“Debbie Mosley, is that you?” I turned around, my eyes widening. I forced myself to smile. It was a friend of mine, a fourth year, who lived on the Lawn. He was perhaps the first student I’d spoken to at UVA when I was a first year. “Are you okay?”
I made a general noise of displeasure, hoping he’d assume that I’d had a tough day and leave it be. Hopefully he was in a hurry.
“I saw your shoulders slumped from a mile away. You look miserable.” Great. I thought. Do I have a sign flying over my head?
“I know third year is hard,” he continued. “It is for everyone. Your classes are harder, you really get into your major, and you start questioning your life choices and what you’ve been doing here. And your friends…”
Third year, or junior year, is supposed to be one of the toughest semesters in college. As my friend commented, it is the first semester that you are officially in your major (for most) and you are typically experiencing a workload that you most likely have not encountered before. Likewise, by your third year, you may be heavily involved in a club, perhaps with a leadership position. Finally, you need to start preparing for internships and *gasp* the real world. While this last part is nowhere near as scary now as it will be say, next year, it’s still pretty intimidating. Bless your heart if you’re starting your first semester of Comm School.
I’ve always been the put-together one in college, right? I’ve always been the one who could spend a couple of hours in the library here and there and still end up with mostly As. Keeping at least a 3.5 seemed fairly easy (I know now how obnoxious that statement is). The amount of time that I studied equaled the grade that I received. I had my struggles, sure, but they were relative compared to what my friends complained about. I would wake up late, go to sleep early and participate freely in multiple clubs. I even went out on the weekends. My friends, who were pre-med, a-school, pre-com or in the engineering school, all looked over at me from their textbooks with mild distain.
Then this semester happened. I tried really hard. I made study guides, study groups, flashcards, read over the textbooks not once, but twice! But for some of my classes, it seemed that no matter how much I studied, I couldn’t get above a D on my assignments. I skipped clubs to study at the library. I stopped hanging out with my friends. If I did see them, and they remarked about my appearance or attitude, I would snap angrily and walk away. I stopped getting out of bed, except to go to school. Sometimes, I even had trouble doing that.
I started to have panic attacks. I couldn’t think about my classes without shaking. What about Law School? I wondered. What about finding a summer internship? What will my family think? I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO FAIL! For the first time ever my GPA was going to go down instead of up.
I wondered what this said about me. Was I just a weak person? Does this mean that I couldn’t handle stress? I never considered myself an anxious person. In fact, most people describe me as “calm” and “positive”. If that was the case, then I’d apparently gone through an entire personality change.
I looked at my (now ex-communicated) friends. They all seemed to be working hard, but seemed equally happy. Going on trips together, starting new relationships, traveling for job interviews. A few of them even planned to graduate early.
“I swear you’re not alone.” One of them said to me after flagging me down one day. “We’re all having tough semesters too.”
I know. The National Alliance on Mental Illness claims that 80% of students feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities and 50% have been so anxious they struggle in school.
I seriously considered dropping out of the University of Virginia. Hey! There are a lot of wealthy people who dropped out of college, right? Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Simmons, Brad Pitt, Ted Turner, Bill Gates and OPRAH, for goodness’ sake.
By now, with a month left of the semester, I’ve talked myself out of dropping out, because I remembered that I actually love it here and I like my classes and my professors and my friends. I would be a fool to throw away this opportunity. I don’t actually want to leave, but I do want and need for this hellish semester to be over.
So what now?
I’ve made a comprehensive to-do list for every day until the last day of school. I’ve planned out what I need to study for and for how long I need to study it. I’m going to office hours and showing professors my plans. I’m going to try. I’m not sure what’s made this semester so tough, but I’m determined to not let it win.
“And Debbie?” My fourth year friend was cut off as a girl popped up behind us and started making faces at him. He swung an arm around her shoulder. “Well, as long as you find your true friends, like me, you’re fine. I’m here if you need to talk.” They walked through the sea of autumn leaves to the Lawn. I gazed after them for a moment before trudging home.
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