So, I am now almost halfway through my undergraduate career (three semesters down, five to go), and it has been a rocky year and a half, to say the least. I’ve had some pretty impressive ups (Indonesia, whaaat?) and downs (the Long October 2010), and I’ve picked up on some things about myself and life along the way. Now that this fall semester is over, I’ve decided that I need to do a semester in review, so here are five things that I’ve learned at college.
5) People are generally well-intentioned.
Don’t get me wrong–some people are mean to be mean. Some people want to hurt others. But in general, I think most people are sincerely trying to do what’s best by others. Sometimes we get the message wrong, or we send mixed signals to other people, but when we act, especially in relation to those we care about, we are trying to protect and help them. For example, I have a friend who is going through something right now, and I have no idea what it is/how to help him because he won’t tell me. If I’ve understood correctly, he doesn’t want to share because he’s worried that his problems will hurt me by extension. It’s a form of protection. I’m on the other end of this decision, and all I see is a hurting friend whom I want to help. Another form of protection. But my overbearing need to know and his unrelenting need to keep it private don’t seem to be helping either of us. We are both well-intentioned, but something’s been dropped in the equation. I think more often than not, problems arise because someone in any kind of relationship tries to soften the pain or protect a loved one when they don’t need protecting. We do it so the other does not get hurt, but sometimes it hurts more in the long run. It’s not that we’re inherently good or evil; we’re inherently well-intentioned.
4) Talk therapy helps. For real.
I have problems, you have problems–it’s a safe guess to say we all have problems. Although it would be nice if we could all handle everything life throws our way, things rarely work to our favor. If you are dealing with serious depression and/or anxiety (or any other mental problem) and you are brave enough to go to a counselor, do it. A caveat: not all colleges have good student counseling centers. For example, Adelphi University does not. My experience with AU’s counseling center left such a bad taste in my mouth that it took me about a month to get up the nerve to see someone at Nyack, but I am infinitely glad I did. I was so afraid of counseling, a friend had to sit with me while I called and come with me to my first appointment. But despite all of my fears, I knew that I had reached a point emotionally that if I didn’t receive help, I would have collapsed. Counseling may have saved me this semester.
If you are having a problem with anything at college, even if it’s just the stress of classes getting to you, and you think it would help to talk about it with someone professional, you should. There are many stigmas attached to the idea of therapy and psychoanalyzing, but you shouldn’t be afraid. Get help, because you deserve to be helped. Get help, because it will make you feel better. Get help; there is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. If your school’s student counseling center has a bad reputation, consider going off-campus. Many health insurance providers cover mental health care costs, and even if you end up paying for a good therapist, if you need to talk to someone, therapy is one of the wisest investments you can make.
3) Hugs are best in moderation; Hugs are best every day.
Yes. Don’t hug people too much, but hug people a lot. Does that make sense? Let me try to explain. For most of my life, I was a very warm person. I loved to give hugs, hold hands, cuddle on couches. I liked to be close to people (sometimes when I was little, this became a problem). I was one of those people who needed to be held to feel loved. Still am.
I went through an extended period of time this past year in which I suffered from incredible anxiety and could not bear to be touched. It’s not that I couldn’t give a really good hug to someone because I didn’t know how (which was a speculation that some of my new Nyack friends had back in September). I just couldn’t hug people. I couldn’t even handle the feeling of a hand on my shoulder; the slightest brush of elbows in the cafeteria filled me with panic. I did not like to be touched, I did not want to be touched, and I didn’t touch people of my own free will. Whereas most people at Nyack greet each other with a friendly hug, I stood apart and waved or high-fived. I still prefer not to be touched too much.
But this is what I learned from half a year of hardly touching people: physical touch is important for your physical and mental well-being. You need to be hugged to be healthy. Some people say that you need at least seven meaningful hugs a day to be well. When you stop touching people, you lose connection to your own humanity.
At the same time, when I tentatively started to hug again, the hugs were so few and far between that they meant even more to the other person. So yes, hug people. Hug the people you care about most, and then hug them a second time, because you need it and they need it, but guard your hugs. Hug too frequently, and it doesn’t mean anything at all. Your hugs become loose and short, and they are not special. Hug in moderation so that your hugs matter.
2)Learning and good grades are not the same.
This was a hard one for me to accept. I was in the gifted program in school from the middle of third grade until I graduated. In my entire high school career, I only had two C’s on my report card, and they were devastating to me. I studied abroad my junior year and was in the National Honor Society my senior year. I entered statewide writing competitions, and actually got second place in one my senior year (FPS Scenario Writing, still uber-proud). I was in LGS at Adelphi, made Dean’s List both semesters there, and turned down the Honors College at Nyack four times. I wrote a novel when I was fourteen. I have been an ‘intellectual’ for as long as I can remember.
None of that means anything.
My academic achievements mean absolutely nothing, because I never really learned anything. I gained factual knowledge, but it wasn’t the kind of learning that matters. Before the semester began, I asked God to give me classes in which I would be challenged. I wanted to learn, a feeling that I hardly ever got in school while growing up. I thrive on knowing, understanding, and integrating different ideas into something new. All I wanted, I told God, was to learn for once–to have my mind awakened and engaged. God delivered on this prayer; the sacrifice has been my grades.
This semester has been one of the hardest times in my life so far. Three people I knew died, two by suicide, and a few other friends of mine with suicidal histories attempted again. On top of that, for most of the semester I was suffering from such severe anxiety it was borderline paranoia. I couldn’t walk alone anywhere, and I couldn’t even be touched. AND I had heart surgery right before Thanksgiving. It was a lot to deal with. For almost all of October and November, I felt like I was on the verge of losing my mind. I was depressed, I stopped eating (and may have gained weight regardless), and I wanted to be left alone. I slept through my classes on several occasions, unwilling to get out of bed and face the world. I think I turned in all of my work late in all of my classes, and by late I mean at least a week or two late. I expect that my average grade this semester will be a B- or C. BUT, I learned things in all of my classes. I can talk about Plato and in the same breath relate them to Shakespeare or the Old Testament. I loved each of my classes, and I felt like the time spent in them was worthwhile. More than that, I learned a better way to think. I learned about myself in each of my classes in a way I never thought possible. I learned more about mercy from my professors than I had ever known before. I learned how to write a paper slowly, and how to write a paper in under two hours. I learned that some things in life are more important than getting that paper written, anyways. I learned that humans have an amazing capacity for compassion. I learned that no matter what you do (or don’t) get done in a class, so long as what you do comes from an angle of love, it is worthwhile work.
1) I love my fox.
When I was depressed, my fox was there. When I couldn’t hug people, my fox was there. When I had heart surgery, my fox was there. My fox has been my best friend this semester because he never fails me. I even took him with me to church over thanksgiving. If you had a fox like my fox, you would love him, too. My fox is boss, yo.
So what have you learned this semester?