I had never imagined that coming to college would be like going to high school all over again. Actually, quite the contrary. I had high hopes that the promises of making solid friendships and some of the best memories of my young adulthood would materialize. I really believed that once people leave high school they mature and become a little more closely intact in with their humanity.
Unfortunately, I quickly learned that attending college on a small campus is just an amplified version of the twilight zone that I wanted so desperately to escape during my teen years.
After high school graduation, I thought my days of worrying about fitting in, being liked, and trying my best to stay away from small-town gossip were over. I thought my quiet efforts of trying to go unnoticed by my classmates would stop. Because in college, everyone would be so preoccupied with their own lives they would never take any time to pay attention to mine, right?
My freshman year of college, I started a semester later than everyone else did. I missed out on all the early floor bonding and friend-making that everyone else had. As I began to move into my dorm, it was apparent how tight-knit people already were with their friend groups. And I didn’t mind. Instead, I was relieved it would be that much easier to go unnoticed, leaving me to come and go as I pleased.
My quiet charade was short-lived. I got sucked into the tradition of befriending everyone who lived on the floor and spending every free second doing something crazy with them.
At first, I was stoked about making new friends. No one knew who I was or anything about my past. This was my chance to leave behind the socially-anxious and worrisome girl I was in high school. But the more invested I became in my new circles, I quickly realized that the social cliques and mean girls were just as present in college as they were in high school.
There are the sport cliques, where if you’re not a Vanguard athlete there is already a great chance of being left out of social events and activities. In other groups, even the cliques have cliques. For the creatives, it’s the photographers and videographers, the music-makers, the illustrators and graphic designers. Another clique is set apart by its fashion sense, always filled with the people keeping up with all the latest fashion trends and coolest styles.
I realized I didn’t really fit into any of these groups. My initial desire of coming to school and not being noticed by anybody grew more and more into a desire of wanting so badly to fit into one of these groups. Even if my connection to them would only be superficial..
The more I allowed myself to want to be a part of these groups, the more hyper-aware I became of myself (and not in a good way).
I was fixated on all the negatives about myself. I wasn’t the greatest photographer. I can draw, but not as well the people around me could. I didn’t have the cutest clothes or the greatest style. I was always wary as I walked from class to class, worried that people could see right through my inability to be talented.
I made myself believe I was constantly being judged for not fitting into one of these groups.
Because of these beliefs, my social anxiety grew so out of control that I couldn’t look my peers in the eyes when they talked to me. Instead of sitting at the front of the class, I found myself seated as close as I could to the door. I stopped going to events and even trying to make friends on campus, because I didn’t think I was worthy enough to be friends with anyone who had so clearly found their place.
Whenever I was out on campus, my heart would race, and I felt like I was going to cry. I was constantly thinking how much easier life on campus would be if I could just be invisible. It was miserable. But I believed I wouldn’t have to deal with any of the social anxieties I was experiencing: not the the fear of rejection, nor being judged, and especially not being constantly anxious around people.
I didn’t understand why I was feeling so anxious and concerned about what people would think of me; yet, at the same time, it made complete sense to me why I was so worried. I was in my twilight zone all over again, only this time I was paying $48,000 a year to be here.
I let it consume me for nearly two-and-a-half years as I kept running in circles to trying to escape the trap I was in. I was constantly feeling like my chest was going to cave in, and I was going to suffocate under the weight of my own insecurities.
Until one day, I decided I no longer wanted to continue subjecting myself to my own self-sabotage. I was done being a victim to the fear of whether I was liked by people who probably didn’t even know my first name.
From there on out, I made the conscious effort to replace my negative thoughts with positive ones. Though easier said than done, I made it about me. My thoughts of “they’re going to think I’m shy and awkward” became “who really cares if that’s what they think, they don’t know who I am or what I am dealing with.”
I stopped trying to be friends with people who made me feel like I had to compete for their time and attention. I learned to be comfortable with being by myself. Though first few times I went to lunch or the movie theaters alone were quite embarrassing, I grew to love my own company. The more that I grew to be in a caring relationship with myself, the more I realized that it wasn’t other people’s opinions of me that I had to be worried about–it was my own.
I became my own worst enemy, who forced myself to hide away in a dark bedroom. I was victim of my own anxieties and insecurities.
The journey to overcoming my constant fear of what other people would think of me and never wanting to be around people has not been an easy one. But it has been worth it, because I can breathe again. I may not be entirely free of all my social anxieties, but I answer to it less now.
And I hope, that if you struggle with the same fears and anxieties as I have, that you can one day find peace, and be free from your own thoughts.