The summer leading up to college passed excruciatingly slowly as I tried to contain my overwhelming excitement.

I lay awake each night, anticipating the wild college parties, the cute boys, the lifelong friends to be made. College became a fixation.

By August, I had already packed up 18 years of memories into as many boxes as would fit in our car. Two weeks later, I tearfully said goodbye to my home and set off for what were going to be the golden years of my life at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As I began unpacking my life into room 464 of Sellery Hall, the excitement that had been building since my junior year of high school began to turn to uneasiness. I was now living five hours from home and completely alone. I was shocked by the sudden realization that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Everyone tells you that college will be the best part of your life, but no one prepares you for that moment when you realize you are completely alone and terrified. As I watched my parents drive away, back to Minnesota, tears streamed down my face. For the first time, I thought about just going home with them. Would it be so bad to live with them for the rest of my life?

Quickly brushing the idea from my head and the tears from my eyes, I ran back upstairs to make friends. I had this idea that if I missed any moment to be social, I would never find friends. In retrospect, this hardly seems logical, but as a freshman, living alone for the first time, I lacked perspective.

Expecting to quickly make friends, I was once again shocked by how hard it was to form connections with people. In high school, all of my friendships had been long established; I had forgotten how long it takes to develop an intimate relationship with someone.

I rarely called my parents, since most of the time a call would immediately induce tears and a breakdown; they were strategically planned for the few times I was alone in my shared dorm room.

Even as I began to meet people and make friends, I still felt alone. I was always trying to reconcile the lack of intimacy in my friendships, as well as the constant fear that I would fail all of my classes. Schoolwork had never been difficult before; it was something I could reassure myself with. Now, struggling, chasing after the golden college experience promised by so many, I longed for someone else to admit that they were struggling, too. I wanted to know that the challenges I faced were universal.

Recently, Madison Holleran — a beautiful, determined student at the University of Pennsylvania — has received great attention for the college hardships that led her to commit suicide. Reading her desolate story, I could not help but tear up at the relevance it has in nearly every college student’s life.

As a sophomore, I now realize just how common these college challenges are. In 2011, the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment found that 30 percent of students enrolled in two-year or four-year institutions reported that “they were so depressed it was difficult to function.”

Because mental illness is still so stigmatized, few people reveal the challenges they face everyday and the dark thoughts that consume them. By sharing my own honest experience, I hope you will realize you are not alone.

The most important thing I have learned at college is that there is no golden college experience. Trying to have a perfect life at college, one that lives up to the pedestal society puts it on, is not only impossible, but also exhausting.

Know that your struggles are universal, and redirect your depressive thoughts into reference points, allowing you to experience the magical moments college will also inevitably offer.

 

Maddie Peters, of Excelsior, is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.