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Problems Adjusting to College

by Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Hello, I’m a freshman in a college about 70 miles away from my hometown. I was very excited to start my new life here just a few months ago.

I moved alone and unknowingly into a extremely religious community. I have never been a religous person. My roommates and I are polite to each other, but I don’t feel like I really relate to anyone in this community. It’s not that we don’t accept each other, we just have very different ways of life.

I started working at a coffee shop as soon as I moved up here. I was terrible at it for the first 2 weeks. I have improved substantially, but for some reason my nervousness has not subsided when working with my boss. I stutter, mess up orders, and do things very clumsily. I feel as though she is always judging me or thinking I’m stupid. I know this is completely irrational, but I can’t seem to talk myself out of thinking this way.

At first, I was very enthusiastic about school. I have always taken pride in good grades. I would do all the reading and assignments. However, lately I can’t seem to focus at all. I can barely read any of the textbooks I found so interesting at first. I regret to say that my self esteem is suffering from this. I feel extremely dissapointed in myself for not focusing.

I feel as though I’ve gained weight. I eat not just a lot in general, but even more when I’m upset. It’s like the more empty I feel, the more I eat.
I met a couple guys up here. I was astounded and completely crushed to find that they wanted one thing and one thing only from me: sex. I’m happy to say that I declined, and I’m still a virgin. But then, I met another guy. We related on every topic. I have never had a connection such as this with any human being, especially guys. I fell extremely hard for him after only a couple times of hanging out. I opened myself up to him, told him things I’ve never told anyone before. Recently, he went to work in Hawaii for 3 weeks. He got back about 3 weeks ago. We have sparsely talked, but recently he apologized for being distant and told me he needs ‘time to himself’. Today, I found out that the one particular roommate I confide in and actually have a friendship with has been going behind my back asking to hang out and outrageously flirting with him.

I’ve been struggling mentally very much lately. Several things have been nagging and working on me including belief in God, the struggle for happiness, the question of whether morals are real, what’s right and wrong, and so on.

Also, I’ve always had a low self esteem, but it’s getting to me more lately. I think maybe this guy would like me more if I were prettier, or smarter, or better. I feel so insignificant to everyone around me. Even with my family members I feel so detached. I don’t even like to return their calls anymore. I know this is horrible and I know I’m isolating myself even more. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this alone in my life. I’m surrounded by people, but I don’t feel as though I have anyone to talk to that would understand the ridiculous things I’m saying.

For the first time in a long time today I thought about suicide. I feel so selfish and closed off to everyone around me. I don’t know how to open myself up anymore. I feel like everytime I confide in someone, they go away or deceive me.

I just don’t feel like I can talk myself better this time. Thanks for reading this horribly long letter. I really admire the work you do.

Moving away from home and beginning college are major life adjustments. Virtually everything changes and it is usually a difficult adjustment for most individuals. In addition, many people come to college with expectations about what college life is “supposed” to be. Oftentimes there is a discrepancy between expectations and reality. This discrepancy can lead an individual to feel out of place, despondent, confused, regretful, and depressed. Incorrect expectations may be part of the problem.

Keep in mind that the first year of college can be particularly difficult. People generally begin to make friends in the second semester or in the second year of school. Once you begin having classes with other individuals then you may get to know them and friendships can develop. If you had a support system or circle of friends, life in your first year of college would be much less stressful.

We know there is a problem but what is the solution? First and foremost, it is very important that you stop isolating yourself. This isolation is likely contributing to your negative thinking and your tunnel vision. Think of your isolation as the breeding ground for negative thoughts. The more you isolate the more likely it is that the negative thinking will continue.

Secondly, you could greatly benefit from professional help. The fact that you are considering suicide as a solution to this problem is evidence that you are not thinking clearly. Suicide should never be considered an option. It is always a sign of diminished problem-solving capacity and tunnel vision. The negative thinking is blocking your ability to be objective and logical. I would strongly recommend that you schedule an appointment for a psychiatric evaluation at your college counseling center. College campus counseling centers typically have good mental health professionals who are trained to deal with adjustment-related issues.

Finally, part of your discussion with a therapist should include strategies for decreasing isolation. Some ideas include joining a social or study group on campus. You can also meet new people by participating in extracurricular activities, attending workshops, or being part of a sports team. You should make an effort to have a meaningful conversation with at least one individual every day. I understand this might be difficult because your tendency is to isolate but you must force yourself to make a connection. It can be with a family member, a neighbor, a classmate, academic advisor or a professor. This can help to break the cycle of isolation.

Don’t give up hope. Many individuals experience a very rough start to college but it does get better. What is missing from your life is a supportive network. Begin developing that support system by meeting with a therapist. Try the counseling center on campus and if that is not an option, see your family doctor and ask for a referral for a therapist. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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