Home Abuse Do I Lack the Psychological Strength for College?

Do I Lack the Psychological Strength for College?

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

From the U.S.: I really struggled in my first year of college, mostly due to life events (first-time academic challenges & inadequate high-school preparation, death of a close relative, illness, abuse, being kicked out of home, losing a lot of friendships, exam anxiety/panic attacks). Anyway, I decided to pull myself together for my second year and did a semester with almost double the normal course-load to get back on track. But I broke down in mid-semester (hadn’t had a day off in 3 months except when I was too sick to study).

So I decided to focus on one class I really like and spent a month studying for that final, only for my exam anxiety to resurface- I barely got a D. When the second round of finals came, I failed all of them, mostly because I find myself unable to study for them. Which is silly I took three weeks of break beforehand anyway, and none of the material was hard.

I have considered that I might simply be too stupid for college, but I know from past academic success that I’m (theoretically) intellectually capable. However, I often give up on frustrating exercises because I feel like I’ll never come up with the solution, and that any decent student would’ve solved them much more quickly- and that my solution will be insufficient and flawed beyond repair.

Aside from that, I feel very demotivated. I used to care about understanding the coursework, and I am still interested in my major on principle, but I can’t bring myself to open a textbook unless someone is hovering over me. A year ago, I remember flipping through my (then new) textbook, without any factual understanding of the pages of strange squiggles but excited and eager to unlock their mysteries. Now I know what most of them mean, but they hold no interest or emotional significance to me and I can’t be bothered to think about the ones I don’t understand and, at this rate, never will.

I’ll have to repeat the exams I failed this semester (or graduate late), but I feel too apathetic to study. There’s just emptiness where I used to have enthusiasm. Well, I know it’s going to be my fault for being too lazy and not wanting it bad enough. I guess I’m just too psychologically weak for college (I keep collapsing under the pressure before/at exams and I can’t motivate myself anymore), but if I was strong enough to put myself back together I wouldn’t be having this problem. I know I’m going to break down again when exams come anyway, so why waste time on a lost cause?

Anyway, I still sort of go to classes because my friends go there, and I theoretically have a plan that would allow me to graduate on time (and retain shreds of a social life) if I would study effectively. I’ve tried to go to the library, but I just end up staring at the wall, so I stay stuck on the couch and bore myself. I guess I just feel that, regardless of what I do, I’m just too …I don’t know, stupid/weak/un-passionate to even pass exams.

I’d quit and do something easier, but nothing else interests me and I’d probably fail those exams too. Not to mention having thrown away two years. Right now, my “rosy future” is getting handed a piece of paper, probably a 1+ years late, that I can’t even be proud of because my GPA is so pathetic that it might as well be toilet paper. I tried to talk to student counseling, but it didn’t help.

Suffice to say it all seems pretty meaningless to me now, but since I gave up all my hobbies and most of my friends for studying (and my boyfriend dumped me) I don’t have anything much in life that I care about. I’m not really sad, just bored and apathetic. I do feel bad about being weak and inferior, but it’s not like I can change that so I guess I’ll learn to live with it.

I don’t think you are any of the bad names you are calling yourself: lazy, weak, stupid, whatever. Your letter shows me that you are insightful and intelligent. You do sound like you may be depressed. You also sound like someone who has things to be depressed about. That list of problems from first year would sink anyone. Your “cure” for first year (taking on a double load during the first semester of second) was guaranteed to make things worse. My goodness! Where was your advisor?!

It isn’t fair to yourself to measure yourself as inadequate for not being able to handle college when you haven’t yet had a normal semester with just a normal amount of student stress. My guess is that you haven’t fully recovered from some of the issues from first year. Further, there is no mention in your letter about what you are studying for. If you don’t have a goal that excites you, of course it’s hard to want to do the courses.

I’m sorry student counseling wasn’t useful. That’s the first place I usually send someone like you. Most schools do have some kind of mental health services and most are very good. Perhaps you simply didn’t connect well with the person you saw there. I encourage you to try again. School counseling services have lots of experience with problems like yours and are usually helpful. Talk about why you are in college and whether you are ready to take it on. If not, think about doing a gap year program as a way to get some experience and to take time out for self-reflection. You might find this article helpful: “Are You Ready for College? Alternatives for the Unsure.”

You are only 18. You have plenty of time to figure out what you want to do and what will help you get there. There is nothing sacred about being in college straight out of high school or of taking some extra time to do it in a way that truly makes a foundation for your future.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie


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