By Samantha Grillo
It was my final year of college, a year that should have been a little more relaxed and carefree considering I had completed my major by the end of sophomore year and was left fulfilling my remaining elective credits with classes that piqued my interest.
I loved everything about school.
I loved the mentally active environment where my peers came to challenge one another daily. I loved the classroom setting, where desks face forward in a manner that evokes focus and attention on education, not mindless judging of one another and the mannerisms of society. It was a place that made me feel so comfortable that I blocked out any thought that it would one day end.
I never looked forward to graduation.
I thought it was a situation that I could prolong until some change of events finally pushed me to deal with the circumstances. Of course, that day was inevitable, and it changed my entire outlook on life. I finally had to own up to myself as an individual, and the idea that I couldn’t hide behind my label as a “student” anymore was terrifying to me. To be clear, it was the most stressful situation that I encountered throughout my college career.
For the first time in my life I had to face myself as an adult and unveil the person that had grown through so many difficult personal and educational experiences. Every barrier that I had overcome had made me stronger throughout the years, but I had never been forced to introspect so entirely that I had to gather those experiences into an understanding of the person who had metamorphosed from them.
This sounds like a rich and beautiful thing to go through, and it is, but as the old saying goes “nothing good comes easy.” It is a gratifying experience for each individual to learn to view themselves more objectively from the perspective of society and of the self. However, that doesn’t mean that it is an easy process. For me, it was an unbearable one, and it lasted an entire year. My final year of college wasn’t one full of parties and preparation for the continuation of carelessness and a student-like mindset through young adulthood. I was turning inward. Closing a chapter of my life, looking back on it, and analyzing what I could learn in order to better my circumstances for the future that lie ahead.
Time Magazine reports in an article titled “Why Are College Students So Stressed Out?” the majority of students find themselves mentally unstable due to an accumulation of student-debt and worry about a stagnant job market. Millennials are now taking jobs with a median salary of $45,000, and graduating college with an average student-loan debt of $30,000. We are being paid less than the generation before us, while the average student-loan debt creeps up a little more each year. This in itself is enough to terrify a young 22 year old. My own debt was about 1/3 of the average, but this wasn’t what caused me insurmountable anxiety or kept me awake at night. For me, school was never to be viewed as a means to an end, but as an end in itself. When the time came to graduate, I expected the debt. What I didn’t expect was the crushing panic attacks, crippling anxiety, or unbearable depression that I went through.
My last year of college I learned more about myself as a person than I had in 22 years of experience with daily life. I was gathering my previous experiences, my educational background, my sense of self, and building a sense of identity.
I dealt with the fact that I no longer had a label. I no longer had a place in society that gave me reason or made me feel proud. I spent the year in a state of panic, believing that I no longer had a purpose and that I wasn’t worth anything. Personal relationships with friends, romantic partners, and family weren’t particularly fruitful. My job as a waitress was no longer balanced by my status as a student.
I looked for happiness from the world around me, but all I found was rejection.
My father had always told me that you learn the most about yourself in the lowest moments of your life. At this time, I turned inward and took this as an opportunity to re-emerge as a stronger person with a truer sense of self. Between the cold sweats and the shortness of breath, the moments when I felt my world caving in around me, I faced the end of my college career and I learned more about myself and about life than I ever had before.
It was terrifying, valuable, and I’m grateful that I went through it.
In the end, it’s a process that every student should endure. Learning to deal with mental health issues instills awareness and empathy for others that no textbook can make a person feel, and these sensations are essential to a productive and well-educated community. I no longer identify myself by the standards and labels placed on me by society, and that is the most valuable learning experience of all.