow from that is in your hands. That’s simultaneously self-empowering and terrifying and liberating. I saw a Youtube video from The School of Life that conveyed this accurately: to grow up is to “recognize the hard edges of reality without being destroyed by them.”
There is a lot more to my freshman year than what this short post has detailed (actually, this wall of text is pretty massive). But I think some thoughts are best left alone. Sometimes, no matter how achingly you want to be honest, you ruin the candor once your thoughts leave the safe realm of your mind space.
(that was a cop-out because I have no beautiful, magnificent way to end this post)